Whether we realize it or not, we are constant consumers of media. We are bombarded incessantly with images, songs, videos, references; unless you live in a cave or a convent, pop culture in inescapable. And though some may argue that we need to unplug and reconnect with one another, I say we embrace it. We spent thousands of years with nothing to do but talk to one another, a few decades of TV won't kill us. That being said, if we're going to have our lives taken over by entertainment, the very least we can do is be discerning with our media and demand quality. Too often there will be a bright light in the desolate wasteland that is today's media which goes unnoticed while mediocrity is praised.
In other words, we should all strive to be Anton Egos with smartphones.
Me as I write this.
But one series (and I use that term loosely) which has gone largely ignored for too long is "Got 2 B Real," the ingenious brainchild of YouTube user Patti LaHelle. The videos, which are each threaded with an overarching story, are comprised of footage past and present of legendary singers, such as Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, and Beyoncé Knowles. The original women are then dubbed over by Miss LaHelle, creating fictitious drama made up of dialogue that would make a sailor blush and a screenwriter jealous.
The "series finale" (again, I use that term loosely) was released by LaHelle on December 13th, and in less than 12 hours has already amassed nearly 20,000 views, impressive for a comparatively underground cultural movement.
The videos, which have been ongoing since 2011, have garnered scores of unwavering fans for a series of reasons: the rapid-fire delivery of hysterical one-liners, the realistic voices provided for everyone from Chaka Khan to Mariah Carey, the subtlety of some of the jokes and the bluntness of others, and the heightened drama between musical icons created solely for the show. The most glaring example is Aretha Franklin (or "Hateretha" as Dionne Warwick rasps in each episode) being consistently insulted by the other women, such as being referred to as "Angus" by fellow Grammy-winner Patti LaBelle ("Angus as in beef, beef as in cow, cow as in heifer, so I call her Angus).
While there are multiple, recurring references made to real-life events (the close relationship between Carey and LaBelle, Keri Hilson's lack of fame, Toni Braxton's bankruptcies, Aretha Franklin's weight problems, Fantasia Barrino's illiteracy), the humor is able to thrive on its own, with just enough contextualization to make it accessible to any and everybody. You don't have to be a fan of these women, but it doesn't hurt.
The reason I'm writing about these videos is not because I'm a fan of the celebrities being parodied, which I am, or even because I'm a fan of the show, which I am, but because this is the kind of humor that needs to be recognized and appreciated more widely than it is. These videos are in the same vein as "30 Rock," a barrage of jokes pitched at the viewer leaving just enough time to gasp for breath between barbs, that must be watched more than once to catch everything, each time with something new to offer. "Got 2B Real" entertains without patronizing, and though the viewer is always in on the joke, you will not be spoon-fed. But if you can keep up with the grueling pace for each episode's ten minutes, you'll find that the benefit outweighs the effort.
"Got 2B Real" is ingenious, but it isn't for everybody. It's more clever than most of what's on TV, but it will probably never have the fanbase it deserves. It's high camp and lowbrow, with banter not seen since "His Girl Friday." Simply put, if we are to be media-savvy, critical to the point of Anton Ego, "Got 2B Real" can and should be our ratatouille, a transcendent dish that is at the same time an acquired taste.