Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bay Ridge is Really Pissed About This New Reality Show

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2012 at 9:45 AM

The cast of Stereotype Conflict Reality Drama #644
  • The cast of Stereotype Conflict Reality Drama #644
In October, word spread through Bay Ridge that a reality show for the Oxygen network was filming around town. Locals were livid. Sixty-three percent of respondents to a poll in the local newspaper answered, "Bay Ridge is not the Jersey Shore!" (The show agrees; it's tagline: "This ain't Jersey. It's Brooklyn.") Friends from the neighborhood approached me vis-à-vis my capacity as a journalist. "You need to do something about this," wrote one in an email. "They’re not even from Bay Ridge."

Brighton Beach residents went through a similar headache last summer, when Oxygen's competitor Lifetime aired Russian Dolls, a reality show about Russian immigrants in that part of Brooklyn. "The Russian community look like idiots," one resident told the Times then. "Why don’t they show doctors, lawyers, the Russian intelligentsia?”

This new Bay Ridge show, which will now premiere in late March, won't feature many local academics or white-collar professionals, either. According to an early press release, the show, once called Brooklyn Crew, is "a voyeuristic journey into the lives of two lifelong groups of friends who have been torn apart by jealousy, rivalry and a bitter betrayal that is clouded in mystery." They're also, judging from official descriptions, a bunch of Bay Ridge-nightlife cliches. One character is "the typical Bay Ridge girl... she holds true to being a good girl, but lets loose with a foul mouth and a heavy attitude." Another has "a party-hard attitude and a 'don't dish it out unless you can take it' style." One more is "as tough as the R train." (She's uncomfortable to fall asleep on?) The local councilman and a unnamed group of prominent women from the community plan to hold a press conference to protest the show tomorrow, because what they've seen so far is "gratuitous, classless and heavy on the stereotypes.” "I personally find it to be a negative for the neighborhood," the co-chair of the Bay Ridge Community Council's Committee for Arts and Culture told the Home Reporter. "I don't think it reflects who the young people are, who we all are in Bay Ridge."

It certainly doesn't reflect who we all are in Bay Ridge. But doesn't it reflect some of us? Stereotypes though these characters may be, anyone strolling down Third Avenue on a weekend night is bound to see an abundance of similar living-stereotypes. This may not be not the totality of Bay Ridge and its culture, as many commenters to our magazine recently argued, but that doesn't mean these kinds of people don't account for a portion of the neighborhood. (And, of course, it's not doctors, lawyers, and intellectuals who make good reality television—it's trashy hotheads. What do you want Oxygen to do—not make a reality TV show?)

Oxygen, though, doesn't have much to defend itself with. Cluelessly, and most damagingly to its credibility among locals, the network has retitled the show Brooklyn 11223. That's the zip code for Gravesend. (Bay Ridge is 11209.) And though promotional materials stress the show's Bay Ridge connection—including a historical throughline to Saturday Night Fever, the audacity!—some of the cast comes from Bensonhurst, Coney Island, and Brighton Beach, and the show not only shot at Cebu but also at Spumoni Gardens, as well as Sahara in Sheepshead Bay. On the show's Facebook page, a statement about the title explained "the cast actually lives in a few different Brooklyn neighborhoods, but the two main cast members the show follows live in 11223, which is why we went with the title Brooklyn 11223. Also, once the show comes out, you’ll see that Bay Ridge is where a lot of the action takes place—i.e. one of the cast members works at a bar in Bay Ridge, and it is also the backdrop for many of the interactions between the girls."

The responses to this explanation have been heated. "What PS/HS did they go to? This is NOT a Bay Ridge show. WTF." "Do not associate Bay Ridge with your dimwitted characters just because they work in Bay Ridge and frequent Bay Ridge areas." "If you're going to name the show 11223, please keep the 'action' to 11223. There's really no need to drag your trash and whores into Bay Ridge."

One Facebooker and Gravesend native then came to the show's defense. "Sorry Bayridge is we're they filmed but we are all proud to be from or hangout in gravesend so Bayridge save your breathe we aren't from there don't want to be from there. It just happens to be that people work there and that's we're all the popular restaurants and bars are."

Which, hey, she's right about that last thing. A lot of the people who fill up Bay Ridge on the weekends are visitors from Staten Island and Brooklyn neighborhoods east, taking advantage of the active nightlife. So, are the producers trying to turn Bay Ridge into a catchall term for anything in southern Brooklyn, the way outsiders tend to call any section of Victorian Flatbush "Ditmas Park"? Or how Corcoran calls any eastern part of the borough "Other Brooklyn"? Bay Ridge has maintained a strong identity for generations. You can't blame the locals for being peeved at a cable network trying to stamp that out with crass, cartoonish cliches.

UPDATE: The senior press manager from Oxygen emailed me this statement: "Viewers can decide for themselves on March 26 when the story of Brooklyn 11223 begins to unfold and we meet this authentic group of friends set against the vibrant backdrop of the great and diverse Borough of Brooklyn."

Watch a promo:

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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