Academic Scholarship

Branding, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Race on VH1's Flavor of Love

Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 33.1 (2016), Routledge/Taylor and Francis, January 2016

Photo Needed Jonathan B. Kraszewski, Ph.D.
College of Communication and the Arts

I argue the way the VH1 brand incorporated elements of nostalgia on Flavor of Love undermines the black social commitments that Flavor Flav had and continues to have as a member of Public Enemy. VH1 had two different strands of nostalgia in its programming, which had very different tones and affected the presentation of Flavor Flav as a key figure in popular culture history. One strand emphasized an ironic reading of popular culture’s past that laughed at and humiliated kitschy icons. Flavor Flav interested VH1 because his ornate hip hop outfits made him an instantly recognizable figure from popular culture’s past, but Flavor of Love’s nostalgia ripped the iconography of Flavor Flav’s outfits away from Public Enemy’s black nationalist concerns and mocked his style for being in poor taste. The nostalgia also transformed Flavor Flav from a rapper concerned with the systemic oppression of black lower classes to a model of lower-class trashiness, often in ways that involved racist stereotypes. Another strand of nostalgia in VH1’s brand was more serious in tone and highlighted how people in their 30s, regardless of their race, grew up appreciating hip hop. Thus, VH1 created serious nostalgic programming that honored hip hop of the past for its artistry. Flavor of Love also had textual features that promoted VH1’s interest in hip hop, serving as a musical genre that appealed to people of all races in their 30s. The cast of women competing for Flavor Flav’s love included women of numerous races in their late 20s and early 30s, all of whom spoke seriously about their love for Public Enemy’s rap and hip hop. Although this component of the show mirrored VH1’s image of its audience’s musical preferences, the women’s expression of their love of Flavor Flav portrayed race as a psychological and performative construct, not as a social category involving power, economics, and oppression, which was how Public Enemy treated it. Additionally, the expression of the women’s appreciation for Flavor Flav also happened in a competition where one woman would win Flav’s heart. The competition itself created a neoliberal environment shaped by post-racial politics that promoted an atmosphere of cut-throat individualism at odds with Public Enemy’s interest in critiquing black systemic oppression. Thus, while the branding initiatives at VH1 in the 21st century seemed to show the channel with a vested interest in Flavor of Love because the series remembered a black rap icon and made his work available to people of different races, a critique of the branding surrounding the show reveals subtle racist messages within Flavor of Love that worked against the political commitments that Flavor Flav had as an artist.


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