Issue #11: Pulled from the Archives: Brunch with New York
"I owe it to myself to always be true to myself and be authentic."
Welcome to Shamira Explains It All/Shamira Explique Tout, a culture newsletter discussing the origins and impact of Black production and exchange, identity, and intellectual property via our digital, social, and archival discussions - and whatever else may be timely and interesting. Part English, Part Francophone. Reach out with feedback, suggestions, tips, and ideas at email@example.com.
Forgive me if I sound too cliché or reminiscent of the opening line of every email that has been sent by a millennial over the past three weeks, but I hope that anyone reading this has had a lovely start to the year — perhaps you are wrapping up your Dry January, committing to your New Year’s resolutions, or whatever rituals you chose to launch into the new calendar cycle refreshed and renewed. Pragmatically speaking, however, many of us are treading water between tidal waves of melancholy, augmented by the ever-increasing price of eggs, the prospect of having to abandon our gas stoves, or the free-floating guillotine that hovers above anyone who is at the mercy of a corporate employer at the moment. I didn’t pay attention to last year’s Groundhog Day predictions or anything — those sort of peculiar nationalistic rituals have never been my cup of tea — but it certainly feels like the winter doldrums are going to stretch out a bit longer for a good chunk of people — especially since New York City has yet to even be beseiged by its first big snow of the season.
Let’s speak plainly for a few moments — industries across America are making significant layoffs currently, with devastating impacts. Weekly, I see a new swath of writers entering the freelance market, or tech employees suddenly negotiating severance packages. The film and TV industry is, of course, dealing with the slow-motion implosion of streaming as a viable and sustainable means of getting projects greenlit. These industries are not alone — the auto industry, healthcare manufacturing and financial services are also seeing major cuts, with more to come. Meanwhile, bills are going nowhere, and rents are higher than ever, thanks to active collusion to warehouse apartments and artificially inflate prices.
As someone who has laid up and made a home with existential anguish throughout my life, the best advice I can give in the short term is to document the wins — no matter how minuscule — for when the low moments feel insurmountable; self-destructive spiraling becomes infinitely more ungovernable when there is simply nothing to tether yourself to except a void of torments, threatening to envelop you in a darkness from which there seems to be minimal respite. Acknowledging something as miniscule as being consistent with a routine for a few days in a row — I am currently trying to pay more attention to skin and hair care — in the midst of twisting myself into all sorts of knots about my life, career, health, and where I would like to be versus where I currently exist in my trajectory and community is sometimes all that keeps me from being consumed into a permanent state of agitation on my bleakest days. Of course, if you can, I encourage you to organize and advocate for the systemic changes that will help keep us out of this Morbius loop of malaise we call capitalism and its pas de deux with white supremacy, but some of us are just trying to keep our heads above water right now.
Today, I am pulling out a conversation I had three years ago with the legendary Tiffany Pollard, when she was promoting her limited series with VH1, “Brunch with Tiffany.” Some of the moments from that series have since been etched into meme history — such as her famed “Muslimanity” moment — and as you can imagine, she was just as charming in conversation as she reads on the screen.
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Onto the story.
On Brunch with Tiffany, her latest web series for VH1, now in its second season after a two-year hiatus, reality TV veteran Tiffany Pollard continues to navigate the screen in a way that cannot be confined by the artifices of modern reality convention. This remains in large part because, no matter the guest, nearly every person who sits across from her is either directly influenced by her or in distinct admiration of her longevity in an ephemeral industry and looking to reproduce some of that same magic. Take this interaction with with Jasmine Masters in the second episode:
[“Jush”] is in the f—king dictionary, I looked last night!”
“Yeah it is, in the Urban Dictionary right?”
“No, the white man’s dictionary! It was in the Webster’s. Girl, it’s serious!”
The investment for viewers is minimal – the episodes average about 12-15 minutes in length – and the potential for a new meme or “Lucille Ball reaction”, as Allison P. Davis puts it, still remains, although in notably more succinct, less potent bursts than before. The payoff is worth it, however - the 3-minute stretch of Pollard rapidly veering through discussing bipolar disorder, fighting, plastic surgery, and “designer vaginas” with Sky from VH1’s Black Ink Crew in Season 1 is some of the most electric banter outside of the Roy dinner table in Succession.
Since the the turn the century, Viacom has been at the forefront of “celebreality programming” - a specific niche of unscripted television predicated around the public’s fascination with the behaviors of the rich and famous, even when placed in farcical circumstances. Shows like The Surreal Life re-introduced Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav to a cross-over audience and created an appetite for Bachelor-style shows framed around his own search for love, where the chimera of romance is exchanged for the cult of personality as the additional X factor, from both Flav himself and competitors - and no one struck the proverbial pleasure centers more consistently than Pollard, lobbing pithy remarks that immediately became part of the general lexicon well before the concept of internet meme culture. That unfailing skill to have a cutting rejoinder for any situation carried Pollard’s entertainment stock through two seasons of Flavor of Love into a spinoff of her own right - I Love New York, arguably the original Black Bachelorette show, ABC intellectual property notwithstanding. Since then, she has made appearances on a variety of shows over the years, with significant stints on Botched, The Next :15, Family Therapy, Famously Single, The Next :15, Brunch with Tiffany, and Celebrity Big Brother - appearing on Season 17 of the UK version a decade after Pollard debuted on Flavor of Love. She only placed fourth in the competition, but the show would grant her a bevy of transcendent moments during which she deftly navigated microagressions from her British castmates and became a fan favorite, including a seven-minute sequence during which she mistakenly confuses her housemate Angie Bowie informing her of ex-husband David Bowie’s death to that of fellow napping housemate David Gest. The subsequent performance of hysterics cemented her presence in the season as indispensable.
Tiffany “New York” Pollard is a pop culture giant, building atop a cannon of content she has created since the nascence of her legacy in entertainment as a competitor - this is most forthrightly reflected by the ever-expanding inventory of Pollard gifs mined from clip reels of newer programs that get layered into digital consciousness as the years go by.Such aptitude for penetrating the surface of entertainment at the delicate intersection of camp and reality - she’s just as much true to herself as she is true to the perception of who she is, without falling into the rapid quicksand of becoming a caricature of canned catch-phrases and unwarranted hysterics, a delicate tightrope that she’s balanced on for over a decade now.
The premiere of the current season features Cyn Santana, part of the Love and Hip Hop franchise and ex-fiancée and coparent of retired rapper and media personality Joe Budden. The opening of moments of their interaction, as with all the other episodes, starts with Cyn duly paying homage to her progenitor in reality entertainment, presenting a bouquet “for the motherf—king queen”—a moment that Pollard has admitted she continues to find humbling. “I can come into a room and that respect is given,” Pollard told me over the phone. “You know, I don’t have to fight for it.”
Fresh from her recent separation and still navigating early motherhood, Santana remains tight-lipped about the particulars that prompted her parting (outside of general aphorisms about being “the happiest she’s ever been”), but the dialogue indisputably hits its stride not soon after, with them both interacting as single, uninhibited women - transitioning to joking about instagram attention and attempting to date again after being in a high-profile relationship.
Her interaction with drag queen and fellow meme icon Jasmine Masters in the second episode - which currently has as the top youtube comment “biggest meme crossover event in gay history” - is a masterclass in engaging in a conversational interview, in the vein of Wendy Williams: through the veneer of a get-together, two people who have had marked digital cultural relevance over the past several years were able to have a conversation around intellectual property, copyright and monetization of the creativity emerging from their likeness. “I’m poppin’ poppin’,” Masters jokes, adding “girl I got kindergarteners talking about ‘and I oop’, so girl I’ll be around for a long time.” The expertise of Pollard in the nuances of having the fan-favorite components of one’s personality excavated as a reality star via interview is a strong asset here - by being able to navigate the path of the interview to her liking, she is able to direct entertaining, yet ultimately insightful questions to her guests that she was never given the privilege to answer.
There’s no doubt that Pollard has been immortalized within the internet oeuvre; the challenge is establishing whether or not that same ecosystem can expand as she continues to forge new ground. Most return mechanisms for the turn of the millennia’s biggest stars have reconstructed the previous show schematics that launched them into notoriety beat for beat (Jersey Shore Reunion, Teen Mom OG), as opposed to relying on the cult of personality. It’s a risk that she is willing to bet on herself on. “I owe it to myself to always be true to myself and be authentic, and then, however that plays out for the masses, whatever, you know, if you like it, you like it, you like it, you don’t you don’t,” Pollard said.
“I think the formula works. I think people love to see images of themselves on television that they can relate to. They like to see scenarios that are going on in their own life, and they don’t want to see a fabricated reaction. They want to see a real reaction of how they would play it out if it was them,” Pollard says. And in many respects, she’s right: there is an entire comedic niche within short-form video apps such as TikTok and Instagram where certain users have become exceedingly popular for reenacting organically comical moments, including several of Pollard’s. This iteration of Tiffany, however, places her as the host and inquisitor moreso than the contestant, with her reactivity being highly contingent on the willingness of the guest to come to the brunch table prepared to engage in heavy repartee. Thankfully for the self-defined HBIC, Pollard and “banter” go hand-in-hand, which maximizes the odds of that happening - not that she ever doubted as much.
“Don’t even second guess yourself,” she says. “Just live it, and that’s what I tell people all the time when they ask me for advice – ‘how do I be like you. I have a reality show coming up, what is the thing, what is the thing??’ I’m like, do you, be you. That’s all I can give.”
One of Pollard’s more iconic gifs from her run on Flavor of Love is of her saying, “the best bitch is gonna win, and that’s me.” While she may not have accurately predicted victory on the competition, she has remained consistently relevant and in demand in an entertainment niche that, for the most part, has spelled relative obscurity after churning through the reality machine - and that is a triumph reserved for a gilded few.
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