2/23: Not Always Black and White...Except When It Is
Let's get something straight immediately. This week's episode of Wife Swap involves two interracial families. Guy Flummerfelt is Caucasian; his wife, Doreen, is African-American. Eric Bray is African-American; his wife, LaShelle, is Caucasian.
You see where it's going. Someone at ABC thought it would be amusing to match Guy Flummerfelt and LaShelle Bray, resulting in a Caucasian couple, and Eric Bray and Doreen Flummerfelt, resulting in an African-American couple.
So why not go whole-hog? They could have sent Guy and LaShelle to a taping of Def Comedy Jam and Eric and Doreen to square-dancing lessons. That would be offensive, right? Fundamentally, so is the thinking behind this episode.
Guy Flummerfelt is Doreen's third husband. Guy and Doreen met via the personals. Doreen decided to marry a Caucasian for her marriage hat trick after two failed marriages to African-American men. Doreen blames what she deems the attitudes of African-American men toward women as the reason her marriages failed.
Doreen says that Guy treats her right. Doreen's idea of being treated right means going to bed immediately after coming home from work and expecting her husband and two sons, Marques and Rashad, to cater to her every whim, including dinner and wine in bed.
The Flummerfelt men are also expected to keep a very tidy house, in line with Doreen's high standards of what constitutes tidy. Each family member enjoys all manner of electronic gadgets in his or her room, including televisions, DVD players, video game consoles, computers with Internet access--you name it.
This setup was designed to encourage everyone to spend time, alone, in his or her personal space. Doreen admits she doesn't like children and prefers to do what she likes doing best, watching television and eating in bed.
The Flummerfelts perhaps spend 15 minutes daily together.
And Now for Something Completely Different
In contrast, here come the Brays. LaShelle and Eric were high school sweethearts who married straight out of high school.
LaShelle says that she likes African-American men because she's "always been attracted to darker skin."
"Black men know who they are as men," LaShelle says.
Apparently, from her husband Eric's perspective, men don't cook, clean or tend to the children.
Eric holds a full-time job in telecommunications. His is a physical job, and at the end of the day, Eric wants to sit down, kick up his feet and relax, leaving the housework and child-rearing to LaShelle.
And what a large group of children it is. The Brays have five children: Mia (2), Eric, Jr. (3), Kalea (5), Kianna (7) and Kyra (9).
LaShelle loves children and loves being around her children. She also home-schools the children. In between home-schooling, LaShelle does the housework.
LaShelle wants to teach her daughters how to be "good" wives and mothers.
LaShelle often works late into the night working on her household duties and taking care of the children while Eric relaxes.
Ahead of the swap, Doreen says that she would like to see Guy learn to be more aggressive, while LaShelle says that she would like to be more appreciated when she returns home. Finally, Guy would like more family time. I guess Eric just wants to watch TV.
When Doreen and LaShelle enter the other's home for the first time, they're encouraged to have a look around, alone, to get their bearings and hazard some guesses as to what sort of home, what kind of family, they'll encounter.
LaShelle's first impression of the Flummerfelt home is that the house, itself, it beautiful.
Doreen's first impression is, "What the hell...?" (The Bray home is portrayed as being a little untidy.)
As LaShelle wonders through the Flummerfelt home, she wonders if the owners comprise an "interracial couple."
Doreen spots a family photo of the Brays. Her reaction? "Oh, hell! Oh, no, no, no, no! Ooh, a black man!" Doreen acts as if she's seen a ghost, not an African-American person.
Remember that Doreen doesn't like children, which puts the following reaction to the Bray children in perspective: "She [LaShelle] was just popping them out left and right--one, two, three, four, five! And he [Eric] was just saying 'Go for it!' wasn't he? Look at him smiling up there [imitating Eric], 'Heeey!'"
When Doreen gets on a roll, she gets on a roll. Mrs. Flummerfelt continues: "She does home schooling? Oh, these kids aren't going to learn nothing from me; Doreen doesn't want to be around kids." Doreen even manages to make the production crew laugh. The viewers can hear them in the background.
Doreen and LaShelle have prepared "manuals" as guidelines for the other. Doreen can't believe what she sees. "Keep the husband happy? That's full of crap!"
Doreen's manual prompts LaShelle to vow, "They won't have to do any more cleaning on rule change day."
As Doreen finishes reading LaShelle's manual, she wonders, "What kind of man is this?"
LaShelle wonders of Doreen, "She really is lazy, isn't she?"
When the pairs finally meet, Eric reassures Doreen, "It won't be that bad," to which Doreen replies, "You sure about that there, Eric?"
This leads Eric to a bad first impression about Doreen. Eric calls Doreen a "stereotypical black woman--combative."
Doreen isn't thrilled about the Bray children, either. She's not used to kids jumping around, and this "gets on my nerves some," she admits.
LaShelle asks Guy why everyone seems to have media centers in separate rooms, and Guy tells her it's because Marques and Rashad "leave [them] alone." Oh, well, that clears it right up.
LaShelle doesn't like Guy's attitude that Marques and Rashad shouldn't "bother" their parents. She feels that the boys are entitled to ask whatever they like and ought to learn from their parents.
Guy doesn't expect to butt heads with LaShelle. So, Guy, do you ever play roulette? Sometimes? Occasionally? Well, Guy, always bet on black! Er, no, wait...
[This awkward, blaxploitation-like movie moment brought to you courtesy of Passenger 57 (1992), starring Wesley Snipes.]
A Taste of Bizarro World for Each Woman
It's not an auspicious start to sudden new mommy Doreen Flummerfelt's first day as a Bray. (I have to look up how to spell "Flummerfelt" every...single...time.)
Doreen oversleeps until one of the children comes find her and asks for breakfast. Doreen comes to the table and distributes packets of dry cereal. She complains that it's going to be a long, long day.
LaShelle goes to work for the first time. Upon meeting her boss, she tells him that she's never worked full-time, and this position makes her a little nervous. The boss asks LaShelle if she's frightened and assures there's no need to be frightened.
I expected him to ask LaShelle if she found it a little warm in his office, whether he can take off his tie, and whether she minds the "bow-chicka-chicka-wow" music in the background.
As Doreen is seen handling piles of laundry and dishes, she comments, "I'm going to kill myself today." In between the household work, Doreen tries to home school the children.
"It's like she's my mom...but worse," one of the Bray girls comments on Doreen.
Meanwhile, LaShelle is hard at work filing and answering phones. She seems to be doing fine...except for the weird blue baseball cap she's wearing backwards. LaShelle is new to the workforce, so she may not realize that a baseball cap is acceptable in only a few workplaces:
*Def Jam Music Group
*Major League Baseball
*The Southeast Asian sweatshop where the blue cap was produced (as long as the wearer is willing to part with half a day's wages for it)
Cleanup in Aisle Five--But Where's Aisle Five?
One of the Bray girls thinks that Doreen had "fun" with her and her siblings, but Doreen tells the camera, "Oh, god! Stop them!" in reference to the children.
Doreen takes all five Bray children grocery shopping, but since she rarely if ever does any of the grocery shopping at her home, she has no idea how to find anything. For example, she can't find the "orange soda pop."
And, frankly, I'm confused, too. Is that the orange Fanta/Slice/Sunkist, aka the "nectar of the gods"? Or is that the drink of the devil, Sunny Delight, and its store-brand knock-offs? Sunny Delight is evil! Is it juice? Is it a soda product? Who the hell knows?
Guy is accustomed to serving Doreen dinner in bed, so sure enough, LaShelle receives the same treatment.
Quixotically, Guy says, "It must be tough for her." Are you freakin' kidding? It looks pretty easy to me. I'll tell you what's tough, Guy, and it's the look of that chicken you just served LaShelle.
And goodness gracious, what's that as a side? Cottage cheese with a dollop of canned pineapple chunks? Where the hell did you get the idea for that? An Eisenhower era cookbook? ("Now with Commie-crushing goodness in every recipe!")
LaShelle remarks that she can't see black men waiting on anyone hand and foot, like Guy is doing for her.
"Doreen needed someone she could manipulate, and white men are just better suited for that," she says.
Chicken: Good Whether It's Pre-Argument or Post-Argument
When Doreen gets back to the Bray house after grocery shopping, she takes Eric to task for watching football while she had to take all five children on a grocery shopping spree.
Eric complains that Doreen is full of complaints.
Doreen thinks that black men simply want "someone to bow down to them," and she doesn't agree at all with this attitude.
LaShelle isn't entirely comfortable, either. "I've never been in bed so much unless I've just had a baby," she says. Since she and Eric have five children, I would imagine she's laid up in bed a lot, too, then.
Doreen is shocked that the Bray daughters are being groomed to be housewives.
When LaShelle arrives home from work one day, she breaks the rules by speaking to Rashad. Rashad admits that, yes, he wishes he spent more time with his parents.
LaShelle asks Guy if he minds how lazy Doreen is. He claims not to. When LaShelle tells Guy what Rashad told her about wanting more of his parents' time, Guy dismisses what she (and Rashad) say.
Doreen's "discussion" with Eric is not so civil. "You're a male chauvinist pig!" she screams. "You are the very reason I married my husband!"
"You're saying all black men are alike?" Eric asks her. "Is that why you married a white man?"
"Yes!" Doreen replies.
"You make this country the way it is in terms of race relations," Eric tells Doreen.
"Chicken's done! I gotta go!" Doreen says, walking out on their argument. Let's hope she isn't serving cottage cheese and pineapple, too.
Rule Change Day
On "rule change day," Doreen promises to give Eric a "taste of his own medicine." LaShelle wants to give Guy a "wake-up call."
LaShelle gathers Guy, Rashad and Marques and starts by telling that they're in danger of falling apart, and that they're becoming "slaves" to one family member.
"I'm not a slave to anyone!" one of the boys rebukes LaShelle.
Doreen tells Eric that he needs to learn what it's like to wait on someone hand and foot.
LaShelle tells Guy that he's a bad role model for the boys and needs to be "more of a man."
Guy stops her and tells her, "You're dead wrong, lady."
Doreen tells the Brays that their house is a pigsty, and she expects it to be spotless...after Eric has done the cleaning.
LaShelle will give up her job to spend more time "acting like a mom," expects all media equipment removed from the bedrooms and wants Guy to spend time with Marques and Rashad instead of cooking, a chore she will gladly take over.
Doreen expects to stay in bed, be served like a "queen," and work part-time from the Bray house while a tutor attends to the children's home-schooling needs. Finally, Doreen wants to have a tea party with the girls and speak to them about women's professional opportunities.
It's a less than auspicious start between Guy and LaShelle. Guy refuses to remove the media equipment from his bedroom. He feels that LaShelle slighted him and his family. This must be his willy-nilly, passive-aggressive manner of letting her know, then.
Guy Fails to Live Up to His First Name
But Guy's immaturity continues unabated. Guy, Marques and Rashad set up a basketball hoop and spend time playing basketball. When LaShelle tries to join, she gets spurned like a five-year-old with glasses: Guy stops the game and tosses the ball at her, turns around and leaves.
LaShelle tells Guy that he's treating her "like a piece of crap."
With Doreen, "Do you say 'You're wrong' and just walk away?" LaShelle asks him.
"Sometimes," he responds.
Sure, Guy, when it's cold enough to enjoy margaritas in hell, maybe.
As promised, Doreen goes to bed and leaves all the chores to Eric, who calls her behavior "infuriating." To make matters worse, Doreen and Eric disagree on Eric's thoroughness cleaning the house.
Guy leaves LaShelle to her own devices in the kitchen. LaShelle starts bawling. Oh, maaan. That's like Kryptonite to any guy. I don't care who you are--if you're a man and you see a woman crying, or worse yet, are the cause of a woman crying, you'll do whatever it takes to steam the flow of tears.
Tears are the reason that conversations like this happen:
He: I don't think we should see each other anymore...
He: ...I meant I don't think we should see each other anymore as boyfriend and girlfriend...but as, er, man and wife...
Guy claims that he has to "make a stand." By "making a stand," Guy means he'll watch Cinemax on the TV in his bedroom he refused to surrender and not go make sure LaShelle's okay. Way to go, man! That'll show 'em, right? (Uh, no, wrong.)
Wouldn't Smoking a Peace Pipe Be Easier (and More Groovy)?
Eric brings Doreen a peace offering...of red wine. Good ol' Eric. He knows that a way to a woman's heart is through her liver.
Eric tells Doreen that the reason things weren't working well is because of her attitude when she addresses him. Doreen smiles and agrees, "Yes, we both had attitudes." They hug and make up.
Eric says that he appreciates Doreen for showing him what his wife goes through every day and pledges to help out more when she comes home.
The next time Doreen comes to inspect Eric's handiwork, she's thrilled.
"Oh, Lord! It's clean! Eric, I'm falling in love with you!" This would no doubt horrify Guy, LaShelle, Eric and maybe even Doreen herself, going by what she thinks of African-American men.
Guy's Courageous Last Stand seems to last, oh, all of five minutes. He comes to apologize to LaShelle (of course). She tells him that she forgives him, but that this is hard for her because her husband is never "mean" to her. She begins crying again.
Guy says he's "glad" that her husband isn't mean to her. Bland and dull, that's our Guy.
At the tea party Doreen promised to hold for the girls, she tells them that they can be anything they want to be, even President of the United States, leading them to giggle.
Doreen's right, of course. George W. Bush is living proof that anyone can become President.
Guy Discovers His Affinity for Charades
LaShelle introduces board games to "family time." She, Guy, Marques and Roshad seem to be playing some form of Charades. But for some reason, everything that LaShelle tries to imitate seems to involve bears or aspects of bears.
LaShelle holds up claws like a bear, and Guy instantly recognizes "claw-foot bathtub." In my book, this makes Guy the Charades Champion of the Universe.
Doreen has abandoned her bed and spends time with the Bray children. I must warn you, however, that I think Doreen has spent too much time with Guy. While she and the girls dance in the Bray living room, Doreen's dance consists of that weird, herky-jerky "white guy dance."
"[The children] are beautiful, and I can't say enough good things," Doreen gushes.
LaShelle hugs both Rashad and Marques.
All this warmth and fuzziness inspires me into picking up my dog, hugging him, and promising to spend more time walking and playing ball with him. But then he bit my ear, ran away and peed on the kitchen trashcan.
Face to Face, Heart to Heart, Temper to Temper
When Doreen and LaShelle finally return to Guy and Eric, respectively, both couples sit down for a discussion about their families.
Once again, LaShelle gets off on the wrong foot by telling Doreen that Rashad is treated like a "slave."
Doreen literally explodes.
"Don't you ever say what I treat my son like! My son is not a slave!" she bellows.
Eric, however, is the very definition of calm and composure, and seems to have learned how to smooth over Doreen's outbursts.
"She didn't call your son a slave," Eric says evenly. "We all heard what she said. We're here to have a conversation."
"Okay, conversate!" Doreen snaps.
LaShelle recounts how she and Guy fought and once again, trots out her favorite word, "mean," as in "He was mean to me." LaShelle says that if Guy hadn't apologized to her when he did, she may have left.
Doreen looks at Guy with a mixture of what appears to be distaste, but, yes, surprise and awe.
Guy replies that yes, he acted inappropriately because LaShelle offended him. Eric tells Guy that it "upsets" him to hear that his wife was treated the way Guy treated LaShelle, but he's glad that it was resolved amicably.
Guy address LaShelle and tells her that she helped him and his stepchildren to understand that a family can be more than what they currently are.
Doreen says she wants to spend more time as a "fun, loving family."
Eric pledges to help out more around the house.
I suppose LaShelle didn't have to change a thing. Who knows?
Since Wife Swap, Doreen spends family time with Guy, Marques and Rashad, leaving behind her beloved bed and opting for board games, instead. (I hope she knows her husband is a god when it comes to charades.)
Eric has fulfilled his promise of cooking, cleaning and helping out with the children around the house.
"I'm content with the husband that I have and the children that I have," LaShelle says, taking us to credits. She ends the show with a double kissy-kiss with Eric.