This essay was published in USFHivemind, an online publication run by the Media Studies department at the University of San Francisco.
In elementary school I was barely 4 feet tall and always wore the same brown cargo pants. While I wouldn’t exactly call my 10-year-old self a recluse, I was certainly alienated from my peers as a kid. Maybe it was because I’m an only child, or perhaps I’m just an old soul. Whatever the reason, I never exactly meshed with my young peers. The fact is the fourth grade was draining — and after a long weekday, all I wanted to do was sit at home and watch forbidden TV.
In 2006, the world of entertainment was on the precipice of a revolution. The whirlwind of social media and reality television was just beginning to bubble up to the mainstream. Brand new faces and names were flashing on screen more than ever before, and few have stood the test of time. In the midst of this mess of culture and character was my sponge of a mind, soaking up everything it could. By some miracle, my strict immigrant parents never learned to set up parental controls. This mistake lead me to discover who I believe to be the unsung hero of modern day entertainment, Tiffany “New York” Pollard.
The first time I saw New York she was competing against 19 other women for the love of the so-called “greatest hype man in the music business”, Mr. Flavor Flav. The show’s misogyny and overall attempt to use women as props was lost on 10-year-old me. New York’s undeniable radiance, however, was not. From the moment New York burst on screen it was clear she was aiming not for a man, but for a lifelong career. In fact, she ended her audition tape for Flavor of Love season one with the line, “He’s going to love me. And you’re going to love me, too.” And love her I did.
As a youngster, New York’s iconic moments on Flavor of Love colored every sleepover I had with my older cousins. We would spend hours laughing and giggling, rewinding the TiVo over and over just to hear lines like “Good morning! Good morning! Good morning! Not you — you can choke.”
Contestants on Flavor of Love repeatedly scuffled with New York. Each time, they would call her “an aspiring actress” or a “bobblehead who’s just good for TV”. Thing is, they were kind of right. New York never took offense to these comments. Instead, the self-proclaimed Head Bitch In Charge (HBIC for short) went on to do a slew of TV shows.
Flash forward a year and I’m in the fifth grade now. Still painfully short, but I have a few more pairs of pants. On a warm Saturday morning in 2007, I don’t watch cartoons. I watch Vh1. New York now has her own show, I Love New York, where 20 men fight for the chance at her hand in courtship (for a few months until Season Two). I laugh in my pjs as New York checks each contestant’s credit score and makes them build tree houses for no apparent reason.
When Tiffany’s next endeavor, New York Goes to Work premieres, I am a full-blown seventh grader. I’m well-versed in the now-tired structure of dating shows, numb from the stupidity of shows like Jersey Shore; so I notice something new in New York’s latest. First, she was the New York that cried in a limo when Flav gave her the boot. Then, she was the Mistress commandeering a show of 20 men, but was still sexualized. Now, in 2009, New York is entering different fields of work and trying her hand at what she can do. She’s a working woman. New York is hunting ghosts now. There’s something to be said about the resilience of New York’s ability to crack through the surface and finally be valued for herself (and for her one liners).
To this day, when I feel like I’m on the brink of tears I think of New York in a powder blue dress with a white flower in her hair. I picture her exaggerated strut away from the Flavor of Love mansion, as she shouts expletives and claims to not care when really, she’s seconds away from a meltdown. This TV moment that I’ve saved in my memory for 12 years is now a gif that’s used countless times all over the world everyday.
People love New York, just as I always have. Now New York has an extensive resume that, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t just include her yelling at other people. Her legacy shines brightest online. My generation grew up sneakily watching Vh1 after their parents went to bed. So many of us have an unyielding admiration for the woman who was unapologetic and vivacious to the end. New York’s quotes, clips, even facial expressions were constantly viral, and they still are, because we can all relate to New York. Who has never wanted to walk around like they owned the place? Or to tell their enemy they look like Luther Vandross as opposed to Beyonce?
New York’s staunch conviction in her persona and her unfettered exuberance subverts the system that cast her as just another black girl looking to date Flavor Flav. She may have been the butt of the joke at first, but New York laughed all the way to the bank. And along the way, she taught me and a bunch of other kids who should’ve been in bed, how to be Head Bitch in Charge.