"Southern ... Christian ... Fine! ... No 'baby mommas.'" Star Jones Reynolds reprints this fairly trite wish list of character traits for Mr. Right, created back when she was shy one toothy, banker hubby, in her new book Shine: A Physical, Emotional & Spiritual Journey to Finding Love.
As many gossip columns would be quick to quip, perhaps Mrs. Al Reynolds should have added "heterosexual" to the roster -- rumors abound regarding the sexuality of her too-good-to-be-true Afro-Ken doll (including tuxedo and East Hamptons dream house!) of a husband. Regardless of their veracity, these tabloid tidbits, like most gay-guessing exercises, carry a tinge of not-so-subtle homophobia. And they are a prime example of the rampant Star-Jones backlash that critiques everything from her dramatic weight loss to her "Starlet by Star Jones" Payless shoes.
While a good portion of anti-Star attacks are steeped in snark, Jones Reynolds' media-hungry persona does raise legitimate questions about what she is compromising in the pursuit of her diva life and how she is serving her female and African-American fan base. With her regular gig as a host on The View, ill-fated award-show coverage for E!, over-hyped wedding, and love coaching for AOL's "Black Voices," Jones Reynolds has gone a bit off-message as the former Brooklyn homicide prosecutor with an "uncanny ability to clarify muddy legal and social issues" (per the ABC Web site). She now spends most of her airtime giving women "Star Treatment" fantasy makeovers and gushing about her man.
There are plenty of insipid talking heads on television, but what makes Star Jones Reynolds so frustrating is that she is a surpassingly intelligent woman with a position of power and visibility in the media that is rare for a person of color. And except for when she's snuggled in the blanket of Barbara Walters' integrity, Jones Reynolds seems to squander with abandon any opportunity to meaningfully engage with her constituency and instead offers a caricature of opulent success and happiness.
A North Carolina native, Jones Reynolds grew up poor and worked her way through college and law school on scholarship. Describing her dues-paying years as an assistant DA in a 1999 interview with BBW magazine, she relates how she used to sew fake Chanel buttons on her designer knockoffs. Her story speaks to anyone who has longed for unattainable status symbols. However, somewhere along the way, the social relevance of Star's humble past fell into that "muddy" ground she claims to elucidate. Instead of realizing she didn't need the bling to define her success, she bought the real Chanel buttons, along with the suit they're attached to, and with her newly svelte figure is celebrating the fact that she can finally both afford and fit into couture.
Now she has forgotten that for the most part her viewers still can't afford the damn buttons. Even when she does address the financial reality of her viewers, she often belies the practicality of her message. In Shine, she brags about bargain shopping (having designers comp you clothes in exchange for shameless plugs is quite a discount, after all) and lists the country's best outlet malls. But she then provides a list of the best discount shopping in Milan.
Jones Reynolds claims her mission is to promote the self-esteem of her fans, but in her own list of musts for her ideal mate she pointedly distances herself from a portion of her fan base who needs support -- black single mothers. Interestingly, she differs from the era's other most prominent black female icons (although they too mostly worship at the altar of celebrity at all costs) -- Condoleeza Rice, Beyoncé, media queen rival Oprah -- in her diehard adherence to marriage-and-progeny tradition. Jones Reynolds, despite her achievements, is no feminist icon but a throwback postergirl for Bush's family values. She invokes a term, "baby mama," that has entered the pop-culture vernacular to demonize women who haven't achieved the mainstream ideal of monogamous romance and intact nuclear families. Flipping through the February, Valentine issue of Essence magazine, the blatant double speak common in popular media regarding the status of black single mothers is apparent: It contains advice on how to cope with the demands of your husband's "baby mamas" and a small article for single mothers on how to claim child support.
Like Essence, Jones Reynolds doesn't seem to know how to nurture her varied audience without pandering to one group and condescending to the other. In the end, she doesn't address the concerns of anyone because she is too busy informing on the minutia of her own life, most notoriously her wedding -- e.g., the longest veil in the recorded history of matrimony (longer than Princess Di's!).
Star Jones Reynolds has long since spent any "girl from the projects makes good" currency she once had with black women, and all that is left is the hackneyed rags-to-riches message perpetuated in lifestyle media: With enough money and a team of trained experts to assist you, you too can achieve the happiness you've always dreamed of (but if you can't, fake it).
Star Jones Reynolds will be signing books at Joseph-Beth Bookseller at SouthPark mall on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 10am. Line tickets (free with Shine purchase) are required. For more info see www.josephbeth.com.