Martha Stewart, Snoop Dogg and the fantasy of national harmony
While I watched the Oscars, I was struck (as I am every year) by Americans’ obsession with seeing groups of celebrities palling around on television. It seems we’re endlessly enchanted by the sight of celebrities rubbing elbows, and we’re particularly delighted when they appear in unlikely combinations.
There are plenty of TV shows that have sought to benefit from smashing together seemingly incompatible celebrities — from sketch comedy shows like Saturday Night Live to competitions like Dancing with the Stars and The Voice. But in August 2016, VH1 announced a new show that takes this idea to a new level: Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.
The show stars domestic diva Martha Stewart and hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg cooking together on a stage with a group of celebrity guests, and then sitting around a dinner table to enjoy their shared bounty.
The announcement was met with a swell of excitement from fans, advertisers and commentators. Fans took to Facebook to gush, with the show’s promo video being shared more than 150,000 times with over 13 million views. Advertisers leapt at the opportunity to partner with the show, with sponsorships completely selling out by November. Virtually every culture publication, from Us Weekly to The New Yorker, has written about the show. When it premiered on November 6, it garnered strong ratings, and drew praise from critics and fans alike throughout its seven-episode run. Around the time the third episode aired, VH1 announced it would be renewing the show for a second season.
But is there something other than Snoop and Stewarts’ sheer star power — and the irony of the unlikely pairing — that can explain the show’s unmatched buzz?
Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party arrived at a time of acute national divisiveness. Social media has allowed people to become increasingly isolated from those with opposing viewpoints, and more convinced that their own is unequivocally correct. It’s easier than ever for us to lose sight of the humanity in those who see the world differently from us.
Rather than sidestepping the different worldviews held by its hosts, Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party leans into them, addressing them head-on. The show places Martha and Snoop’s significant differences in full view, and the resulting tensions provide most of the fodder for the show.
Consider the first episode, in which Martha and Snoop each prepare their own version of fried chicken (already adding a racially charged element to the episode). As Martha Stewart prepares a “buttermilk bath” to marinate her chicken breasts, Snoop Dogg is crumpling potato chips over his wings. “This stays in the fridge for two days,” Martha calmly explains as she dunks the chicken into a bowl of ice water to “take the impurities out.” An incredulous Snoop responds, “Two days? In the hood we have a rule: you cook the chicken first, and then you put it in the fridge,” later adding, “Mine’s gonna be ready in 12 minutes.”
The show is not entirely unproblematic. Its humour comes from contrasting masculinity and femininity (a man in the kitchen!), lower and upper class (what’s Snoop doing grating truffles?) and blackness and whiteness (Martha’s inability to understand Snoop’s izzles). It’s about as progressive as Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker’s characters in Rush Hour.
And it’s not as if their relationship bridges chasms evidenced by the Black Lives Matter movement, the Occupy Wall Street protests or the political divide – both Snoop and Stewart endorsed Hillary Clinton.
But the two seem to enjoy each other’s company and exhibit a general openness and even enthusiasm for each other’s methods. The good vibes continue when, at the end of each episode, Martha, Snoop, and all of the guests (Seth Rogen, Wiz Khalifeh, and Ice Cube in the first episode) sit at a table and enjoy the food they’ve prepared together.
In short: the awkwardness caused by Martha and Snoops’ differences doesn’t stop them from having fun. In an America where many people are anxious about sitting down at a dinner table with their own families, the show can provide an escapist fantasy of both domestic and national harmony.
Image source: Peopledotcom