I Really Need to Stop Watching Real Housewives…

30 Apr

Image used under a creative commons license from flickr user kilgub

…because it is a horrible series, and I always feel bad after I watch it.

At this point, I’m not so sure that whatever schadenfreudelicious pleasure I get from watching these shows is worth it.  Reality t.v. is mainly enjoyable because it’s fun to watch people who are so out of touch with basic social mores, people who are unaware of what it means to really be human, get their comeuppance on t.v. It’s bizarre yet thrilling to discover that there are people in this world who honestly believe that competing with 20 other women to hook up with an aging rocker will bring them some measure of success or fulfillment, a reminder that no matter how questionable our own life choices are, we are still a few steps above a lot of people.  I think all reality shows have this awesome balance of tragedy and comedy, and they work because the producers do a great job of disguising the fact that in reality (pun intended) these are people whose erratic behavior signals their serious need of psychological help.

Which brings me to “The Real Housewives” series, which I started watching on the weekends after stress-filled weeks in college. Although there are four spin-offs in the series, (and a coming D.C. one)  I am partial to New York, New Jersey and Atlanta (I’ll talk about Orange County in a bit). When I started watching it, I used to claim that I was doing it for high-brow feminist reasons, which my friends quickly and brutally called me on. And they were right.  For all its entertaining qualities, “Real Housewives” also communicates some soul-crushingly awful things about money, class, gender, and race in this culture.  So because I respect you more than that, I’m not gonna try and sell it as “ground-breakingly feminist.”

But I will say that part of the reason I do like watching all the shows in the series is that for better or worse, they thrust us into the world of American women. Now, I’m not saying this is a world that is representative of a lot of women’s lives, but it is life as these women know it.  And perhaps I am completely deprived of depictions of women that I’ll take anything, but I get a huge kick out of watching these women’s friendships every week. Interestingly, while the series was named  “Real Housewives” to capitalize on the fame of “Desperate Housewives,” most of the shows feature women who are often fairly independent from their partners.  In fact, on most of the shows, the husbands take a back-seat to their wives,  as the central story is ultimately about the women’s relationships with each other. They laugh, drink, gossip, shop, cry and get Botox  with each other. Even when they fight (and boy do they), it’s almost never about a guy, but is instead about betrayed allegiances within the group itself. So there’s some stuff in there which makes it relatable and slightly redeemable.

That is of course, if you don’t watch Orange County, which at this point, has abandoned all the comedic elements of reality t.v., and is instead hurtling toward a full-on tragedy. I didn’t watch any of this season’s episodes except the last, but it seems clear to me that a lot of the people on that show are facing some very grave problems (controlling/abusive husbands, alcoholic children, disturbingly low self-esteem, bankruptcy) which makes the whole idea of Bravo filming it for our amusement  feel too exploitative (I know, I know, it already was). Unlike the other housewives–who are a little kooky at best– the women of Orange County, with their deeply dysfunctional family lives and severely overdone faces, have devolved into figures in a cautionary tale about the requirements of fame and femininity.

Increasingly though, I find that the other shows in the series, New York, Atlanta, and New Jersey; are no longer fun to watch as well. I have a basic rule about reality t.v. shows, which is that how good they are is inversely proportional to how famous the people on them get. Naturally, this means that the first season is the always best, because that is when people are least self-aware and the drama a little less scripted. By season two, everyone’s read the blogs and knows who the fan favorites are, and they’ve wised up and realized that they have to make a career out of it by selling something (like hilariously auto-tuned club tracks). So it just becomes about branding.  And I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in giving up an hour of my life plus the additional dignity every Thursday to watch the Countess “casually” mention her book, or Ramona claim that she hasn’t had surgery, but looks so young because she uses her own moisturizer.

And the drama’s not even that good anymore! I’m not saying that any of the shows were ever actually real, but they feel so obviously scripted now.  Every time I watch New York or Atlanta, (and I’m guessing I’ll have the same feeling  if I watch NJ this summer)  I always think: this doesn’t make any sense! Why would Kim go and meet NeNe and Sheree when they clearly don’t like her (and then get jumped)? Why are any of these people always going to cocktail parties at each others’ houses when they have had  so many serious disagreements in the past?  It’s so obvious that the producers are directing them to initiate arguments. Which makes the fights they have so pathetic, because you realize that these are grown women (and sometimes mothers) arguing about whether or not someone gets to sing on the other person’s terrible new disco song, called “Tardy for the Party.” Even worse, you also realize that at this point, even they probably realize how played out it is, and are just doing it because this show is the primary source of income that many of these women have.

That’s depressing, because in the end, they’re making fools out of themselves for a society that’s all too willing to hate on middle-aged women.  And we don’t need one more reason to believe that women of that age are desperate and pathetic. Which is why I don’t think I can watch Housewives anymore, because the reality is getting a little too real for me. So I’m going to stop.

But only after Atlanta comes on this summer.

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