Friday, August 19, 2011

Reality Check

I used to enjoy the Real Housewives of Orange County. This was back when they were merely clueless and pneumatic, and I watched even though they were, for the most part, neither housewives nor real. I found their vapid self-absorption fascinating, if a little scary. Their blond ambitions and their ability to overcome emotional setbacks with legendary shopping trips were astonishing. Then the franchise changed.
I think this happened when they added Atlanta and New Jersey to the mix. These new housewives weren't content with mere shallowness. They were the mean girls we all used to know in home room, only with way more money and snark. Their cluelessness borders on the criminal.
It would have been okay if this amped-up bad behavior had stayed in New Jersey and Atlanta, but it didn't. It got great ratings. People apparently like to watch women yell and curse and pull each others' hair. We like a good cat fight, and the more profane and ugly it is the better.
So rather than confine the carnage to the place where it began, Bravo decided to export it. They switched up the Orange County and New York shows to feature the cruelty like a new cast member. A show without tears and gnashing of teeth was a failed episode. I can imagine Andy Cohen calling Jill Zarin or Vicki Gunvalson and telling them they needed to step up their game or they'd be replaced by knife toting ex-cons.
Does anyone believe that Bethenny Frankel could have sold Skinny Girl Cocktails for $120 million if she hadn't spent two seasons trading insults at made-for-celebrity charity events with the other women of the New York franchise. I don't think so. She may have shaved the calories off a margarita, but she stripped out all the flavor as well. The only reason a woman would drink one of these is so that she could purse her lips and suck in her cheeks and look like she really meant the sarcastic remarks she was hurling at her frenemies.
These shows are not entertaining or astonishing to me any more. They are frightening. Truly bad behavior has become a norm. Snarky cruelty has become acceptable behavior. Bravo has made it so with its ubiquitous 'Real Housewives' shows. Now there are tons of reality shows trying to find slots in this televised parade of emotional abuse. Cohen's unreal reality shows have made me afraid to engage flashy women in conversation in the same way that the movie "Jaws" made me afraid to wade into the ocean any deeper than my knees.

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