My friend Laura often says there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure; that we should embrace anything and everything that provides us with entertainment because life is so damned fucking hard that we such take our joys and pleasures wherever we can find them and to hell with feeling guilt about any of it. It’s a wonderful theory that I’ve tried to adapt, but yet….somehow my reading and viewing choices inevitably make me feel guilty about some of them. I mean, when most writers-to-be were reading Faulkner and Hemingway and Barry Hannah and that other one–ah, yes, Raymond Carver–with an eye to Writing The Great American Novel, I was reading Harold Robbins and James Michener and Sidney Sheldon and any number of “trashy” novels.
My tastes have always skewed low, I’m afraid.
Take, for example, the Real Housewives shows.
Yet…something has changed.
I used to watch all the shows religiously, but finally I hated Teresa Guidice so much–and the fact that she kept her job after going to jail–pushed me away from watching New Jersey. I tired of Nene Leakes and her antics, so put Atlanta on the back burner; never watched Dallas or started Salt Lake City, and while I enjoyed Potomac, never could seem to remind myself to watch. I had eventually gotten to the point where I was only watching two: New York and Beverly Hills, but these current seasons of each have me wondering why do I still bother?
I bailed on the previous season of Beverly Hills before it finished–I had little to no interest in watching Brandi Glanville’s desperate attempt to gain relevance and get back on the show by slandering Denise Richards, and watching the rest of the cast gleefully torturing Ms. Richards over something that could have actually affected her custody struggle with her insane ex, Charlie Sheen was really not the kind of trash television I enjoy watching. I also really started hating Lisa Rinna, whom I’d always enjoyed before, to the point where all I want to do when I see her face is change the channel–let alone how grating the sound of her voice has become.
And while I did watch New York all the way to its bitter end last season, I found myself not really caring about their return this season, and yes, it took me awhile to get interested in even giving them another shot. I was actually of the mindset that, with all the things going on in the world and the pandemic and all, giving these women any more of my time was a waste, and have begun to think that the entire idea of these shows has run its course. In a time where a pandemic is killing people, anti-vaxxer ignorance is making things worse, and the country is being ripped apart over a significant part of the nation’s inability to look beyond themselves and have empathy for people being systemically oppressed…it’s hard to shut that reality off and enjoy the “reality” of spoiled, privileged women wasting their lives arguing over petty bullshit–particularly ones that are so self-absorbed to such a high level of narcissism that it really begs, if not for them to be institutionalized, but at the very least kept away from other human beings for the protection of society as a whole.
And that bothers me. Why has my opinion about these shows changed so dramatically? Is it the pandemic and all the racial reckoning we’ve been dealing with as a country and as a society? Or have I simply outgrown them?
It’s also occurred to me since I wrote about them in a (very thinly) veiled way in my last Scotty book–renaming the series The Grande Dames–that I can really no longer justify watching anymore. I definitely try to subscribe to Laura’s mentality about guilty pleasures, but as I have watched this season’s episodes of both shows, I find myself bored and not enjoying them so much. All shows tend to have a natural tendency to become less interesting the longer they run, and reality shows are no different from their scripted brothers and sisters. These shows are rather like soaps–that comparison has been made before by a lot of television and cultural critics (including the horrible Camille Paglia, which proves the old adage about stopped clocks)–which is why soaps regularly wrote characters out and brought in new ones to try to stay relevant and fresh. The night time soaps eventually ran out of steam–popular characters couldn’t be let go, and how do you keep the villains and heroes fresh when they continually have to make the same mistakes, over and over again, as the stories eventually end up repeating themselves?
I do think that’s what is happening, in my mind, with the Real Housewives…they’ve run their course, the long-running characters’ awful behavior and mistakes get repeated, over and over again, with every new cast member, and it’s hard to watch people behaving the same way for decades and never really learning and growing from the experiences. I guess that isn’t why people watch these shows–for character growth and development–the key to their popularity is how awful the women actually are, and how lacking in self-awareness…but having spent most of my adulthood shedding toxic people from my life as soon they make their toxicity known, it’s weird to watch shows for years about people who are primarily toxic at their core, with few, if any, redeeming qualities. But a show about a bunch of lovely women with money who are decent and do good things with their money wouldn’t be interesting to watch, either. It’s the conflict we watch for, I suppose, and the bad behavior, and deciding who’s right and who’s wrong and being entertained. And sometimes these shows are painful to watch as they go to really dark places occasionally–as I was watching New York yesterday, I found myself thinking about one character–who is clearly in a very bad place and when she drinks too much she blacks out and her behavior is horrifying–and wondering why no one in production, or no one else in the cast, is stepping up and trying to get her the help she so obviously needs?
But this out-of-control behavior drives ratings, I suppose, and that leads to the next question, is it okay to watch these women, who hunger for fame and attention, debase themselves and allow themselves to be debased for our entertainment?
I think that is what is driving my current discomfort with watching–and also driving why I am questioning having ever started watching them in the first place.
I also suppose as long as I continue to watch I can’t really criticize the shows, but I suppose I can critique them as well as the reasons why I watch them.
I also have a real problem with this season’s Beverly Hills primary story; the Erica Girardi/Erika Jayne “was she complicit in her husband’s fraud” story, playing out in real life as we watch how it played out when the story first broke…doesn’t sit well with me. Her decision to continue being the cold-hearted snake she plays on the show on social media–with not a bit of concern for the victims of her husband’s fraud; instead claiming martyrdom/victimhood for herself–will inevitably turn up in court when it comes to that; I cannot imagine what the fuck her lawyers are thinking letting her still have access to her own social media or not advising her to keep her fucking mouth shut while in front of the cameras is, at the very least, legal malpractice. If she even showed the least, smallest bit of concern for her husband’s victims…as opposed to making it all about her and what she’s “lost” (sorry your Sugar Daddy can’t steal more money to buy you jewels with)…I could be sympathetic….but yeah, go fuck yourself, grifter.
But given the state of our society and culture, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the grifting Girardis get away with their crimes. But if there’s no reckoning of any kind for her, and she remains on the show…I won’t be watching in the future.
At least the Giudices on New Jersey were white collar criminals who just didn’t pay their taxes. The Girardis–and Jen Shah on Salt Lake City–belong behind bars.
And maybe–maybe it’s time we stopped celebrated bad people behaving badly on television. I don’t know. But I am terribly disappointed with the producers for seeing ratings, instead of suffering. IMAGINE being one of Tom Girardi’s victims and watching her play victim? It turns MY stomach, and I am not one of their victims.
I don’t know. Maybe I can find joy in these shows again. But for now…I really don’t see how I can justify watching another season of either.