Keep on Loving You

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.

Free Ride

So, where were we?

I managed to finish that enormous volunteer project, with lots of thanks due to the others who worked on it with me; it’s so lovely to not have to worry about being organized because you are working with the “ur organizer” of all time, frankly.

Whew. I do know some pretty amazing people, you know?

I need to get started revising the Kansas book, but have just been so worn out and tired lately…it’s a big deal to finish a draft, a short story, and an enormous volunteer project all at the same time, you know? I now have to write an essay, a short story, and get to revising this manuscript but at the same time…it’s kind of lovely knowing I got all that other shit done.

I also managed to do something to my back yesterday at work–sitting in my chair wrong–and it’s been aching ever since. I used the heating pad last night (using it again this morning) and it’s horrible, of course–I can’t imagine what I did to make it hurt, but then…this is just another one of those lovely surprises about getting older: new aches and pains every day and you don’t know where they came from or why or what caused it.

But my book comes out in less than a week, so I should probably talk about it some more, right?

As I mentioned yesterday, I pretty much only regularly watch The Real Housewives of New York and Beverly Hills. I do keep up with Atlanta, and will check in on Orange County every now and then. I tried both Dallas and Potomac (I never watched DC or Miami), but didn’t get through the first seasons–but I’ve heard they’ve become more entertaining, so might check them out. I’ve not watched New Jersey in a long time; I really gave up on it after Caroline left the show; I know she was problematic to a lot of viewers and she did get on my nerves from time to time–but when she left and the show centered Teresa, I was down with it. While watching these shows, and having my loyalties and allegiances shift over the seasons, as the producers manipulate story-lines and decide what the audience will and won’t see, has been interesting. I’ve also been interested in watching the cultural phenomena around the Real Housewives, and while I rarely (if ever) agree with Camille Paglia, she is also a Housewives fan, and in an interview, when the shows came up, she compared them to soaps, and in particular, the popular prime time soaps of the 1980’s: Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing, etc. It was an interesting comparison, and not one I agreed with immediately, but the more I think about–and the way people talk about the shows–the more I think she was right. The prime time soaps were addictive, considered guilty pleasures no serious viewer would ever watch, and while several of them were driven by strong male leads, the women were centered and usually more interesting. There were never any male characters as interesting as the women on Knots Landing, and Blake might have been the main character on Dynasty, but the real driving force behind the show were the two women main characters, Krystle and Alexis. The housewives appeal to, like the prime time soaps, primarily women and gay male viewers. When I wrote my thesis on daytime soaps in college, one of the cultural impacts I wrote about the shows having was the decline of what was called “women’s pictures”–movies centering women characters and female stars. Whereas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and many other women were big stars of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, it was the 1950’s and the rise of television that not only killed the studio system, but also killed off the popular genre of women’s pictures…and I do think that was not only due to television, but because all of daytime television centered, and was focused on, women. Women no longer had to pay money to go lose themselves in a fantasy world focused on strong women facing difficult situations heroically; they could spend all day watching heroic women facing difficult situations–and situations they could relate to more–Monday through Friday. The decline of soaps–both prime time and daytime–created another vacuum, and Bravo and these shows stepped up to fill that void.

There have been already some terrific books centering reality television; Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister was, like her debut novel Luckiest Girl Alive, absolutely fantastic. But as I said, I thought it would be interesting to write my own version of a murder mystery centered on a reality show filmed in New Orleans. I’m fascinated by these people, who are willing to have their lives and interactions be filmed for the entertainment of the masses, be judged for it on social media and in recap columns, and ripped to shreds on message boards and Facebook groups. Some of them use their reality show to promote not only themselves but their businesses–the most famous of these is Bethenny Frankel, who became rich through her various Skinnygirl enterprises, all of which were boosted by her popularity on reality television, and Lisa Vanderpump, who used her reality fame to promote her restaurants in Los Angeles, even getting a spin-off show centered around the staff at one of her restaurants, Vanderpump Rules, which is even more popular than the housewives (I abandoned that show somewhere after season two). I think the Frankel/Vanderpump model is the golden ticket these women are looking for when they agree to be cast; but not everyone is as smart about controlling their image as those two are–nor have the kind of influence on production as they enjoy.

My fascination with these women, and their shows, and who they are and why they would do such a show, gave birth to the idea that eventually became Royal Street Reveillon. I liked the idea of Scotty being a fan, and interacting with the women on the New Orleans show while trying to get to the bottom of a murder…or two, or three. It was also kind of fun to write, frankly, and the older i get and the more I do this, the more important it is to me to enjoy myself while I am doing it.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

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I’m Doin’ Fine Now

Tuesday! We survived Monday, did we not? That is, ultimately, a reason for celebration.

And–believe it or not, I finished Chapter Eighteen last night, which was incredibly cool. I haven’t worked on Bury Me in Shadows in so long I was beginning to think I was never going back to it.

Huzzah! Go, Greg, go!

They are slowly starting to close the Bonnet Carre Spillway, meaning that the river is beginning to go down, and might soon no longer be in flood stage. As we are ever aware in New Orleans, water is the eternal problem for our sinking city, and we will all sleep a little better knowing the flood is, at long last, receding.

We also finished watching Big Little Lies last night, and I have to say, I enjoyed it and thought it wrapped everything up nicely in a way the first season’s finale did not; which, of course, made the second season necessary. There shouldn’t be a third season; this is all tied up in a nice bow, and there’s no need for a third. It was, in a way, kind of nice seeing the fall-out from the lie they all agreed to tell after the ending of the first season; how the repercussions and fall out from the lie undermined and destroyed their lives in the third season–although blaming the lie for Renata’s troubles, which were solely the fault of her man-boy husband, is a bit much.

I slept deeply and well last night, but unfortunately am still wishing I was still in bed. I’m sleepy and tired, but not from not sleeping well, but rather from getting up too early this morning. It’s of course day 2 of my marathon opening the week each week, and I managed to make it through my entire day yesterday without either getting tired or being tired. This morning I woke up tired. I am hopeful the process of going through my morning ablutions will finish waking me up, and of course, tomorrow I can sleep a little later since I don’t have to be in until later. It’s also pay day, which means pay-the-bills day, which is never particularly pleasant, either.

Of course, when I get home from work tonight I’ll be watching part two of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion. I’m not entirely sure why; I have lost most of my interest in this show–it certainly doesn’t compare to either the New York or Atlanta (and, from what I’m seeing, Potomac) franchises, and I’m not entirely sure why. This past season’s emphasis on a boring storyline, having to do with a failed adoption of a dog and the fallout from the failed adoption, wasn’t particularly interesting, especially when production kept dancing around the reality of the actual situation and tried to force more drama out of it peripherally. Apparently, the show had new producers this season, and it showed; usually the women are at the mercy of production, but this season made it seem that the production was at the mercy of the women. One thing these shows are terribly good at it, though, is switching gears and manipulating the audience; a woman who is incredibly unlikable in one season can come out of another smelling like the proverbial rose, and vice versa. I try very hard not to get too involved in the outer trappings of these shows I watch–the energy expounded in watching the shows and deciding who to like and who not to like, and forming opinions on what I’ve seen, is more than enough time spent on them. I do occasionally like to read the recaps (some of which are absolutely hilarious) and will spend some time reading the comments on the recaps, simply to see how far off base my own opinions are, and to see how differently other people can process the very same thing I’ve watched. That, to me, is the most fascinating part of watching the shows–and it is very similar, as Camille Paglia pointed out (and it galls me to no end to agree with her about anything) the audience involvement with the reality television programs, and the Real Housewives franchises in particular, is very similar with how audiences used to get heavily involved in soap operas. An entire industry built up over soap fandom; the same is happening with the Real Housewives. 

The rise of reality television is also an interesting basis for a study on changes in American popular culture in the twenty-first century, which would make for either a brilliant long-form essay, or even a master’s thesis. (Someone, you are very welcome for this idea.)

Hopefully, tonight I will be able to tear through Chapter Nineteen after spending an hour rolling my eyes at the housewives. Gotta keep scratching things off that list, y’all.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Young Hearts Run Free

I continue to watch Chernobyl, which is mesmerizing as it is horrible. I am now up to episode four, and can’t look away. It’s horrifying and amazing and terrifying and so bleak, and perhaps the thing I can’t get out of my head is you were alive when this happened and was being reported in the news and I don’t ever recall knowing it was this bad–it was bad, but I never knew it was THIS bad.

And that is terrifying, so terrifying that it upsets my stomach and makes my blood run cold.

It is also a very cold, analytical look at what happens during a major disaster in a country where the news is under government control, and when a government is not only authoritarian, but where everyone is afraid to tell the next person higher up in the chain the truth when it’s bad news. It’s heartbreaking, and done in an almost documentary style. There was a point last night when watching that I thought, why are they all outside around the facility without any kind of shielding from the radiation? 

And then realized at that time, it no longer mattered; they were already so badly exposed their lives were essentially over. “Within five years,” is what they were told, and what they tell each other.

Absolutely horrific.

I didn’t get much writing done yesterday because I am at the point in the book where social issues come into play, and I am struggling because I don’t know how to make the points I want to make without sounding preachy or too “ABC After School Special”; I suppose the thing to do is not worry about any of that stuff because I can tighten and clean it up later, but when I am in the midst of writing I never think that way until the following morning, as I gaze bleary-eyed outside my windows into the grayness of the early dawn–you know, after I squandered my writing time the day before struggling.

Heavy sigh.

But in other good news, I have now slept well for two successive nights, which is lovely, and I woke up this morning without a problem when the alarm went off. Hopefully, that means not only will I make it through this long, long day, but won’t be bone-tired and exhausted when I get home. Of course, it’s Tuesday which means it’s a Real Housewives night, but frankly I find the Beverly Hills franchise to be rather boring this season. Perhaps some day I’ll write an entry about these shows and why I watch them, and what entertainment I get from them–but as Camille Paglia (whom I utterly detest, she is completely vile) once said, these shows replaced soaps, and the viewers are the same people who watched soaps; there is something camp and over-the-top about these shows, and the line between entertainment and reality has become so blurred with them that it is, actually, very soap-like; soap characters were like real people to their viewers, who talked about them like they were the people down the street. I don’t think Paglia’s analysis–it was part of a longer interview about culture in general–was particularly deep; it was kind of off-the-cuff and she hadn’t put much thought into the analysis, but she did strike a vein of truth with this, one that bears deeper thought and analysis and comparison (although I really disliked her comparing Tamra from Orange County to Donna Mills’ Abby from Knots Landing), and maybe someday I will do that.

When I have time. Because I have so much free time these days.

I also fell down into a rabbit hole yesterday–which, while a lot of fun, was also an enormous time-waster. This morning, the curiosity I had about the rabbit hole which was so intense and couldn’t be ignored, somehow doesn’t seem quite as intense as it did yesterday in the heat of the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I am still quite curious…but I don’t need to be refreshing social media to see new theories or discoveries.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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