February 17, 2009
“The Real Housewives of New York” premieres tonight, and once again I’m left wondering many things: Which city’s show do I like the most? (“Atlanta” had me at “jury” for “jewelry,” but makes me feel like the same icky guilt I used to have watching “Flava of Love,” and though I used to think the original “Orange County” series was the gold standard of terrible rich people on television, this last season has been really boring. So that leaves New Yawk and its braying, preening society climbers. Huzzah!) Does Bravo mean to present these horrible women and their lifestyles as “aspirational” or as a cruel joke that no one but the audience is in on? Am I part of the crime for watching?
I feel the same disorientation when watching MTV’s “My Super-Sweet 16”–am I meant to smugly mock the over-the-top vulgarity and greed or wish wish wish I could afford my own pink Ferrrari driven to me on a rose-petal-strewn red carpet while Miley Cyrus sings and I’m gowned in a custom harem-girl outfit, eating a piece of $10,000 cake and whining that I should have gotten a Maserati?
My friends think these shows are presented to us with a very large wink, that the viewers are supposed to be appalled at the gluttony and spending, even if the “stars” are completely unaware that they’re being mocked. But the New York Times clearly does not buy the “it’s just a big joke on these people” explanation:
Money is the only currency: the status markers understood by a huge faction of the privileged class figure not at all in the “Real Housewives” universe. Here there is no premium placed on education or refined tastes, and a businesswoman is someone who makes cuff bracelets at her kitchen table. The whole enterprise, like so much else on Bravo, the “affluencer” network, feels like a moldy leftover from the pre-Obama age; the currently fashionable values — humility, intelligence, restraint, style — are eclipsed by money-grubbing witlessness and big-carbon-footprint living.
“The Real Housewives of New York City” continues to feel especially yucky in this regard — and fraudulently offensive to a certain kind of New Yorker who would never actually envy someone like Alex.
I don’t know if I agree. Bravo is savvy enough to know that its audience likes to watch (and judge) the freaks in their freak show while perhaps feeling a tinge of jealousy that so much money is being wasted by people with no taste. It’s a guilty pleasure, and Bravo knows from guilty pleasures. At least I think they do.
At any rate, I totally have a love/hate relationship with these trainwrecks and I CAN’T STOP WATCHING. I just can’t!