Goodbye to All That: The Real Housewives Part II

(A continuation from yesterday’s post)
Bravo certainly encourages the bad behavior of Housewives, but it also functions like the worst of husbands who carelessly discard their first wives. The network continually replaces cast members as they become too old, boring, difficult, demanding, predictable, or crazy. The replacement cast member is like the trophy second wife, similar to her predecessor just younger, newer, sexier, more willing to play along for a time. Such replacements remind the cast and the audience that everyone is expendable – a commodity that can be replaced easily by another commodity. The audience too is supposed to simply forget the now banished housewife. Silence surrounds her departure and her name is seldom uttered. Perhaps, these are the lessons of the modern world.

As each cast member is a commodity, multiple housewives use the show and their new found fame and media access to sell their own commodities — wine, cookbooks, skin care, clothing, cocktails, underwear, sex toys, records, jewelry, make-up, handbags, and even a stun gun. The name of the game is to quickly turn one’s sixty minutes of fame into cold hard cash. Housewives take on the aura of HSN.

A number of housewives make it to something resembling D list celebrity status, but there is something quite tragic that hangs over the franchise. For every housewife who gets her own show or pot of gold, there are bodies left behind. The divorce rate for housewives is astounding and their divorces continually fuel the gossip pages. Like the real world, Housewives when they divorce often face serious economic problems as they trade their MacMansions for smaller digs and worry about how to pay their bills. But other tragedies occur as well a fiancé was murdered; a husband committed suicide; a boyfriend died; children go to jail; housewives enter into rehab; families go into bankruptcy. On some level, this resembles the trajectories and pain that so many American families face. Yet Bravo never focuses on these downers, it is simply easier to get rid of the unsuccessful apples or give such misfortunes short shrift – let’s move on to the next fight, the next outfit, the next party.

I understand that my own rant is full of hypocrisy. Just turn the channel I tell myself. I am like those who blame junk food companies for their weight gain but the reality is that Housewives is junk food perfectly engineered to produce the bliss point and cravings for more. I am never satiated. Like junk food the Housewives are not innocuous. The franchise so vividly reflects and perpetrates misogyny, confirming our worst sense of ourselves, and our relationships with other women. After so many years of Housewives, I can barely imagine a world where NBC would pick up the Golden Girls (1985). The idea of a show featuring three older fully clothed women who relatively harmoniously live together and love one another seems like a relic of a past golden era.

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