Why? was the first word that came to mind when I first started seeing advertisements for Bravo's reality series The Real Housewives of Orange County. What could possibly be the purpose of this show? The thing is, I don't like to form opinions about shows I haven't seen, especially based on just the marketing, which is often deliberately misleading. A good case in point is Beauty and the Geek, which is more purposeful and sweet than one might expect—which I never would have known (or suspected) if I hadn't tuned into an episode. It's not exactly noble, but we can probably safely leave it off the list of signs of the apocalypse.
So, okay, I finally gave The Real Housewives of Orange County a chance. And, within 15 seconds, I wanted to gouge out my eyes. Between one ninny, who evidently went to the George W. Bush School for Talking Good, going on about "reindependisizing" herself, and another ninny, who maybe needs to reindependisize herself, waxing political about being a Republican because her parents were and now her husband is, I honestly began to wonder if the show had been conceived as a weapon against feminists, in the hopes it would just make our heads explode.
The women on this show could not be more cartoonish, which one might credit to editing, except for the fact that the Housewives are back for a second season, clearly pleased with the results of the first. They—and their various men—enthuse about not having to be nice, because they're rich, and sigh about how easy is it to forget about all the things about which "the rest of the world" has to worry. Honey, thought I, last time I checked, Orange County was still on the globe, and a global climate crisis won't skip your house because it's got a six-car garage.
The depth of vapidity and avarice are enough to make me weep, as is the sickening realization that we're meant to hate these women. The Housewives sort of seem to know that, too, but they're too silly to realize we don't hate with envy, but disdain. Don't hate me because I'm rich and beautiful and fabulous, they seem to say—and all I can think is, "Okay. How about I hate you because you're a hopeless, facile, gluttonous imbecile?" And, you know, I really don't actually want to hate people I don't even know, especially cardboard cutouts of women who quite likely feel immeasurably worse about themselves than I do, even in spite of their being closer to the arbitrary lifestyle and beauty ideals that are supposed to make us happy than I could ever hope to be.
The Real Housewives betrays the illusion of those promises—which I suppose could be an answer to my Why?, although I can't imagine anyone who hadn't yet twigged that the American Dream is so much glistening, gossamer codswallop would find enlightenment in the O.C.
Someone out there is being entertained, apparently, but I couldn't count myself among them. It's all too sad, too infuriating, too pitiful, too American. Not authentic America, the America of diversity, and struggle, and humor, and pain—it's not American enough that way—but apathetic, voracious, materialistic, consumerist, privileged America; the America of Grover Norquist's dreams and my nightmares. I get enough of that shit reading the news and the latest social Darwinist machinations of the rightwing; I don't need it or want it in my escapist pursuits. So after I gave The Real Housewives a fair shake, I put on The Big Lebowski for the ten millionth time. Because, ya know, the Dude abides.
[The image above, perfectly capturing the hierarchy of the Housewives, is from Pretty on the Outside—a blog showcasing the original art of David Gilmore, who critiques our celebrity culture and obsession with vanity. I know there are a bunch of Shakers who dig Gallery of the Absurd, and if you like 14's work, you'll like DG's.]