In Defense of the 'Real Housewives' Franchise
a non apology for loving reality tv in all its glory and ugliness
I want to start off by saying that I love reality TV. Everything from Kardashians and Below Deck (Mediterranean, obviously), to any type of house flipping or fixing show, cooking challenges, and of course the OG Girls Next Door and The Simple Life. But none of these compare to the feelings I have for the Real Housewives, more specifically, the ladies of New York City. I won't lie, I really only watch NYC and Beverly Hills, every now and then OC, and Miami until it was cancelled. There's something special about the women on RHONY that's made it a standing favorite. Not to mention they recently wrapped their 10th season, so 10 years of my life have been spent (or wasted depending on your personal opinion) keeping up with their lives.
Before I dive too deep into this personal analysis of obsession, I want to make it clear that a big reason I love reality TV has to with escapism. I realize things are heavily produced or framed in certain ways that makes the "reality" aspect a little less real, saying that, I still LIVE for these shows. Most people will say this is vapid or a waste of time, and yes, it probably is; but honestly I appreciate the cultural stamp reality TV has placed on society. In a similar way to how we are arguing for more representation in movies in order that everyone; no matter what race/ethnicity, gender, religion or whatever else, has something bigger to connect with, reality TV has created a genre and space that anyone can be apart of.
Don't get me wrong, I know a lot of these shows are meant for entertainment and don't exactly speak for social political movements, but there are moments of cultural importance. For example, shows like Queer Eye helped open doors of acceptance for those in the gay community, and while it is a Bravo show rooted in drama, Shahs of Sunset follows a group of Iranian American friends living in Beverly Hills, displaying a group of people who have been heavily marginalized in the US as, *gasp* normal! Hate it or love it, there is something to be said about the inclusivity that the reality TV genre brings with it at times.
So, back to my love of RHONY. Compared to other cities, the women of RHONY seem to actually, genuinely be friends on and off camera. Head of production for Bravo and executive producer for the Real Housewives, Andy Cohen has said that out of all the cities, after reunions, NYC is the only one that tends to hang out with each other after. He further explains how their social circles off camera overlap, due to both NYC's smallness and that the cast represents a very specific group of women. There's also something "realer" about the RHONY cast compared to others, almost like they're in on the joke, hyper aware of their flaws and lack of perfection. The women really do bare all when it comes to the show, and whether it's in a good light or bad, it shows the complicated nature of real women (even if these women happen to be making millions more than the average) through the ups and downs of everyday life.
At their best, RHONY has shed light on life after a partner passing (Carole Radziwill and Dorinda Medley), brought attention to presidential elections (Carole) and the devastation in Puerto Rico (Bethenny Frankel's B Strong initiative). But more importantly, at their worst and most "hot mess" moments, they've shown that maybe they aren't so different from us after all. Whether it be divorce and custody battles or friendships ending and disintegrating for at times unclear reasons, viewers connect to the housewives during their own similar difficult times. Roxane Gay of Bad Feminist has said that even though we tell ourselves we watch these shows to feel better about ourselves, "perhaps we watch these shows because in the girls we, more than anything, see the plainest reflections of ourselves, garishly exposed but unfettered."
I can personally say that the different types of personalities portrayed on the show have made me feel better about myself, and not in a way that makes me feel less crazy, but in a way that I can relate to how they sometimes react. I'm not exactly an emotional, fuzzy person, I tend to be more aggressive and have a hard time with fake-ness, pretending that everything is cool if I don't like someone. Seeing a mix of women, some emotional and overreacting, others more calm and quick to not beat around the bush, makes me feel better about myself and the women around me in that both types are ok and deserve empathy. On numerous occasions these women have reacted poorly or said things that shouldn't have been said, but they've also shown us that we don't have to be perfect, that we can break down and not deal with a situation in the right way and that's ok because that's life.