On Saturday afternoon, through no deliberate choice of my own, I wound up watching several episodes of "The Real Housewives of Orange County." Although several smart friends and people I admire a lot love these shows, I'd never seen one. I remember when Bravo used to be a specialty cable channel for the performing arts; you could probably make the argument (and I'm sure someone has) that the Real Housewives shows are another type of performance art.
But the show upset me, and two days later, I'm still trying to figure out why. I can't figure out what the shows or their participants want from their audience. Are we supposed to mock them, or judge them? I don't want to do either of those things. Are we supposed to plunge ourselves vicariously into their artificial drama? I don't want to do that, either.
I felt as if just watching the show, and trying in the process to understand or relate to or sympathize with those women, corrupted my soul and made me a worse person. That’s not an exaggeration.
I can’t stand back and mock them; they’re creatures in such pain that they need to act out their lives for television cameras, and create artificial drama with strangers the producers have thrown them together with. What is their use on the planet, what is their value? How do they think that being on TV will improve their lives, and why would they have sought out that experience? How are we supposed to know which of the emotions they show on screen are real, and which are only for the benefit of the cameras?
I’ve worked very hard to make my own life as drama-free as possible. I got a lifetime’s worth of drama before the age of 25, and I don’t need any more, thank you very much. Where are these women’s children, and what is their life’s work, except to be immortalized on these TV shows? It makes me feel horrible and scribbly inside, and I don’t know what to do with it. I was already feeling horrible and scribbly.
My friends who love these shows might say, “Don’t take it so seriously,” but these are women who want to be taken seriously — aren't they? — who yearn for connection and meaning and psychic weight. Which is tragic. It’s all tragic, and the tragedy overwhelms me. If I want to be overwhelmed by tragedy I can watch “Intervention,” which at least is not asking me to laugh at it.
Do you watch "The Real Housewives"? If so, why, and what do you get out of it? Am I over-thinking this, or do I need to watch more to understand its true cultural significance?