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How the Real Housewives teach real life lessons

Posted by Alex Pearlman  May 9, 2012 05:06 PM

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realhousewives_tngg.jpgBy Megan Riesz

I am a sheep in an infinite flock of young Real Housewives fanatics.

We are a loyal bunch as dedicated to Bravo’s five-year-old enterprise as we are embarrassed by our allegiance to it. The often-bashed series has served us well, as a mechanism for bonding with classmates or feeling better after a bad day. It’s the light at the end of the work tunnel. It’s voyeuristic and thrilling. In other words, it’s an easy way to make small talk – and it’s cheaper than therapy.

Other than Jersey Shore, there is no other franchise that so quickly evokes eye rolls or sneers from those who call themselves immune to such frivolous television. It’s easy to write it off as mindless trash, typical of America’s thirst for theatrics. But it’s possible that Housewives could be leaving a positive footprint in the minds of today’s money-hungry college students.

Our mothers might watch Housewives, but it’s us who have uplifted executive producer (and Boston University alum) Andy Cohen’s golden child to its estimated half-billion dollar worth. We are enthralled by the plastic surgery, the bitter feuds, the financial problems of those who parade around as the “one percent.” In a country consumed by the importance of looks, image and money, there is no better example of how these frivolities are embodied.

When Orange County premiered in 2007, viewers were subjected to cringe-worthy footage of California women buying thousand-dollar watches and throwing lavish parties. It was clear that the producers wanted to show off their cast members’ deep pockets and not much else. They eventually realized that fights between cast members was the way to gain a fanbase, and thus began the staged lunch dates and set-ups, culminating in flipped tables and screaming matches.

At one point or another, the ladies of Orange County, Beverly Hills, New York, Atlanta, New Jersey, Miami, and D.C. have all been sucked into a melodramatic moment, carefully constructed and shot to ensure that the folks at home pant like lapdogs. Now, most of these moments revolve around the housewives’ dried-up bank accounts (and marriages) post-recession – a far cry from the first Orange County season, in which the women were portrayed as ambivalent angelic beauties living the American dream rather than real individuals.

As a result, the franchise has changed from a one-dimensional picture of what rich housewives are supposed to look like to a sociological study of the damaging effects of living large. More than a few women have gone bankrupt; one Beverly Hills cast member’s husband committed suicide last summer, allegedly because he was more than $1.5 million in debt.

Such horrendous events inspire conversation amongst my friends and I regarding the importance of becoming wealthy. Is that what we really want, considering what transpires in the private homes of this pick of socialites?

Unfortunately, the participants of this “study” get the short end of the stick. These are their lives. They are flooded with hateful messages from viewers who don’t think they’re living the right way, perpetuating the culture of women hating on women. And for many of them, leaving the world of Louis Vuitton, expensive vacations and  – to put it simplistically – money, is impossible. From this perspective, it’s hard to do anything but admire them for their willingness to show their imperfections, even if some are only doing it for fame’s sake.

It’s hard to defend any reality show, considering how contrived they have all become. But as a young woman who is decades younger than most of these housewives, I can admit that even when each show’s entertainment value overrides its educational value, I am consistently reminded of the benefits of being middle-class.

Photo by rom (Flickr)

About Megan -- Megan Riesz is a junior at Boston University studying news-editorial journalism and women's studies. Her passions are women's and social issues, as well as U.S. politics. On the weekends, you can find her re-watching "Game of Thrones" episodes or playing the latest installment of "Assassin's Creed." Or enjoying a nice brew.

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