jeudi 18 juin 2009

Could frumpy be the new fabulous?

The unexamined life, as Socrates maintained, may not be worth living. But it sure is fun to watch!

Wow. I can't believe I watched the season finale of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Nor can I believe that Walt and I actually had a serious conversation that involved him defending Danielle as having shown class relative to the other four housewives in the drunken catfight that erupted when Danielle threw a copy of the book in which her past (as a cocaine whore and stripper whose real name is Beverly) is revealed. If you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry. This is a good sign. My argument was twofold: one, that class, relative or otherwise, is not a word that applies to this tacky group; and two, that Danielle got the upper hand, which is not the same as having class and not hard to understand. She did this by employing a four-pronged strategy: she surprised the others by throwing the book at them, so to speak; the others were drunk by the time this happened, which slowed and slurred their reactions; Danielle slyly set the two sisters against their sister-in-law, thereby creating a catfight within a catfight; and the party hostess, what's her name, is so frigging ditzy that a four-year old could get the better of her in an argument about how to tie shoes. Unable to speak a coherent sentence, she did what any real housewife of NJ would do under similar circumstances: she upended the table and started shrieking.

We first discovered this show on our Jet Blue flight from NY to Seattle. I had finished my book and did not want to get up and retrieve another from my bag in the overhead storage bin. So I started looking for something to watch. And there it was. Tacky. Mindless. Unscripted humor. Short sound bites. Unbridled vanity. Trout lips. Botox. Fake "bubbies" (that's boobies with a Joisey accent). Home fitness centers. Cougar sex. Pouty, spoiled children. Expensive designer handbags and shoes. Vague dissatisfaction against a backdrop of ungodly wealth. Endless trips to the hairdresser. French nails, the better to scratch you with, bitch. Big old SUVs, even for the teens. Huge McMansions.

You know, the American Dream and all that.

Is it because they are just like us or people we know that we find them so fascinating? I doubt it. I think it is because they embody the American cliché with such obvious gusto and lack of irony. We the viewers get to enjoy all the smug irony. The real housewives get to enjoy the notoriety that goes with letting it all hang out on national television, not to mention the perks they probably get from the show's sponsors. Before, they just ran New Jersey. Now America knows that they run New Jersey. Therein lies an important nuance, though I can't quite figure out what it is. The importance of not just doing but being seen to be doing it. Viewers embrace their inner voyeur; the viewed embrace their inner exhibitionist. Everyone wins. The lives of the viewed are enhanced by fame of sorts. Not for accomplisments or uncommon courage; just for putting it out there. The lives of the viewers are enhanced by the knowledge that they get the joke, they are in on the irony and hthey ave escaped living a cliché. Or so they desperately hope.

One comment I read on a blog entry about the show nailed it: "I watched a preview of this series a few weeks ago and was so horrified I immediately decided to watch it."

Now that we have seen the wives of just about every affluent American community on display, I'm thinking the backlash will be television programming that features Susan Boyle type frumps. Now that would be radical. Maybe the first in what will inevitably be variations on a theme could be about the real housewives of Seattle. Casting call for all Seattle housewives who are frumpy and proud.