Longer-than-I-want-to-think-about ago, Bravo fundamentally altered the television landscape with Queer Eye for The Straight Guy. It seems crazy now how shocking that title was for basic cable and how five gay experts giving a clueless, straight dude a total makeover could be so revolutionary. But it was. And it wasn’t just the straight guys that benefitted from Carson Kressley’s advice on zhoosh-ing or Ted Allen’s smarts about food, wine, cheese, and all things gastronimical. We all did.
And so it went. Show after show, Bravo taught us about fashion and design and real estate.
Then came the Real Housewives. The Housewives seemingly don’t have much to teach us. If Queer Eye was reformative, the Housewives are performative. In Orange County they are intent on making sure we know they are businesswomen, not just blondes in body-con dresses. In New York, they pride themselves on philanthropy (SO MANY charity functions) and European titles. In Jersey, they are all about family, which they will tell the cameras, but not their actual families, who they may or may not be speaking to at that moment.
On other reality shows, particularly with ones with contestants and prizes, at least one person will say, “I didn’t come here to make friends.”
Not the Housewives. Oh, no, no. They did come here to make friends. At least that’s what they want us to believe. The illusion is that these women get cast together on a show and become instant besties who eat lunch (usually by sharing an appetizer or a small salad) or meet for a glass of wine to talk about their problems. “Can we talk?” is heard at almost every gathering. Throughout the season there will be alliances and feuds, heartbreaks and goopy cameos from the House-husbands, but you can generally count on some season finale, fancy dress party where they kiss, even if they don’t make up. Then there is the ubiquitous reunion show where each woman is called to the (red) carpet for all of the snarky backhanded comments she made in her interview segments (remember the confessional on The Real World?) or the aired footage where she talked about someone behind their back. The season will end with a toast and on we move to the next city, the next season, the next set of women.
For all of the bluster and plastic surgery, there is something to be said about accountability here. While I am always amazed at the things these women will say and do WHEN THEY KNOW there are cameras filming (sometimes BECAUSE THEY KNOW cameras are filming), I give them credit. Whether they want to or not, they have to own what they say about each other. If one starts or spreads a rumor about another one sleeping with someone’s husband, it’s all there for everyone to see and Andy Cohen and the legions of Housewives super fans are going to call her on it.
What if we all lived our lives like the Bravo cameras were watching? What if millions of people were watching as we repeated the story we heard at the nail salon about the guy from the place doing that thing he’s not supposed to do?
I have been on both sides of this equation. I have been the person humiliated and hurt by things people said about me. I have also said things, and repeated things, that I wish I could take back. The temporary surge of superiority is no salve for the sting of shame and embarrassment.
Recently, I spent time with a friend whose life has been upended by hurtful gossip; gossip that went beyond kibitzing over a cup of coffee into the world of real-life damage. There have been phone calls and awkward talks and tears. Relationships have been shattered. Feelings weren’t hurt; they were trampled.
The story I heard upset me more than I would have expected. I am angry and sad. I am disappointed in people who are my friends. I am ashamed of the times I have gotten caught up in email flame wars or back-room back-biting.
So this year I’m adding a new resolution to my list: Live like the star of my own Housewives franchise. Sure, there won’t be many cocktail receptions on yachts or glam-ping vacations in Montana, but maybe I will take a beat before I speak. Maybe I’ll hold myself accountable for the things I say about other people. Maybe I won’t have to wait for Andy to run a clip package of highlights before I own my own shit.