I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve been watching The Real Housewives of New York because so many intelligent, educated women I know do, too. They don't necessarily watch the New York edition, which is now in its fourth season, but rather any, and often several, of Bravo TV’s seven versions of the reality show. (Eight, if you count The Real Housewives of Athens. Yes, as in Greece.)
My neighbor Jen, a lawyer, is loyal to the Orange County show because it’s the original, but she loves Beverly Hills too because it’s geographically the closest to Encino and she gets a kick out of recognizing the salons and restaurants seen on the show.
Her son’s fourth-grade teacher, however, is partial to New Jersey, which Jen discovered at back-to-school-night when the teacher said she, “Couldn’t wait to get home to watch the first episode.”
With its over-the-top physical brawls and priceless one-liners such as, “That bitch has no class,” Jen didn’t blame her for being a fan.
From the over-Botoxed Orange County contingent to the pseudo sophisticates of the Big Apple, style differs with each locale, but the formula doesn’t. Cast a gaggle of opinionated, narcissistic women of means; add producers who know how to instigate drama and watch the games begin.
But why do we? More than a few husbands have asked that very question, usually while shaking their heads in disgust at the television screen where a housewife might be dissing the size of another’s lip injections or squabbling over who sits where in the minivan, while on vacation in Morocco.
With the real, real world’s constant barrage of news about economic and environmental disasters and our own daily stress, “the shows are so ridiculously absurd they provide the perfect escape,” said my friend Michelle.
They also serve up some pretty funny parody that at times even reminds me of a classic Woody Allen film. Take for example, the Orange County episode in which Alexis complains that between her kids, her workouts, hair and other maintenance appointments, she really doesn't have any “me time."
I might feel guilty about this guilty pleasure if it weren’t that the housewives themselves aim to entertain.
Joy Beher on The View recently asked New York’s Kelly if she really went bonkers last season, as was depicted.
“Sorry you guys,” she answered. “I didn’t fall apart. I make great television.”
As my friend Jen put it, the fans are “fascinated by the narcissism of these people who, given that this is not the first season, know that their behavior will show as shallow and ill behaved, but still do it anyway.”
Fans may not want to emulate Housewife behavior but some do mirror the fashion. Florida-based advertising executive Elizabeth Hannum was so enamored by the Housewives clothing and accessories that she scoured the Internet for affordable knock-offs of their outfits, turned that passion into the website the-budgetista.com, where she shares that information with 50,000 viewers a month.
Others take away deeper lessons.
“I find it reaffirming,” said my friend Randie. “If you ever wished you were rich and could have that lifestyle, you see it’s not what it’s cracked up to be and not what’s going to make you happy.”