First published on Monday the 19th of September, 2016, this piece comes in at number 27 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2016.
I tried, I really did. I went a whole month averting my eyes from Facebook updates, not reading Twitter posts, avoiding media commentary and refraining from water cooler conversations.
But it couldn’t be helped. I waded neck-deep into the pool of The Real Housewives of Auckland, and I’m not sure what to think. So many schemes to process, so many orchestrated set-ups to cringe at, so many groan-worthy one-liners. I feel like I’ve stepped into some kind of alternate universe.
You see normally, I don’t do television.
Ironic, I know, for someone that produced television for the best part of two decades. I made my graceful (and grateful) exit from the industry some six years ago, mainly due to the birth of reality television and the dumbing-down of brain power required to consume such programming. I really didn’t like the behind-the-scenes involvement of story producers that created scenarios for ‘real’ people to then react and perform. I found it contrived, predictable and so very boring.
Don’t get me wrong – I have many friends that make or work in reality TV, and they do it brilliantly well. It’s just not for me.
So it was with great trepidation that I sat down to view an episode of RHOAKL. For some reason I felt compelled to do so, especially after hearing many of my friends and peers endlessly analyse the show. People that I really didn’t think would give the show a sideways glance were talking about it. That alone intrigued me. I started at episode four, thinking that I was already across most of the main ‘storylines’ (note that I’m using that word loosely) that the series had screened so far due to the aforementioned friends and their hilarious descriptions of the characters.
Oh. My. Fucking. God.
Some media peers that I actively follow and love have defended RHOAKL as being one of the few shows that depict women over a certain age on our screens at all. I happen to be a woman of a certain age, and I don’t know ANYBODY in my age-group like the six that are featured in this series. I’m proud to say that I know a pretty kick-ass bunch of women from all walks of life – fashion, media, science, education, health, hospitality, finance, and yes, housewives too. They are successful, inspiring, generous, and real. They juggle careers, partners, kids, businesses, friends, me-time and all the other elements that life throws their way. Sometimes they do it well. Sometimes they don’t. But generally speaking, they don’t drag other women down with them when things aren’t turning out the way they planned.
I don’t see that same reality in RHOAKL. At least, not the kind of real that I would want depicted as an example of women of a certain age on our screens. What I see is the kind of stereotyping that most women don’t want– mean-spirited, insecure women who backstab one another at every opportunity in an attempt to tear each other apart. (There is only one woman in the series that makes me laugh, purely for the fact that as an ex-television producer, I can appreciate that she is pure television gold. And that’s Gilda. She seems to genuinely not give an actual fuck about what the others think, and it’s hilarious to watch her pained expressions and questioning eyebrow raises).
I get that the series is about outrageous, over-the-top women being put in outrageous, over-the-top situations, and the resulting chaos, bitching and clashes that go hand-in-hand with that. I get the fact that it’s about light entertainment, silliness, the mindless escape from reality, and laughing at them, rather than with them.
But that’s my point.
What shows like RHOAKL do is fundamentally make women feel superior about their own behaviour/social skills/etiquette/language/friendships/marriages/lives. We watch these women and what they do to one another, and we console ourselves with the thought that “at least I’m not as much of a bitch/gossip/prude/snob/bimbo/two-faced friend as she is.” It immediately justifies any sort of social misstep we may take because the yardstick of what we’re viewing is considerably lowered. It makes us believe that we are morally better than these six women. We are better people. We are better friends. We are just better in general.
And that’s the genius of the show.
It casts us in EXACTLY the same role in real life as each of these women play on the show. It puts us all in competition with one another to see if we know someone in our circle (or in ourselves) who is as delusional as Angela, as cutting as Michelle, as impervious as Gilda, as batty as Anne, as insecure as Julia, or as conniving as Louise. We mentally take notes about what is and isn’t OK, and pat ourselves on the back if we don’t meet these same characteristics that the RHOAKL display.
In short, it’s a contest that we hold with ourselves, and the women on the screen.
I binge-watched every single episode after the first one. So I’m completely up to date. And I’ll probably watch the rest of the series too. Why? Because as much as I hate to admit it, we all have a side of us that wants to feel like we’re the good person. Which probably makes me a bad person.
Or does it? I’ll let you decide.