“Adults don’t want to watch other people having sex. They want to see someone getting told off in a store!”
So said Ronnie from Watch What Crappens, the podcast I listen to after I’ve watched the latest episode of The Real Housewives of New York. Ben had just been theorising about why we love to watch them so:
“Because they’re a big part of the population who are otherwise absent from popular culture, maybe?” He said. “Women from 40 – 60 of age with real and interesting lives?”
Or, as my friend, the late, great Demetrius Graves said, women who are finally coming into their own power, with slammin’ hot bods, families, businesses and friendships, taking on the world!
“Nah,” said Ronnie. “We watch it because these women’s services are going cheap, and they’re so desperate they’ll do it, because they can’t get any other jobs on TV”.
Part of why I enjoy this podcast is because it reminds me of the conversations I used to have with Demetrius, who I met on a secret Facebook forum devoted to discussing the Real Housewives reality TV franchise from Bravo. ‘We’re here to judge other people, not ourselves,’ is its motto. Being judgey is like a muscle I need to work out regularly, and divert onto impersonal targets, like celebrities – and Housewives – or else it starts twitching all the time.
So what is it about the housewives that for so many women, particularly, is so entertaining? What I find most compelling about them is the conversations I have with other people – women mostly – afterwards. We’re all reminded of things that have happened to us, and it’s a kind of shorthand to refer to what we’ve all just seen on TV. It’s gossip, but would gossip have such a bad reputation if it was something men did more often than women? If men lived in a world where relationships were a matter of survival, they wouldn’t call it gossip, they’d call it sports, or a martial art, because women don’t usually have the license to attack and defend head on. Women need to go about expressing their aggression and ambition covertly usually, using implication, and social exclusion, to achieve their ends. You can only think this kind of thing doesn’t matter if you’re at the top of the food chain. For everyone else in the hierarchy, relationships are about status. They are about who gets what. They are about survival. It was true for the chimps Jane Goodall studied and wrote about, and it’s true for us now.
So I adore watching these women coping with one another. Their rivalries, emotions, and the group dynamics. Their jostling for position on a very slippery pole. And because they’re bound by their contracts to film together, they can’t just walk away from one another – they’re like a family. No matter how much they struggle, they are ‘committed’. Again, it’s about survival. Seeing all the shades and complexities of female ambition, anger, friendship and rivalry all laid out before us, and then the conversations we have together afterwards on social media, makes for sometimes healing, and always entertaining TV.
“On the other hand,” said Ronnie , after Ben had said all kinds of thoughtful things about why women in particular love to watch the Real Housewives. “Maybe I watch because I just wanna see bitches fight.”
I think he’s right.