Friendship, martial arts and Reality TV

By July 25, 2016 December 13th, 2018 Friendship

 “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.

7 Comments

  • Krista Thorkelson says:

    Very nicely written Laura! I love it! Demetrius would be thrilled to be quoted!

  • jobewley says:

    I like this. Thoughtful but still fun!

    • Laura Bloom says:

      Thanks, Jo! I will keep writing on this topic as it’s such a rich seam … and a big part of my friday nights!

  • Melita says:

    Hahahaha – it IS a safe way to watch a bitch fight! I love the martial arts comparison – maybe this is why I keep thinking I should do martial arts; to channel some kind of unexpressed aggression/emotion? I got as far as visiting and observing an Aikido class. I’d rather watch The Housewives! You can watch some of them as young actresses on Little House on The Prairie – interesting career trajectories…

    • Laura Bloom says:

      VERY ‘interesting’ to watch the career trajectories. I am thinking of Kim, the Judo Victim in the article. She must stand as a warning to every parent of a talented child actor. It does seem like Hollywood chews ’em up and spits ’em out. Very hard, despite being so talented and successful so young. As for martial arts – I am being trained by a martial artist (to be fit!), and there’s something very stirring about it. When I’m there there are sometimes women training for fights, and they look so strong and in their physical power. One woman had a black eye the other day, and she was beaming. ‘I won the fight’ she said – her first, against another woman. My reaction was ambivalent.

  • Bridget says:

    I was shocked to find out how much Demitrius loved the Bravo channel and enjoyed the reality programming. I would often ask him ” how can you watch that nonsense? ” After he passed away I was shocked to find out about all these friendships that he had made with others that were fans of the programs he loved. This experience has taught me a great deal. We more often than not tend to have a great deal in common. My son found joy and comfort in these friendships. The biggest lesson of all is that even though I detest this format. The people who enjoy it are intelligent, warm and caring just like my son.

    • Laura Bloom says:

      Dear Bridget, it is incomprehensible if you’re not ‘into’ it, isn’t it? I feel that way about the reality TV shows that aren’t my thing. ‘How can you watch that?’ I wonder. And yet I really like a lot of the people who are. The people who invented this (talked about in the link in the article) are either geniuses or very lucky. Demetrius was so talented and special, and his humour and warmth really came through in how he talked about the Housewives.

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