Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why am I defending these people?

I admit that I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with the Real Housewives of New Jersey. I do. But I think I would be tired of all the backlash regardless, because so much of it is just silly. The major arguments that are put forth so inarticulately in blog comments, etc. seem to be that a) these women do not accurately portray housewives, seemingly New Jersey housewives in particular and b) these women and their families are giving a terrible impression of the whole state to the entire country. There's also the blatant excess-of-everything complaint, but this is reality t.v. so that's a given to be ignored.

In the first place, who in their right minds thinks that these women, nay any of the women in any of the Housewives franchise pieces, "represent" housewives? They provide compelling television precisely because they are so over-the-top and, more importantly, so not "like us." People watch these shows to feel morally superior; getting a glimpse into the good life is only a secondary concern. These shows function as a way for the vast majority of us to feel better about not having a lot of money. If we did, we might be as vapid and wasteful as these dingbats on this here screen. I don't know any housewives myself; married women I know have far more on their plates than any traditionally-imagined housewife could possibly handle. I'm not looking to Bravo to show me what real life looks like. I can go next door for that. I want ridiculous television that I can watch on the treadmill (since I can't afford a tricked out gym and personal trainer in house), and that, yes, makes me feel I am a little saner than my dark imaginings sometimes suppose.

The idea that this show is single-handedly bringing down the national image of New Jersey: are you joking? For one, it can't get much lower, and it has nothing to do with a television show (though The Sopranos didn't help much in its day I guess). We have a ridiculous tax structure, ridiculous levels of political corruption, and yes, terribly sorry to offend, but a ridiculous number of gangsters. Some folks are yelping that they don't know these people, that this isn't their Jersey. Well guess what: I do, and it is, at least for a goodly portion of the state. I went to high school with children of some real, um, characters, and I went to college with women who are waiting eagerly at stage left for Danielle to finally start wearing Dina like last year's Versace so that there will be vacancies on the show. And you know what? It doesn't bother me. It doesn't shake my foundations of who I am as a citizen of New Jersey. Why should it? Though I don't have the numbers and have been too lazy to look them up, a discussion of the Abbott districts the other night led to the observation that Jersey just might have some of the craziest distributions of wealth of our fine fifty (though now that I think about it, California might quibble with that). No one in their right mind could really believe that the entire state is like Franklin Lakes. But let's say for a second that they did. So what? What, we're going to lose tourist dollars from Minnesota? Jersey shore's pretty much sold out for the summer. I think we're doing okay.

I guess it's the Jersey Girl in me, the part that just doesn't give a fuck if someone in Minnesota thinks all women in these parts need bubbies and baubles to get through the day. It just doesn't matter to me. There was a similar uproar lately about the negative effect Parking Wars is having on the tourism industry in Philly, namely that they've gotten some complaints from people saying they will never visit because obviously the parking situation is so horrible. The one clip I've seen of Parking Wars was a kid in North Philly getting his car booted. If a tourist from Minnesota finds themselves in North Philly, I think getting the car towed will be the least of his or her worries. Frankly, I don't know if I want someone who is going to get all whiny about having their car towed after parking illegally in a major urban center on my sidewalks anyway. Try that in Manhattan. Let me know how well it works for you up there. It's not us, it's you.

Anyway. There are things about the show that I really like, that keep me watching even as Danielle's personality disorder makes me nauseous at regular intervals. For one, of the Housewives shows I've seen (and I am by no means a connoisseur) these women seem to have the most genuine connections. And sorry, I like the Manzos. They are funny. And as someone who grew up with lots of members of her extended family in the construction business and similar, there is something about their interactions with each other and the world at large that I find comforting. Is Teresa and her non-stage-mothering ridiculous? Sure. But she's largely harmless. She is most certainly doing less damage to her children than Danielle has done to hers. And if she is harming them, they most certainly will stay in the rich pockets of town, and not get in my hair anyway. Caroline is my favorite, and has been in the beginning, because I wish more than anything she was my aunt. She's crazy funny, and does seem devoted to her family, which is something I admire and appreciate. And what's the thing most trolls say about her on the Internets? She's the fat one. Real nice guys. Great way to critique there.

Maybe I'm just hyper because it's hard to justify even to myself my intense liking of this program. But of all the guilty pleasures in the world, I don't think this one's half bad. And I really don't see it as an opportunity to tie my sense of self to the opinions strangers may or may not hold about the state I live in after watching. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go back to planning and living out my Jersey-based life, which is very rich and varied and in no way affected by a reality t.v. show. Excepting that I have to plan said rich and varied life around reruns...


Kelli said...

Characters? LOL! I once went to a Teamsters dinner with my grandparents, when a passing car backfired outside, everyone ducked under their tables!

poppy said...

See, it's not just North Jersey! :)