While in graduate school, I missed the boat on so many cultural touchstones. There are new television shows, musicians, reality stars or movies with which I am only vaguely familiar. For example, I know Mad Men is critically acclaimed but I know virtually nothing about the show. I saw Jon Hamm for the first time in the movie Bridesmaids (and I saw that on DVD well after it was out of the theaters) and my husband had to tell me he was the lead player in Mad Men. I am not even lying when I tell you that Gagnum Style (and the various parodies of the Psy music video) had been circulating for many months before the song reached my consciousness.
It’s hard to avoid some of the junk like Jersey Shore or the Kardashians. I object to the former on the grounds that it’s an entirely inaccurate portrayal of my home state, while the latter is just a confusing mess of über pretty folks (I may never be able to distinguish one Kardashian from another). I’m not sure that it’s worth getting up to speed on all of them, but some “cultural” touchstones (and I’m using this term loosely) have hung around all through graduate school.
Since our cable company changed our station numbering many months ago (and I thank them for it), I have also stopped watching most television because the only channel I know is Bravo. And thus it was inevitable that I would somehow fall into the rabbit hole that is The Real Housewives of Orange County.
I know about the show and its various spinoffs (New York, Atlanta, Miami, New Jersey–NJ is especially objectionable) because Bravo promotes the pants off of the franchise. I have always thought that the show was pretty shallow and contrived. And I am fully aware that skilled editing can make a three-second spat into a three episode arc, so I am under no allusions that I’m watching anything other than a fantasy. I would watch it for a little while if I caught it on my lunch hour, but I never actually watched the show when it aired. I felt a little self-righteous about that–if I didn’t watch it when it aired, then I wasn’t an actual fan, right?
I am reticent to admit that this current season of The Real Housewives of OC, I have watched nearly every episode. Intentionally. I realized the other night that I was sneaking around to catch up. I would wait until my husband went to bed to cue up the latest episode On Demand or slip in half an episode folding laundry while the kids napped. When the retrospective aired a week ago, I was kind of excited to watch it. It sucked me into its vortex.
Maybe it’s because I’m playing part-time housewife as I transition from grad school life to full-time professor this summer. Maybe it’s because I love seeing their fancy lifestyle. Really, though, I think the show is so sociological. It’s a “real-life” example of the complexity of social class, and I can’t stop watching because I am intrigued by the relationship between social class and money for these women. These women have money which affords them experiences and opportunities that regular folks simply do not have. But their money does not translate into an understanding of the unwritten social norms around high society.
I haven’t always watched the show but my interest in this season piqued considerably because of one housewife in particular. Heather Dubrow.
Dubrow is an east-coast transplant in Orange County. She lives in a palatial estate (there’s an elevator and don’t get me started on the view from the yard) and everything about her screams high society. She embodies a “classical” definition of gentility, and in her interviews with producers, explains her frustrations with the other women who do not seem to inhabit the same class stratosphere. Heather serves as a foil to her fellow housewives, many of whom have money but not the class to back it up. Married to a prominent plastic surgeon, she is the ultimate cliché but she also walks the OC walk. The other ladies recognize that she is “fancy pants”–a nickname befitting of a princess hailing from Chappaqua, New York. These women accumulate wealth and status symbols, but Heather’s presence provides a clear distinction between the women on the show.
She disapproves of the ladies behaving badly, keeping out of the trash-talking, insult-heaving fray as best as possible. In her interviews, she bemoans the ladies’ lack of finesse and tact in certain uncomfortable situations. For instance, on a trip to Mexico in a recent episode to celebrate the pending nuptials of one housewife, she appears embarrassed that her fellow housewives seem ungrateful and nonplussed by the gourmet dinner she arranged for them. While she dines happily on four-star fare, the other ladies gripe and complain that their surroundings are downright boring and the food was too fancy. She grits her teeth through the meal, astounded that the other women are not quietly grateful and rolls her eyes every time there is a mention of hitting up a dive bar for a night-cap after their dinner.
Having watched every episode, I cannot believe that I’ve stuck it out for nearly the entire season. I don’t think I will ever convince my husband that the show is anything but garbage. He may be right. Still, it’s the guilty pleasure I can’t deny right now. I need something silly (and guilty) to balance the serious nature of the things I study. Season’s end cannot come quickly enough.