Jim Farber of the New York Daily News asks what's got to be today's most pressing question: should we feel bad for liking The Real Housewives?
Farber spoke with pop culture professor Robert Thompson, who said of the Real Housewives franchise,
Essentially, this is a show about women behaving badly. That may be fun to watch, but by no means does it play to the more noble parts of the human spirit.
It's kind of hilarious that Farber felt he needed to consult an expert in order to tell us that the Real Housewives aren't, like, Tolstoy. On the other hand, it is kind of interesting to speculate about whether, as viewers, we're laughing at or with the 'wives. Andy Cohen, the show's executive producer, says, "It's about strong, driven, independent women, each with their own singular point of view." And he claims that the show's stars are cast for their status as "archetypical women," not their boobs or willingness to catfight. But Thompson says, "The 'Housewives' gives you a sanctioned, alternative space in which you can freely watch people you hold in contempt." And even Cohen admits that, "There are a lot of times where we are winking at the audience and saying, 'This one said she believes in raising kids healthfully.' Then the next thing she says to the kid is, 'Light me a cigarette.'?"
So is it Okay to like the Housewives? Clearly, anyone who says they watched the recording of "Tardy for the Party" for its musical value is full of shit, as is anyone who claims not to chuckle once in a while at the spectacle of grown women carrying on like overprivileged teenage girls. On the other hand, maybe a show about "women behaving badly" isn't so ignoble. I kind of giggle every time I hear Sheree say "People are intimidated by my success" in the opening credits, but at the same time, it's a pretty ballsy thing to say on television. Yes, the Real Housewives are full of themselves, but it's kind of exciting to watch women who are unafraid to assert how important they are. Kim, Sheree, and the rest aren't models of generosity or restraint — okay, they aren't really models of anything, except sometimes their own clothing lines — but they are loud and bitchy and attention-grabbing and people love them for it, which is maybe not such a bad thing.
Although Cohen may take it a little too far. He says, "Often, people want to apologize for watching. But I would defend this show to my death, for one reason: It's fun." The Real Housewives is pretty fun — but it's not really worth dying for.