TLC's Wives With Beehives is Kind of Really Depressing

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Because the 1950s were such a fantastic time for women, and also probably because of Mad Men, there is apparently a niche culture of retro couples in Orange County who live every aspect of their lives like it's the golden age of radio. On Thursday, the intrepid anthropology channel that is TLC aired a one-hour special on four of these couples called Wives With Beehives, but the Hollywood Reporter speculates that it may be picked up as a series. (This is how we were given the gift of Extreme Couponing.)


Their names are Amber, Leslie, Dollie and Shelby.

"You think about the '50s, and those are the guys who had the great households, and the great life. Then the sixties came along and it all went to hell," says 37-year-old Amber, her Lucy Ricardo-looking coif remaining motionless. As tattooed blonde Dollie pours some popcorn into a bowl for her husband, she says that there was no real stability in her home; her grandparents were the only reliable part of her childhood, which is a pretty good, albeit depressing, reason that she's drawn to the era.

Shelby: "The '50s lifestyle has helped my marriage because my husband knows he can trust me. I'm not going to go out to clubs without him and whore around."

Object fetishism also plays a huge part in this lifestyle, as they eschew any modern anachronism and hunt down real vintage relics, from furniture to appliances to other tiny everyday shit. But how far it goes is unclear: there's no mention in the clips or interviews as to whether any of these women are on birth control or insist on getting paid 60 cents to every man's dollar or what.

The show's creator, Michael Branton, says that despite the traditional gender roles that so appeal to these women, they're actually the ones who convinced their husbands to party like it's 1955. And the reason behind it is pretty dark.

They just believe that there's a lot of things about modern society that they don't agree with and they feel like the ‘50s were a safer time [...] Three of the women did not come from very happy childhoods; I would say unhappy to very dysfunctional. I feel like they feel they're going to make their lives more stable. They all have really nice husbands who are, I feel like, going along [with it]. I think what the husbands get out of it are cool cars.




Branton denies that the lifestyle depicted on the show is anti-feminist:

"Well you have women who work on the show, the show was produced by a woman [...] she was interested to know where these women were coming from. We discovered that they're really in control of their own lives. They're, by far, wearing the pants in their families."


As is par for the course with reality show women, they're totally catty and terrible, but for reasons that apply specifically to their '50s living (e.g. competitive about authenticity, judgmental about plastic surgery, and Amber talks smack on Leslie for not making cakes from scratch. ZING.) So, ummmmm, yeah, can't wait for Real Housewives of President Eisenhower to get picked up.

'"Wives with Beehives" Creator Michael Branton Discusses '50s Lifestyle' [Stars Entertainment]
''Wives With Beehives': Women Embracing '50s Lifestyle So They Don't 'Whore Around' (VIDEO)' [HuffPo]



I think the sexism/feminism angle is actually secondary to the racial angle here, actually. The 50s may have been great if you were a straight white person, and if you were a woman who found fulfillment and happiness in domestic tasks. In other words, that life didn't suck for all white women, just the ones for whom homemaking was not a priority or fulfilling.

On the other hand, there was pretty much no good way to be Black in the 1950s. Obviously, life was not an unrelenting hell - folks raised their families, had jobs, and lived their lives - but it racism still underscored pretty much all opportunities and interactions.

When these folks talk about the 1950's being so idyllic, it isn't just about gender (since some women today are perfectly happy to cook quality meals and raise kids, not working outside the home), it's more about a time before "those people" started asserting their rights and making it harder for white folks to compete.

TLDR: I think Jez misses the racial component here.