When Thomas Jefferson famously said, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants," I always kinda hoped the guy was just kidding or speaking figuratively, that if he could come and hang out with me now, he'd say, "Sure, Todd. Hang out and watch high-def TV. That bag of chips isn't going to eat itself! Everything is just snappy!" But now, I have seen Bravo's new series The Real Housewives of D.C., and I know that he was not kidding, that it's time to sharpen the battleaxes because there's a whole buncha people out there that stand in the way of anything like real progress, clutching on to their power with all of their vapid might.
Am I actually calling for massive societal upheaval and/or revolution? No (so any of you crazed militia members who happened across this via my use of the Jefferson quote and your Google alert thereof, please go now). That would be massively inconvenient and, as mentioned, there's TV to watch and chips to eat. But The Real Housewives of D.C. strikes me as one of the more tone-deaf iterations of this formula. I suspect that will make it an even more massive hit than the already pretty big hits in the franchise, but I don't get a great deal of enjoyment out of watching people frolic while everything is falling apart around them. At least in the other Real Housewives series, there's a sense that these people have no real influence on much of anything. They're safely ensconced away in their gated communities. Here, though, these are people who are at least close to people in positions of real power, and they mostly use that proximity to preserve their own statuses, rather than do anything that might be life-affirming or helpful to the human race as a whole. They're narcissists, hoping the party doesn't come crashing down around them.
It's here I should probably say that the Real Housewives franchise isn't really for me. I get why it's popular, and I can admire the craft that goes into creating this world for viewers to escape into week after week, but I find almost no enjoyment or escapism from watching rich people be idle, stupid assholes. (I much prefer the "hard-workin' men" reality series like Deadliest Catch or even, God forbid, Ice Road Truckers, which are close cousins of these shows but tend to be based around something like actual life or death conflict.) Of the series, I've seen a few episodes of all of them and most enjoyed Atlanta and New Jersey, both of which seemed to be based more around interesting characters the show's producers had discovered and less around the central premise of, "Wouldn't it be fun to be this rich?"
Yes, of course, it would be fun to be that rich. It would be fun to never have to worry about anything ever again and work mostly when you wanted to. It would be fun to buy pretty much whatever you wanted. But The Real Housewives of D.C. seems uniquely uninterested in the fact that there's a recession going on all around the women of the series, that people in the streets of their country are desperate for work and clinging to their last rope. Particularly considering that this series was filmed in 2009, when the recession was even worse, it seems almost gauche to have occasional shots of lawmakers of either party scurrying off to confront real problems while the women at the show's center party the night away and take genuine umbrage at the idea that, say, one of their number does not like Tyra Banks. The first thing any show like this must remove is the sense that you are following the lives of awful, awful people. The other Real Housewives shows mostly do that; D.C. struggles, almost entirely because of its setting.
The central fivesome is not particularly well-chosen, either. By far the most famous housewife is Michaele Salahi, who attained some degree of notoriety while this show was being filmed by crashing a White House state dinner, but the series mostly reduces her to a blonde bimbo who complains about how everybody hates the skinny girl. There's also Mary, who seems like the show's attempt to touch on the Sarah Palin phenomenon, what with her occasional daffy pronouncements, five children, unconventional family background, and good-looking husband (whom she helps pick out garish pants). One of the few moments of the episode that rises to the, "Oooh, this is gonna be GOOD" moments of other reality shows occurs when a drunken Mary has a long discussion with token black housewife, Stacie, about how white women and black women should feel comfortable patronizing the same salons. Stacie, for her part, takes it in stride, then spends most of the rest of the episode answering the producers' questions about Barack Obama, despite being perhaps the most successful housewife out of the cast.
Then there's Lynda, who gives Stacie a run for her money in the "success" department by running her own modeling agency and having a free and easy relationship with a much-younger man named Ebong (a name I really hope catches on), and Cat, who's a British expatriate, who's moved to the U.S. to be with her new husband. Cat is clearly supposed to be the series' token "bitch," but she seems like the voice of reason on the show for much of its running time, until in the last five minutes, she inexplicably reveals that she's always preferred George W. Bush to Obama because the former RSVPed to her wedding and the latter didn't. (Stacie, of course, is asked for comment.) I don't give a shit about which of the two presidents any of the characters supports so long as it makes for interesting TV, but Cat's reasoning, instead, makes for stupid TV, and that cannot be abided.
I suppose if you like other Real Housewives series, you'll like this one too, though I don't think it's nearly as well cast as the other series, perhaps because the REAL housewives of D.C. are the ones married to congressmen, so the women on this show can't help but feel like they're too far removed from the city's real circles of power. But there's still a sense that the show is unaware of a certain central "bread and circuses" horror at its very heart, that it doesn't seem terribly aware that when one of the housewives attends a polo match with several government officials in the very middle of D.C. or when another spends extravagantly on a birthday party, there's a whole country grasping for the few remaining dribbles that trickle down to it out there beyond their horizons.
I always think it's kind of stupid when people get down on the rich for enjoying their money when times are tough for the rest of us. What else should they do? Throw it out of the window of a slow-moving freight train? (Actually, yes, please. I could use some money.) But it does seem awfully irritating to have a show that seems to treat the nation's capital as another playground for the lazy rich, to rub our noses in the fact that they have all of the money and power in the world and could not care less about the fact that they basically do not care to do more with that money and power to help others than they already do. It's the job of shows like this to provide idle escapism by showing us how the upper half really lives, but in a country where the richest few are grabbing more and more of what's on the table and in a city that seems to be dithering away at parliamentary games while we're dyin' out here, that idle escapism starts to feel like a kick in the nuts.
- "I like George Bush and not Tyra Banks. And that's OK!"