Watching The Real Housewives of ANYCITY cues you into certain, Bravo-celebrated cultural truths. By that I mean-you cannot watch The Real Housewives without being enriched by a very specific social education. This education manifests itself in a realness typically only celebrated in the realm of reality television.
The tagline of the Real World franchise, “When things stop being polite and start getting real”, is especially prescient and applicable to the real housewives brand of realness. To clarify, this social realness isn’t of the Emily Post variety; it’s of the “close your legs to married men” (Nene Leakes 2008) variety. Moreover, it’s also of the “shaming your ex-husband on national television by bringing up his lack of financial support vis-a-vis child support”-variety (Sheree Whitfield 2011).
With so many extreme examples of Bravo ladies behaving badly, I have to pose the question: what is the positive message hidden just beneath the surface of such basic behavior (informally defined as “basicism“)? Former New Jersey housewife/villain Danielle Staub used to propagate the “love and light” mantra, which mockingly got thrown back in her face on many an occasion.
So the question begs to be asked: is there a silver lining to watching grown women verbally assault each other (by bringing up embarrassing circumstances involving their personal lives) week by week? Can we learn from the flagrant, albeit slightly egotistical assertions of upwardly mobile women? What is it that keeps us hooked and entertained on a weekly basis? Is there any love and light to be found in the Real Housewives franchise?
While some people argue that reality television rewards bad behavior, I would argue that perhaps reality television (Bravo in particular) rewards the raw, visceral power of truth lurking deeply inside all of us. Whether we want to admit this or not: reality television peels back the primary layers of the onion of life. Surely, there are some unpleasant, tear-inducing truths in those cutaneous layers, but reality television forces us to confront those uncomfortable truths and chew on that onion raw dog.
Keeping this in mind, allow me to illuminate 5 life lessons I’ve learned from 5 (Really) Real Housewives:
1. Nene Leakes – Let Your Haters Be Your Motivators.
Ironically, that’s what Kim Zolciak and Sheree Whitfield (Public Enemies #1 and #2 for Nene Leakes, respectively) said in reference to Nene herself on Season 1 of RHOATL. However, “let your haters be your motivators” is practically Intro to Real Housewives 101.
If I’ve learned anything from Lenethia “Nene” Leakes, it’s that you shouldn’t waste too much energy on haters. Don’t get me wrong – according to the How To Be a Future Baller Handbook I’m putting together, you are allowed (practically encouraged) to waste just enough energy to acknowledge and throw shade at the haters, but you can’t waste too much energy. The reality is: if you’re expending too much energy on your haters, you aren’t out there accomplishing greatness for yourself.
Ultimately, “let your haters be your motivators” is about acknowledging the hate and then using that negative energy as an impetus to hyper-motivate you to accomplish great things, although it goes without saying that you shouldn’t need to get doused in the face with haterade to achieve greatness in life. However, any inspirational energy, whether negative or positive, doesn’t hurt the process of becoming powerful and amazing (and a future baller).
So by all means, acknowledge those haters, and let those very haters watch you achieve your dreams. When you start to accomplish your goals, be like Nene: wave to the haters, blow the haters a kiss and be like, “Hey, Haters!!”
2. Jill Zarin/Camille Grammer – Be Careful What You Say on Camera, Because It’s There Forever.
This life lesson “be careful what you say on camera because it’s there forever” is a tie between former New York housewife Jill Zarin and kinda-former Beverly Hills housewife Camille Grammer. Throughout her tenure on The Real Housewives of New York, the unofficial queen of mean wasn’t shy about expressing her Regina Georgeian opinions on the other ladies, most notably she of the getting-hives-at-awkward-public-moments-persuasion, Alex McCord.
During each RHONY Reunion episode, Jill Zarin would get called out on the mean things she said about everyone on camera. To Jill’s credit, her words were slightly comedic in a juvenile, middle school capacity; although it’s also worth noting that Jill’s words were simultaneously mean-spirited and totally inappropriate for someone her age!
On her last and final season of RHONY, although Jill tried her best to tame her meanness (she publicly acknowledged that she had changed), she let the above dig slip at a society (I’m rolling my eyes as I type this) wedding that same season. Rest assured: cattiness isn’t just relegated to one coast – it’s a bicoastal phenomenon. And Camille Grammer brought her own trademark best coast brand of cattiness to the town of Beverly (quite wonderfully, I might add).
Oh Camille, how I love thee, let me count the ways! Firstly, how tragic it is that Camille won’t be a central figure on next season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, y’all? Camille Donatacci Grammer’s verbal assaults on Season 1, while systematically catty, were so legendarily amazing that I am really sad she won’t be there to dish them out anymore (please see above example). That’s often the plots of many reality shows: “You said this mean thing about me, and I found out about it, and now you have to deal with me either by me being mean back to you or beating you up!”
It always shocks me when reality TV people say truly horrific things about their castmates in their confessionals. Common sense would dictate that they will inevitably have to deal with the consequences of those words at some point. I analogize this to not paying your parking tickets on time. Surely, you don’t have to pay your parking tickets right away or even at all, until one day you’re shopping at Urban Outfitters on Melrose and find your car has mysteriously been incarcerated at the Hollywood Tow Lot. Instead of paying the $40 it initially cost, you’ll end up paying something like $400. And just like those parking tickets, words on camera will inevitably have to be dealt with, and the consequences are often very expensive.
Still, it goes without saying that dissing and then kissing/making up is engrained in the DNA of reality television. Calling fellow housewife Kyle Richards’ best friend Faye Resnick “the morally corrupt Faye Resnick” was almost Shakespearean in its linguistic beauty (and acerbic burn). Although “the morally corrupt Faye Resnick” wasn’t the only duplicitous dig Camille dished out during her freshman season (she had some real whoppers), it was by far my fave.
The lesson in this: be careful what you say on camera, because it will be there to haunt you forever, and you never know what life may bring. After Camille went through a very (very) ugly public divorce and received copious amounts of public criticism for her catty, elitist comments, she was somewhat (okay, completely) humbled. On Season 2 of RHOBH, Camille went into heavy PR damage control to transform her public persona.
After her epic Homerian fall, Camille decided to stay in the positive. Other than a few sassy jabs here and there on Season 2, Camille didn’t really say anything (particularly) awful. It’s also worth mentioning that Camille exhibited a fairly good sense of humor about her embarrassing comments, and I’m always a big fan of people who are self-aware enough to laugh at themselves. Nonetheless, be careful what you say on camera! Let the record show that I am also trying to take my own advice!
3. Camille Grammer – Dance Like EVERYONE is Watching.
Don’t get it twisted: I realize that the expression is ‘dance like no one’s watching’, but Camille Grammer has changed the game with her too adorable for words/over-the-top dancing prowess. As we all know, Camille Donatacci was a dancer on “Club MTV” (before she became Camille Grammer), and even though Camille ditched the Grammer, she still has the moves!
When Camille dances, she commands the room because Camille dances like everyone (and they are) is watching, and I love her for that. Dancing like everyone is watching is really about being vivacious, loving life and owning that attitude in a public sphere. Say what you need to say about Camille Grammer (there is probably a lot to say, in fact), but she owns herself in a way many housewives don’t.
On a related note, a personal trainer once said to me, “Edward, life is an attitude.” At the time, he was referencing me pushing myself to do more repetitions of a really hard chest exercise (so naturally I wanted to smack him across the face), but his advice rings true in the case of Camille Grammer: life is an attitude, so dance like everyone is watching.
4. Kim Zolciak – Who Needs Talent When You Have FRIENDS with Talent?
Let the court records of this hello giggles post unanimously show that I love Kim Zolciak. And please don’t underestimate the wig-wearing, chain-smoking, Big Poppa-dating, Kroy Bierman-baby-bearing, Real Housewife: it’s Kim’s world and we are all just coexisting in it, okay? You can Google her if you need to, although it shouldn’t be necessary if you flip on Bravo for a mere 5 minutes on any given Sunday.
Based on outward appearances, a lot of people (cough Nene Leakes) probably wouldn’t have expected Kim Zolciak to soar to the great (reality) heights that she has soared to; however, Kim Zolciak knew how to be savvy and seize all the right opportunities. Also, it’s worth nothing that although Kim Zolciak is a textbook opportunist-she is an incredibly gifted and successful opportunist.
Hoping to break into the realm of country music on the first season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, we saw Kim attempting to find a hit single while gliding along through life-happily (and aimlessly) with her mystery sugar daddy, Big Poppa. I have a hunch that I wasn’t the only viewer who cringed when I first heard Kim Zolciak belt out her first, smokey, nicotine laced line of ‘Don’t Be Tardy For The Party’.
To break it down like Mariah, Kim was straight-up awful at singing. But a little lacko’talent didn’t stop our sassy, buxom blonde from sizing up her opportunities. Even after famed producer Dallas Austin embarrassingly tossed her aside on camera, Kim didn’t let that stop her from pursuing a singing career.
When Kim became friends with Grammy-winning Kandi Burress, “a single, [successful] independent woman doing it for herself,” Kim became inspired. And with that friendship, the trajectory of Kim’s life was changed forever. The moment that Kandi graciously offered to produce and mix up Kim’s track, I don’t think anyone conceptualized just how amazing Kandi could make Kim sound.
Certainly, Kandi made it rain with the autotune on her version of ‘Tardy For the Party’. And surely, it really spoke more to Kandi’s ability as a producer (Kandi herself has said that she can “make anyone hot”) than it did to Kim’s ability as a vocalist. Nonetheless, Kandi created a hit single for Kim, and the previously insurmountable feat of making Kim sound good was reached with one well-executed stroke of autotune dial.
Sometimes, it’s just about who you know. And who needs talent when you have friends with talent?
5. Bethenny Frankel – You Are Your Own Personal Brand, and You Only Got One Life to Sell It.
Watching the rise of Bethenny Frankel was the ultimate life lesson because it was like watching a one-woman tour de force of wit and grit and schtick take over my Bravo consciousness/the world. When the first season of RHONY aired, Bethenny Frankel was by far the sharpest, the funniest, the realest, the most self-deprecating and the most overtly diligent housewife on the block. To top it off: she was also the only housewife who lacked the financial security of a husband, or the alimony of an ex-husband to rely upon.
After her the dissolution of her then relationship on camera, it seemed like Bethenny was in for hard times ahead. By the third season of RHONY, Bethenny had also publicly lost her partner-in-catty-crime, Jill Zarin, over an imaginary slight. Still, it seemed like something miraculous happened for Bethenny during that third season. As a natural foods chef and businesswoman, Bethenny had used the visibility of the Real Housewives to promote her brand.
By the end of the third season of RHONY, Bethenny had started her own brand of beverages, Skinnygirl, modeled after her version of a “skinny margarita.” Notably, Bethenny secured the success of her brand by investing in the business of herself. Cultivating and refining an honest (and at times sardonic) wit, a sense of humility amidst great success, and an authenticity seemingly absent in the land or reality-Bethenny gained a loyal following and really took things to a whole new level.
And then shortly after all that: Bethenny found herself in a new relationship, and shortly after that, pregnant! At almost 40 years old, a lot of pieces of the life puzzle started to fill in for Bethenny (albeit quickly). Bethenny herself has attributed much of her own success to her singular focus: “I’m not running around buying diamonds and getting facials…I just decided to be totally honest and own it. You can’t do something you don’t stand for just to make money. It’s a smart audience, people will realize it.”
Using the Real Housewives as her global platform, Bethenny Frankel was able to advertise and market her product (and herself) by capitalizing on an invaluable opportunity that a lot of women use merely for the simple purposes of providing snarky commentary and tearing other women down. The biggest lesson I learned from Bethenny Frankel is that if you are smart, funny, driven and have a brand to promote, using a platform like the Real Housewives (or any global platform, really) could lead to unimaginable success.
As long as we’re on the topic of self promotion, be sure to catch me and Leslie Grossman every Wednesday at 7pm PST on HelloGiggles UStream show, “That Hot Housewives Goss,” where we discuss-hot Bravo housewives gossip! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to send those into firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “that hot goss.” You can also tweet at me or Leslie on twitter, and we’ll be sure to say hey!
Photos courtesy of bravotv.com