On the 8th episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, I couldn’t help but think of fairy tales and all of their joyous components. In fairy tales, there are kings, queens, princesses, villains, goblins, ghosts, evil forces, and ultimately, happy endings (the non-perverted kind). Part of me wanted to seriously (as in un-ironically) begin my recap with, “Once upon a time, in a faraway land in the East (coast) known as New Jerseyia, there lived five beautiful, but powerfully different Italian (American) diva-princesses: Caroline, Jacqueline, Teresa, Melissa and Kathy. While each princess ruled her own province (an ornate, gaudy, suburban mansion), they shared the responsibility of keeping the greater peace (not flipping tables) and harmony (See: the opposite of Christening-brawl) of the beautiful township of Franklin Lakes (it’s actually a township). While many old, evil witches (Kim G) and goblins (Ashley) and villains (Monica Chacon) set out to disrupt the peace and harmony of Franklin Lakes and its diva-princesses, they fought victoriously to maintain the happy splendor of life in Franklin Lakes.” And then I remembered that I ain’t no Hans Christian Anderson. However, I got to thinking about what makes a good fairy tale, which led me to Russian scholar, Vladimir Propp.
In his analysis of Russian folk and fairy tales, Russian narrative scholar, Vladimir Propp, created The Morphology of the Folk Tale as a means to identify common, narrative structural elements and sequences in Russian folk and fairy tales. Since many of these folk-fairy tales shared consistent structural motifs, Vladimir Propp was able to create an exact list of 31 narratemes, or “narrative units,” which all consistently occur in the structure of Russian folk-fairy tales. Now, I’m sure some of you may be thinking: “Is Captain Crazy-Pants really going to try and relate some 19th century analysis of Russian folk literature to the 8th episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey?”
To that I would answer: what are you new? Of course I am! Even though folk tales start out as oral stories (mostly traditions), they can evolve into other narrative forms, e.g. novels, movies, or even Bravo reality television shows! Regardless of their medium, the basis and structure of these folk tale/narrative tales still adhere to the famous narratemes that Vladimir Propp wrote about in his classic work. Moreover, Propp also wrote about the common, recurring characters in these folk tales as distinctive, consistent types. For example, there was a always a villain, a hero, a false hero, and a family, which fits right in with the narrative of the “characters” featured on RHONJ.
For this week’s recap, I’d like to break down the 8th episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey using a few of Vladimir Propp’s recurring characters and narratemes, because even though this week’s story takes place in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey circa 2011; it’s easy to see the similarities between this weeks’ New Jersey narrative and the classic Russian folk tales of yore. Let’s begin with Vladimir Propp’s first narrateme, Absentation.
Absentation is defined as the narrative sequence when “a member of a family leave[s] the security of the home environment, [and] this division of the cohesive family injects initial tension into the storyline.” On this episode of RHONJ, it’s pretty obvious that the absentation narrative sequence results from Albie and Chris leaving the Brownstone Jr. (Caroline’s house) for their new high-rise apartment in Hoboken. Suffering from Albie-Chris-separation anxiety, Lauren Manzo can’t seem to shake the feeling that her brothers have “iced” her out for their new (OMG HE’S SO HOT!) gay bff-roommate, Greg. But Lauren, can you blame Chris or Albie? Greg is a pretty tall glass. Even Teresa asks Greg if he’d have a three-way with her and Joe (pardon the visual), so Lauren can’t feel that bad! Nonetheless, this feeling of being “iced out” leads us to our next narrative sequence, the “mediation” phase, defined as the narrative sequence that occurs when “misfortune or lack is made known….perhaps finding [the] family or community devastated or caught up in a state of anguish or woe.”
Commenting on Lauren’s lonely state of woe (like whoa), Caroline tries to talk some sense into Lauren by saying, “You’d think she’s all alone, sitting up in her room, staring up at the ceiling without a friend in the world,” which certainly isn’t the case. Also, please don’t think that the exact parallels between Caroline’s description of Lauren “sitting up in her room” and Brandy’s 1995 hit song, “Sittin’ Up In My Room” were lost on me, because they weren’t. Trying to convince Lauren to wake up and smell the cawfee, Caroline tells Lauren that her brothers “moved, your life changed, they’re life changed-that’s life.” And that’s why Caroline Rules-making the big bucks as a radio hostess, since she’s able to deliver some solid knowledge about the complexities and realities of familial life. If I had been sitting there, I would have also reminded Lauren that she’s dating Vito (and not her brothers), and that she should really learn how to chill out about not being as included as she’d like to be.
Still fearing that Greg has replaced her, Lauren breaks down in tears, feeling “forgotten about.” Playing the role of good reality T.V. brother, Albie saves the day by offering Lauren a key to his Hoboken apartment. In Vladimir Propp-speak, this narrative sequence is known as the “Beginning Counter-Action” phase, defined as the narrative sequence when “the hero now decides to act in a way that will resolve the lack, for example finding a needed magical item.” Now, I’m not saying Albie is the hero of the narrative by presenting Lauren with the “needed magical item,” aka the key; but Albie’s key-giving is especially generous compared to the comedic anti-hero, Christopher, who sets parameters on Lauren’s visits: “Announced or un-announced is fine, [but] I suggest announced.” Nonetheless, Albie’s heroic key-giving definitely, temporarily resolves Lauren’s woes. Another hero, Greg, illuminates the truth of the entire episode when he says, “Stop taking everything so seriously and chill the f-out.” Despite his lapse in judgment in ordering that green-feathered Christmas tree (whilst donning his best fake, “straight” Guido voice), I have to admit that Greg silenced all of the Manzo lambs with that truth.
Another lamb that needed silencing was the incendiary Monica Chacon-the lawyer who sued Teresa and Joe Giudice in this week’s episode. In another Vladimir Propp-narrative sequence, the “villainy” stage is defined as the sequence when the “villain causes harm/injury to [a] family member,” which Monica Chacon did by trying to sue the Giudice family! Trying to downplay her courthouse run in with the villainous Monica Chacon, Teresa tries to logically explain to Jacqueline exactly how she “needed to silence the lamb.” The way Teresa tells it, she simply, very calmly walked up to Monica Chacon in the court house and said, “Excuse me, Monica, [Sweetie]? Instead of worrying about me, you should be worrying about yourself.” Conversely, Joe Giudice’s version of the story was: “[Teresa] like goes up to this lawyer, Monica Chacon, and literally, starts going off on her like CRAZY….She’s f****n nuts my wife….She’s really f****n nuts.” Call me crazy, but something tells me that Joe Giudice’s version of the story is just a tiny bit more credible, seeing as how Teresa has a bit of a reputation for being the opposite of calm (“is b****, better?”). Monica Chacon is lucky that she didn’t end up being served as a Skinny Italian lamb chop with extra marinara sauce that evening at Jacqueline’s holiday party.
Arguably, the greatest hero of this episode is Jacqueline Laurita. Decked out in her finest Dynasty-esque sequined outfits, Jacqueline carries on with her plan to host a drama-free holiday party with all of the Manzos, Giudices, Lauritas and Gorgas all under one roof. As she preps for the party, she gets words of advice from the least qualified person in New Jersey to offer advice-her daughter, Ashley. In yet another installment of “Gilmore Girls-Gone Wrong,” Ashley tries to tell her mother to “stay out of the drama” (I’m not sure why Bravo didn’t insert an “LOL REALLLLLLLY, ASHLEY? SERIOUSLY?” Meme-Subtitle). In her confessional, Ashley throws her mother under the bus by saying: “This is the thing about my mom-anywhere there’s drama, she tries to put herself in it, no matter what it is. She was friends with Danielle for a reason.” With daughters like Ashley, who needs Danielle Staub (AKA enemies, specifically villainous prostitution whore-enemies)?
Absent from the party was Kathy Wakile, who starred in her very own episode of “Indiana Kathy Wakile Jones And The Search For The Perfect Restaurant That I Really Shouldn’t Be Opening Yet Since I Don’t Have Any Experience.” Actually, I really like Kathy, and I appreciated that she went to Albert Manzo for advice on restaurant-opening, which he quickly encouraged them not to do. So Kathy Wakile is a-okay in my book, and she really should have been invited to Jacqueline’s holiday party.
The only true goblin-witch-villain that Jacqueline needs to be careful of is that “Kim Grannytelle.” In Vladimir Propp’s “Reconnaissance” sequence, “The villain makes an active attempt at seeking information…they may speak with a member of the family who innocently divulges information. They may also seek to meet the hero, perhaps knowing already the hero is special in some way.” Walking right into the Lion’s Den, AKA Kim G’s house, Jacqueline insists that she is her “own person” and she can hang out with Kim G. As soon as she arrives, Kim G. begins her totally typical Teresa-bashing, and Jacqueline tells her to “shut the f*** up.” While Jacqueline acknowledges that perhaps Teresa ignited the goblin’s ire by calling Kim G., “Kim Grannytelle and The Elderly,” she still stands by her dear friend, Teresa. Ultimately, our hero, Jacqueline, silences Kim G’s goblin-in-lamb’s-clothing with the most succinct powerful proclamation in all of Franklin Lakes, “Shut the F*** Up!”
At the end of the episode, all of the Lauritas, Manzos, Giudices, and Gorgas gather at Jacqueline’s house for some peaceful holiday cocktails, bisexual invitations, and cross-dressing. I really couldn’t blame budding-songbird Melissa for saying, “I’m not having sex tonight. It’s just not happening,” after seeing her husband, Joe, dressed in drag, doing kicks like he was on his way to Amateur Night at Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood. Despite a little tit-for-tat, “Why don’t you wake up and smell the cawfee?” versus “No, why don’t YOU wake up and smell the cawfee?” between Teresa and Melissa, Jacqueline maintains the peace of her domain-mansion and everyone has a good time. Speaking another truth, Jacqueline comments on how cool the Gorgas are and how badly she wants everyone to get along: “Cut the sh**-let’s party!” And I couldn’t agree with our hero more! Stay tuned for more literary history lessons and recaps of RHONJ!