Are The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Teaching Me to Gossip?

Full disclosure: I am an avid fan of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (RHOBH, for those of you in the know). I’ve seen every episode, I can recite all of the intro lines from memory, I have favorite moments (Camille’s “Dinner Party from Hell” Season 1), and I consider Lisa Vanderpump’s re-tweeting one of my tweets to be one of my single biggest life accomplishments.

And yet.

I am worried that the way the wives talk about each other is beginning to influence how I speak about my friends in real life.

Let me explain. A typical episode of the RHOBH is driven by the revelation of gossip, the reaction to that gossip and then an epic confrontation between the gossiper and the gossipee. For example, we might hear a rumor from one housewife that one of the ladies thinks the other is bad dinner guest. We will then watch that gossip ripple through a series of (speaker) phone calls, dinner parties, and car rides until finally the gossip comes to a reckoning with some kind of screaming match (“How dare you say I’m a bad dinner guest!”).

This gossip, by the way, is not always trivial. Sometimes it can be about alcoholism, domestic violence or in one instance, the gossip was so scandalous that Bravo wouldn’t even air the actual allegation. Instead we watched the gasps, curses and threatened lawsuits in reaction to the accusation. Gossip is the drive, the social currency and the real beating heart of the show.

While I usually watch the show in a happy semi-coma, enjoying the drama without thinking about it, this past season’s finale really jarred me. The level of gossip and meanness was so over the top and so blatant that I just couldn’t buy in anymore. Really? One woman is being served a divorce while the other is hosting a surprise wedding vow renewal ceremony? I thought it was beautifully scripted for a television show but far from reality. What real women could talk about friends like this or be so cruel? How could one woman gossip about the intimate details of a friend whose life was falling apart? Well, you know. Sometimes I can.

I have caught myself being entertained by the tiny misfortunes of others. I have heard friends relay the intimate details of an acquaintance’s failures for the sole purpose of entertaining. I am talking here about your friend’s crazy dating history, the tale circulating about a friend hooking up with so-and-so, and the chatter that your buddy really can’t be trusted. Run of the mill backstabbing– nothing huge. While I might not tell the stories myself, I am guilty of laughing at them. How many times have I either said or heard “Tell me the gossip!” between friends? At brunches, over drinks, in e-mails I have listened to and helped spread the dirt. And seeing it play out on my television screen in its most absurd and lurid form made me recognize the (significantly) lesser habit in my own friendships.

I wonder if watching rumor spreading enacted over and over in the form of Keeping Up with The Kardashians or any of the Real Housewives has in some way made me think that back-talking is not only acceptable, but also fun. I’ll admit that I’m impressionable like that. When I watch Homeland, I sometimes talk at the screen and I actually felt depressed after the series finale of The Wire because I thought my hometown of Baltimore would never change (I am from Los Angeles and now live in New York City). Was I born with a little bit of the gossip bug, or did I learn it? Nature vs. nurture if you will.

So I wonder, are the Real Housewives teaching us to be gossips? Or is it merely reflecting the way women talk to about each other already? Either way, that’s not a great situation. There is no reason to spread intimate rumors about a friend. Ever. It’s one thing to talk to a friend about concerns for another, but it is entirely different when the chatter is for entertainment’s sake. The RHOBH is here to entertain me while the lives of my friends are not.

That is not to say I will stop watching the RHOBH anytime soon. I love that show. But perhaps it will give me pause before starting a conversation with “who has gossip?”


Trying Not To Be A Gossip Girl

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