Defending Bravo TV, Andy Cohen, and the Real Housewives of the Potomac

Post the Amandla Stenberg fiasco, defending @Bravotv and Andy Cohen () is an action I NEVER thought I would take, and right now I am seriously hoping there is a reality show detox program I can put on speed dial (one that will help me win back my sanity).   That said, the launch of the Real Housewives of the Potomac leaves me feeling compelled to applaud the efforts of bringing the #RHOP to canvas, as well was the results.  Despite its relative success, the real housewives franchise has struggled in offering diverse views of women of color.  My hackles are still raised when I think of the ill treatment of the first Latina housewife to join #RHOBH, . Despite being constantly attacked and maligned, handling the pressure with more grace than I think most of us could muster, Joyce was dismissed after one season – while Brandi Glanville and her defender-in-chief, Yolanda Foster, were permitted to stay on.  In a just world, the person who made the decision to keep Glanville and Foster over Giraud is now spending their days clipping coupons while hoping to turn 5 dollars into $800 worth of processed foods and assorted junk on a TLC special.

I was astonished, and frankly a bit gutted, that despite filming in Miami, the network seemed unable to find engaging Latina women to open viewers up to a new world – one that didn’t treat Latinos/Hispanics as “the other” but showed the beauty and complexity of the various cultured communities.  We have yet to see the successful integration of Asian and Asian-American women who, like Latina women on the other series, are often treated as bit players in the lives of the housewives. Even #RHONY fan-favorite scene stealer, Sakoto Yamazki (@Satokonyc) is only referred to as “Sonja’s facialist” by nearly every site that mentions her.  The one series that is given credit for bringing diversity to Bravo’s HW franchise, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, is the franchise I often find the most troubling.  #RHOA fans may disagree, but I view the show to be one that is long on racial diversity but short on dispelling the negative stereotypes that have, for far too long, dogged African-American women.  So far, the #RHOA has worked to seemingly confirm the big four (as I view them):

1 – The stereotyped angry black woman.  This myth looms large in the entertainment world, but no where is it as heavily and predictably cast as in reality television.  If asked which reality show maven best exemplifies this ugly stereotype, I would have to say that  Nene Leakes tops the  list.  From the ear piercing tantrums not welcomed in a preschool classroom -much less a room full of professionals, to altercations that border on verge of being considered a criminal assaults, Nene’s behavior has been so outrageous that she became the punchline on UnREAL, a show that takes a swipe at the seedy side of reality t.v..  On the show, an African-American producer encourages two remaining African-American contestants on a dating show to “go big”. He tells them to become a Nene Leakes or Omarosa, or get ready to go home.  One of the contestants calls him an “Uncle Tom” for asking them to lower themselves into that gutter.  The other takes his advice, accuses an innocent contestant of making a race-based insult, and attacks her.  I will leave it to you to determine the full implication of false accusations for profit… yeah, thanks.  Add that to the fact that Leakes’ antics have landed her on THR’s top ten disliked celebrities list and the clips below that highlight (or lowlight?) “not ready for prime time” behavior will make perfect sense:

There are times when Leakes has been genuinely funny, and presented a portrait of a strong, not necessarily angry, woman.  Those instances of strength, which feel too few and far between, are overshadowed by the all too frequent moments of poor behavior similar to the clips above, in my opinion.

2 – 3 The Thought-free Princess of Thotlandia –   In three short seasons, fans have had the curious experience of watching Porsha (Stewart) Williams transition from a wife who was grateful to her husband for “letting” her spend time with her cast mates (groan) to a self-proclaimed “twerk-a-holic”.  I am glad to see the stepford wife go.  I am not so happy to see the twerking twin that showed up in her place!  Is there no in between?  While every woman has the right to own her sexuality, it would be nice if more women who are given such a huge public platform would define their sexuality in a way that wasn’t so consistent with the “fetishized”, highly-sexualized and demeaning, images of women of color that are already in place.

This housewife gives us a “two-fer” – This particular stereotype links the “Thot” image with the “thoughtless” meme (as in void of thought).  It is a stereotype which portrays women of color, in particular, as “poorly educated”.  Sadly, Porsha also transitioned from hosting fundraisers for her grandfather’s illustrious civil rights foundation to looking for the underground railroad train tracks beneath church floorboards .

I can’t help but believe that Unground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman wouldn’t mind coming back to punch Porsha’s ticket for that one.  Haven’t most of us been learning about the underground railroad since kindergarten?

4 – Propensity toward criminal behavior.  Apollo Nida.  Enough said?  Fans still debate the veracity of Phaedra Parks claims that she knew nothing of her husband’s illicit activity – despite supporting his claims of spending thousands a dollars a night in strip clubs.  She told us that she was ok with is as long as the money wasn’t hers.  It was apparently a hobby funded by money that he  earned in his difficult-to-define “asset recovery” business (a business that led to another major stint in prison for the fallen reality star).  Add to that Phaedra’s own alleged past misdeeds and we are talking full on cluster pluck.

#RHOA is a show that is supposed to highlight the lives of people who are living well, far exceeding in what we aspire to as part of the American dream.  Is there any wonder why so many fans see light at the end The Real Housewives of the Potomac tunnel?  While they are not perfect, they add new and refreshing images of women of color. Women like Katie Rost and Gizelle Bryant are full-time linked into the Potomac power structures.  Rost’s family is, reportedly, obscenely loaded.  Both women are from prominent families and have a history of rubbing elbows with political movers and shakers.  Charrisse Jordan-Jackson and Karen Huger don’t seem, to me, to have the same sort of connections, but are women who (so far) seem to have access real wealth and their own highly regarded social circle.  Charrisse’s estate is huge, and we have since learned that the Bravo photo shoot for this season took place in Chateau Charrisse (see what I did there?)  Robyn Dixon appears to have had access to wealth, at one time during her marriage, but is now a working mom who takes pride in the accomplishments of her distinguished extended family as well as the choices she’s made for herself and her children.  So far, there doesn’t appear to be a angry woman in the group, no twerk monsters, not a thot, not the thoughtless, no reported criminal records, and most appear to be well educated and hard workers.  My only regret is that Kenya Moore wasn’t cast on this show, instead!  These are her housewife soulmates!

For every #RHOA twerk session, there is a #RHOP etiquette lesson.  For every #RHOA explosion of child-like anger, there is a #RHOP stomp off.  I think my heart is FULL, people!  There is finally a little more balance and a hell of a lot more nuance in the portrayal of the African-American community – for as much as a true portrayal can happen on a reality show.

To be clear, I don’t think there is an argument to be made about whether the #RHOA or #RHOP should be the standard bearer for African American women and their families. If an argument is to be made, the answer for me is that neither can represent us all.  There is yet more complexity in the African-American community to show, but I like where this is headed, so far. I think the two housewife shows are nice complements of one another. There is something for everyone, just as #RHOC, #RHOBH, #RHONJ, and #RHONY offer different views of women who are not minorities.

You may want to turn away at this point, but to @Bravotv and  I say, Job Well Done!  I hope #RHOA and #RHOP both stand the test of time, though admittedly, I hope the presence of #RHOP helps the women of the #RHOA up their game and pushes them away from the stereotyped images which become more extreme every year.  I want more of who the Real Housewives of Atlanta use to be – before the fame turned them into what they are now.  A new housewife or two, to add more balance to the current group wouldn’t hurt.  As for the #RHOP?  So far, so good.

Read my review of the first episode  of the series at All About The Tea and check the site for future reviews of the show.

Real Housewives of Whatever Survival Guide

pay attention2Read carefully.  The well kept secrets shared below could save your:  dignity, reputation, career, marriage, and/or  life  (I’m not sure, but I think that last one was a wee bit of an exaggeration).  There are just three simple rules for surviving the Real Housewives of Whatever:

1. Timing is everything!

If your friend/neighbor/family member/acquaintance has been cast on a real housewives show AND she invites you to stop by during a taping session, you know – just for drinks and giggles. For the love of trashy tv DON’T DO IT!  The more famous you are, the more likely it is that you have been made a sacrificial lamb. Did the invitation come wrapped in a tear-stained envelope?  That, my friend, is what is called a clue.  Those tears are yours.  You just don’t know it yet.

If curiosity about seeing how the sausage is made is killing you and you decide that you simply have to go, first ask yourself if you’ve ever shared a deeply private and painful experience with this person, swearing her to secrecy.  You did swear her to secrecy? The second step is to put your attorney on speed dial.  Ask if said shared secret is covered as part of a verbal non-disclosure agreement. If the attorney says no, then for the love of trashy tv DON’T DO IT!  If the attorney says that it is covered? DON’T DO IT.

Ok, I get it, I get it.  You are still not persuaded.  Then the only thing left to do is pray!  That secret is almost guaranteed to be exposed. It will happen as part of a drunken rambling, “slip of the tongue”, or it will be slammed down on the table like a winning hand of poker.  Count on it!  Word to the wise, drinks and giggles with a Real Housewife of Whatever are probably safest between hunting filming seasons.

Even between seasons, don’t tell a RH your secrets.  Seriously. Don’t.

2. Travel light OR Not at all!

You survived drinks and giggles.  To make it all up to you, the Real Housewives have invited you to take a vacation with them, and being a glutton for punishment you agree to go.  You’re traveling by car, you say?  If you have the option,  sit in the backseat!  Yeah, I said the backseat. Need I remind you?

Sure, they can still get to you when you’re sitting in the backseat, but at least make them work for it.

Ah.  You’re going boating?  You should be safe, you say?  You are ADORBS!  You won’t be swimming with sharks, you will be boating with them!  Don’t go out on the deck alone with a Real Housewife.  Make sure there are witnesses at all times, and don’t count on the production crew to save you – you don’t think they care about ratings?  Your humiliation (or worse) is golden on film!

“Aren’t you taking things too far?”,  you ask.  No.  No. Not really.  Well, maybe a little, but probably not by much.  Real Housewives of Whatever roll like that, I think.  I’ve heard. Well…it’s been said that they can be treacherous!  To be on the safe side, make your own accommodations and stay in an undisclosed location!  Taking vacations with Real Housewives may require you to keep your lawyer and your therapist on speed dial!

Am I the only one imaging RHOBH’s Lisa Vanderpump giving Brandi Glanville the “Fredo Kiss”?

3. The enemy of your Real Housewives of Whatever enemy is definitely your  friend!

 No?  Your friend/neighbor/family member/acquaintance would never betray you like that?  Cute.  I see you’ve never watched the show.  Awesome.  Well here’s one more piece of advice.  If you haven’t taken a self-defense class, give it some consideration. When you take that self-defense class, you might as well add your trainer’s number to your speed dial along with your attorney and therapist.  Running out of speed dial options?  Screw your friends and family, they can’t help you now.  You have willingly, and naively, entered into a fight for survival (physical, psychological, emotional).

It’s not a Real Housewives of Whatever party until someone gets slapped, punched, kicked, threatened, intimidated, or arrested. Any and all of those events could happen over breakfast!

So friends, this is my last warning.  You can’t say I haven’t tried. If you decide to tag along with your real housewives pal, joining her for drinks and giggles, skip the drinks and keep a side eye on the giggles.  She could be laughing at you, not with you.  I think it’s safe to say that some of the Real Housewives are a cross between  Keyser Söze, Lucrezia Borgia, and Niccolò Machiavelli (Yes, the latter of the “Machiavellic” fame.).  In your shoes, I’d count on more  Keyser Söze than the other two:

If you fail to heed my warning, it was nice knowing ya’.  If you decide that I’m too cynical, and that you are perfectly ok in the hands of your reality show pal, well trash-tv god love and protect ya’. By the way, I have a real estate transaction I’d like to discuss with you when you have time – and don’t be alarmed, it only looks like swampland in the pictures.  It’s a grade A golf course worth millions, you cutie pie.

RHOA: Apollo Nida

RHOAcastI don’t know how much of a “world tour” has been planned for the househusbands of Atlanta, but it’s likely that the group will either lose one of its members or the tour will be cut short.  In breaking news: SandraRose has posted the scoop that Apollo Nida (husband of attorney Phaedra Parks)  has been charged with Identity Theft and Bank Fraud.

The full  indictments should be available to read on Monday.  It will make for interesting, and pretty sad, reading.  RHOA viewers know that Apollo and Phaedra recently had their second child, affectionately nicknamed Mr. President.  The inauguration of Mr. President will take place on the show, soon.  As a viewer, the hardest part of the various RHs scandals is having been introduced to the children of these families and realizing the implications  for the children – both short term and long term.

Bravo seems to do well in giving their “talent” the opportunity to express their innocence when these “sticky” situations develop across the various franchises.  It will be interesting to see if Andy Cohen invites Apollo and Phaedra to sit down and talk about their legal troubles, much like the sit down with Teresa and Joe Giudice, Real Housewives of New Jersey. I would be stunned if the issue is NOT raised at the upcoming reunion.  Apollo and Phaedra may want to get out ahead of the upcoming reunion and say everything that needs to be said before its used as fodder by one of the other wives.  Control that message.

If you’ve been following the ups and downs of this couple, you know that this isn’t the only legal issue they’re facing.  Phaedra is suing (former friend?) Angela Stanton for defamation. Stanton is the author of the book, “Lies of a Real Housewife“, and alleges that Phaedra was involved in the illegal business which resulted in her serving time along with Apollo, and his brother.  Stanton’s interview with VIBE magazine (Part I of III seen below) triggered the lawsuit.  Ms. Stanton has since filed her own defamation lawsuit against Attorney Parks.  Barring a settlement, the suit should go to court by the Spring of 2014.

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills – Brandi’s trip home

RHOBH LogoThere are times when I could easily see this being named Real Housewives of Just Because…. and last night’s episode was one of them!  The BH housewives are the most random group of women in the history of the franchise, and that’s saying something.  Have you SEEN the HWs of Miami?   I KNOW, I KNOW, Brandi Glanville has completely screwed up and I’m as disgusted with her as most fans seem to be, from the the racist treatment of Joyce Giraud (I can’t see it as anything else), the interchangeable best friends, the lack of responsibility taking, the constantly offensive language, you name it.  I have to to admit that last night’s episode gave me a lot of insight into her issues, and I had my own love and loathing moment going on. Well, love may be a bit of an exaggeration, but  I am pleasantly surprised that the producers allowed the audience to see a different side of Brandi.  I’m sure her overworked PR team is equally happy.

We learned that Brandi’s father is upset with her for calling him a drug dealer in her book.  I understand why her father is upset. He’s at an age where his regrets are the things he wants to put behind him and enjoy what he loves most about his life,  in the time he has left.  He knows the truth of how he lived and why he did whatever he did.  The self-professed “truth cannon” shouldn’t be feel so free to tell someone else’s truth, including her father’s.  She has enough salacious stories from her own history.  It’s not clear to me why her father and the sister have been thrown into the limelight  (her sister’s assault by a school principal was used by Brandi in expressing her dismay that she hadn’t been targeted for molestation – being “hot” as a child and all that).  If Karma is a bitch, Brandi should be living in fear of her own children keeping  notes for the tell-all they’ll write later.

What seems more like fair game?  Brandi’s compelling recount of the neighborhood she grew up in.   Within minutes of driving down the boulevard of broken dreams in her stretch limo, Brandi reminded the audience that poverty is not about race or region, it can happen to almost anyone, anywhere.  It was sad to hear that as a young girl, that she didn’t just view herself as poor, but as living on the “wrong side of the tracks”.  Contrast that to Joyce’s comments about having grown up poor.  Joyce takes pride in where she comes from and her family’s struggle because of the person it has helped her become.

For Brandi, the experience of poverty was a completely different one.  She speaks of friends she spent time with in school, but who were gone by the end of the day – fearful of crossing the tracks and visiting her in the rough neighborhood she called home.  It was sad to hear that she stood outside her parents’ bedroom door with her siblings and repeatedly listened to arguments about money.  It’s scary to me that alcohol appeared to be a form of escapism very early on for her – bars at 15/16? Stealing alcohol from elderly patients?   What’s also sad is what appears to be a lasting impact on Brandi, today.

Putting on an armchair therapist hat, I see her trip home explaining several things (to me, not that they are accurate in how she sees herself):

  • Brandi, more than any housewife I can remember, speaks openly about how much she cares about money and becoming rich.  The woman just wants to be RICH.  If Brandi has used the words “happy and successful in life” in conjunction with wanting to become wealthy, I’ve missed hearing her utter them.   Unlike ATL’s Phaedra (who sees “coin, coin coin” associated with burying the dead), I never hear Brandi talk about plans for the future or a wealth that will be secured for future generations.  (Am I the only one who remembers Lisa telling Mohammed that Pandora had better be included in his will?  Lisa and Ken are worth tens of millions, at least, and Lisa still has her future wealth hustle on).   As far as I can tell, Brandi has a book, a second one planned, and RHOBH. I can’t see that as a winning combination now that Bravo is geared toward recasting HWs to keep the series fresh.
  • Even if she stayed, Brandi is not just out of her league, she even seems ill at ease in her group.  Unlike the OC housewives, nearly all of whom are self-made, Brandi’s group is a toss up of the self-made and the long term wealthy (Kyle and Kim Richards, Lisa Vanderpump, Yolanda Foster)  with a sprinkling of those born into extreme wealth (ex cast mate, Adrienne Maloof).
  • Her testy relationship with her own parents also makes me wonder if it drives what appears to be anger at the HWs who appear to get too close and too motherly with her.  I was stunned by her reaction to Lisa telling her to have her (possibly broken) wrist checked out.  You would have thought Lisa was grilling her on whether she’d taken out the trash, turned off the lights, made sure to put the recyclables in the appropriate containers.  Her reactions to being cared for/about feel excessive and causes me, as a viewer, to see her as too coarse and far too ungrateful to people who care about her.

Now it all makes sense to me.

To be clear, I’m over Brandi as a housewife.  I’ve never been a fan, but I could at least tolerate her in the past.  I’m over her obsession with telling others to “F—k off”.  I’m over her “truth cannon” being used to fire off sexist, racist (yes, my beliefs),  nasty barbs at others while she calls her behavior truth-telling, guided by humor, or anything close to civil.   Last night’s episode did not undo all of the harm she’s done – in my book, but it made her less of a monster, for me. The episode reminded us that she is human, that whatever she is today – she became that for a reason.

I hope she does fully repair her relationship with her family.  I hope Brandi finds happiness and finds out what she’s supposed to do with her life – other than just “make money”.   I hope Brandi watched last night’s episode (post editing, I know she was there) and realizes that the love her family has for her and the support they give her seems to be solid no matter what happens.

Most importantly, I hope all of that happens off screen.  It’s time for her to go, in my opinion, and if she’s smart she’ll want to go out with the images of her as a loved member of a loving family.  I would.