The Real Housewives of Orange County
We need to talk about Housewives and smarm. Smarm, like pornography, is one of those things that’s easier to identify when you see it than to define, but for the sake of my argument here I mean the way that women disingenuously stand behind some sort of emotion to win an argument. It’s a sort of policing of behavior based on a set of morals that those doing the policing don’t actually care about. In this case, I’m talking precisely about what Kelly, Vicki, and Shannon do to poor Emily, a pile of color coded files masquerading as a Housewife.
When discussing Kelly calling Emily’s husband, Ring Toe, a dork, a “little bitch,” and a passel of other names at Eddie’s birthday party, Emily responded by saying, “I’m going to kill you.” Those not on Team Emily, which seems to be everyone but Gina, have brought this moment up repeatedly as if Emily has done something morally reprehensible. At the reunion Kelly brings this up and says it’s illegal.
It’s this false concern about Emily’s threats that really get my goat. As Emily points out to the women, the only way she broke the law is if any of them believe that Emily would actually follow through on those threats. Look at Emily. Just look at her. How do you think this very model of a modern major general counsel is going to, say, bludgeon Kelly to death with the heel of an off-brand Jimmy Choo? Here is a woman who can’t even tell her stupid husband to shut up — how is she actually going to physically assault Kelly?
What the women see here is not a threat, but an opening. Emily slipped up and went so far that she has given them a permanent way in to win any argument. “Yeah, what I did was bad, but you threatened to kill Kelly,” any of them can say as if they’re actually concerned about their safety. What they’re really worried about is either looking bad or, even worse, losing an argument.
Obviously both of these women reacted disproportionately to what happened that night. Like Kelly always says, when someone throws a bomb, she throws a nuke. But she never does anything like Emily does, threatening actual violence, which gives her a kind of moral cover to her behavior. “Yeah, I might have gone over the edge, but I didn’t threaten to kill anyone.” Yeah, Emily did technically, but did she really? No.
We saw the same thing play out on this past week’s Real Housewives of Dallas reunion. Cameron gets mad at Stephanie for making a tiny lie that she had a baby with a surrogate so that she can keep Brandi’s secret about adopting a baby on the low for another 30 minutes. At the reunion, Cameron says she’s mad because it shows disrespect for people who have fertility issues. Oh god. Seriously? That is faker than the diamonds on the sleeves of Cary’s shockingly ugly reunion dress. Cameron doesn’t really care about people with fertility issues, she’s just using smarm as her defense because Stephanie can’t really say, “Screw people with fertility issues,” so she has to continue to mind Cameron’s feelings even when those feelings are — sorry about it — kinda dumb.
We saw the same sort of behavior with Brandi and LeeAnne in Dallas. While Brandi was awful to LeeAnne, she lost the moral high ground when she poked a finger on Brandi’s chest. Was it that bad? Not as bad as a slap or a Solo cup of red wine to the face, but Brandi will stand behind her smarmy stance — just as Kelly does — that she was somehow wronged in that instant when, honestly, they both brought it upon themselves.
Speaking of feelings (were we speaking of feelings, I don’t even know), no one has ever needed a break from her feelings like Shannon Beador. No one has ever felt as much or felt it as intensely as this woman and I think that she should get herself a spa treatment or some MDMA so that she can just give herself a break from the jackhammer of emotions that she subjects herself to. Shannon talks to her therapist every day and Tamra multiple times a day. Her emotions are more processed than an entire truckload of Twinkies.
Maybe she just needs a hobby or a job that keeps her a little bit busier. I don’t have time to feel as much as Shannon does. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get it done along with work, my friends, watching my stories, and pretending like I go to the gym.
If you don’t believe me, just look at how Shannon talks about having a fun time in Jamaica. “Despite my busted ankle, my divorce, my sagging business sales, and all of these women attacking me, I was having a great time,” she basically says. Even when talking about fun the emphasis isn’t on the triumph, but the setbacks.
That is why Tamra says that talking to her is exhausting and emotionally draining. As exhausting as it is for us, imagine how exhausting it must be for her. I think we need to start a bake sale to raise enough money to give Shannon a day off. Maybe we can put her in a medically induced coma for 24 hours and let that brain of hers just reboot or something.
For all of this feeling, for all of this selfishness, Tamra and Shannon come to some sort of understanding. When Shannon talks about her mental health, Tamra hears that Shannon has internalized David’s criticism after all of these years. Shannon says that David told her she was crazy, selfish, and couldn’t control her life, and it finally clicks for Tamra that’s why Shannon won’t go on medication and has a hard time getting help with her current situation. It’s a breakthrough for both of them. Tamra should charge $250 an hour.
Things don’t go as well for Gina and Shannon, and to a lesser extent Shannon and Emily. As Andy tells them, even though Shannon may have accepted their apologies and apologized to them, it still seems like she hates them. I really do sympathize with Gina on this one. Gina’s argument is that Shannon’s friends brought her and Emily around (and by that she means the producers cast them on the show) and Shannon was nothing but rude to them for the entire season. Kelly says that she had to wait two years for Shannon to finally talk to her, and Gina responds, “That’s my point.”
Gina’s problem is that she wants Shannon to be accountable for her actions. I don’t disagree with her. She wants to be given a chance to form a relationship on mutual terms rather than sitting around waiting for Shannon to deign to see if she qualifies for being given the time of day. That is an awful way for Shannon to behave.
These are lovely middle-class ethics that Gina has — giving people the benefit of the doubt, treating everyone equally, having concern for people having a difficult time — and that none of the Real Housewives really share. That is why Gina brought up the women talking about Shannon’s mental health. It wasn’t to be cruel or “stir the pot” (P.S., when did pot-stirring become a capital offense?), it was because she wants to help and be a good person.
But that is not what this game is about. The Real Housewives is not the humanity Olympics. It is not a team sport. It is a bunch of individual competitions masquerading as a group activity. I totally agree with Gina, Shannon should behave like a reasonable, kind, sensitive person. But that is not really the name of the game, and if that is what Gina expects of her colleagues, well, then maybe she should find another line of work.