The Real Housewives of New Jersey
“Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible,” Janet Malcolm wrote in The Journalist and the Murderer. “He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.”
Malcolm was referring to true-crime author Joe McGinniss, who buddied up to and even lived with soon-to-be-convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald while writing a book that concluded — whoops! — his new pal was in fact very, very guilty. This week’s Real Housewives of New Jersey raises some of the same ethical questions, albeit surrounding a subject apparently just as emotionally charged as homicide: parenting.
But first, some housekeeping. The Gorgas’ restaurant has closed, so I’m sorry to say you’ve missed your chance to try their tomato sauce (“no salt and no flavor”) or their meatballs (“clearly from a frozen bag”). Also, Jennifer goes shopping for a gown for her soon-to-be sister-in-law at JOVANI!!! I know Jovani is a real brand that exists in the real world, but this still feels like seeing someone smoking Red Apple cigarettes in a Tarantino movie.
It’s been a minute since a Housechild dipped an ill-fated toe into the choppy waters of the music industry, so Teresa takes aspiring rapper Milania into the studio to rehearse with Fetty Wap’s producer. It sounds so much like Tre pronounces Fetty Wap (pride of Paterson) as “Fetty Waa” that I rewind and relisten to her say the name five times. I’m still undecided. So sings New Jersey’s own Bhad Bhabie: “I can’t wait to grow up, I’m only getting older / I’mma trap so much, I don’t care, so what.” Shades of ARK Music Factory.
Jackie’s latest Minivan Musings column in the Record (by the way, you guys, I’m sorry to report they’ve totally torn down the Record’s old building on River Road, between the turnoff for Bowler City and the pretty good diner with a submarine docked behind the parking lot — yes — end of an era!) asks an explosive question: “Does giving too many gifts create spoiled children?”
Well, that question might not be terribly explosive in and of itself, except that Jackie uses a lede about a visit to her “new friend’s” “enormous estate” with a “double-level play wing” and “a bouncy castle bigger than my home” (“whose name is Jennifer Aydin, A-Y-D-I-N” must have gotten cut by her editor) as a jumping-off point to explore it.
And what occasion should fall upon us but Little Joey Gorga’s First Communion? Given that this is the same child whose christening became the site of the notorious Giudice-Gorga brawl, it seems conditions are perfect for a blowup, whether between Jackie and Teresa, Jackie and Jennifer, or Jackie and everyone. (In my personal Catholic experience, ugly arguments among loved ones are as much a part of the sacraments as sipping the wine-colored backwash of your fellow parishioners.) Of course, like four out of five RHONJ events, the Communion is being held at Rails Steakhouse, the only restaurant in New Jersey apparently willing to assume the liability that is this cast. (Miss you, the Brownstone.)
Though Jennifer informs us in her confessionals that she is “pissed” and “betrayed” and “not backing down” and eager to “rip [Jackie] a new one,” their actual encounter at Rails is, well, anticlimactic. Jennifer accepts Jackie’s kiss hello, then proceeds to quietly sulk until Jackie breaks the ice. “When we walked in I felt bad, because” — wait for it — “I’m in such a weird place with Teresa,” Jackie says. That’s right, Jennifer. You’re not even the No. 1 feud Jackie has going right now.
When Jennifer finally brings up the column, Jackie gives her a self-satisfied little smile. “Did I say anything untrue?” she asks.
“I felt there was a lot of judgment there,” Jennifer protests.
“Did you really?” Jackie says, before wondering aloud if Jennifer actually read her “very complimentary” article. “I didn’t write your name, I didn’t say one negative thing about your children, I didn’t even say anything negative about you.”
Technically, Jackie is correct. She does not write that Jennifer’s children are spoiled; she ultimately describes them as “sweet.”
In two words, plausible deniability. In one word, bullshit.
Come on, Jackie. Own it. Jennifer is annoying, but she is not stupid. Neither are we. The entire thesis of the column and the expert quotes therein is that Jennifer’s parenting style (bribes, thrones, general chaos) is Bad. For the skimmers among us, the phrase “spoiled children” can be found, conveniently, right in the headline.
As a torchbearer for the highly respected subfield of journalism that is TV recappery, I will add that it is extremely fucking not-normal to publish a story about your supposed friend without their permission — or, at the very least, giving them a heads-up — even if you believed that you were being flattering, and even if you believed that withholding her name granted her any measure of anonymity. And yet Jackie is utterly unremorseful. “You don’t want me to write about it, don’t fucking do it,” she jokes. But this is not Spotlight, and no one gives a shit.
The cast loyalties divide among the expected fault lines, with Margaret and Melissa siding with Jackie. In fact, Melissa argues that the column is in fact so flattering, she wishes Jackie had written it about her. This, to be sure, is insane, coming from a woman who nearly had an aneurysm when Melissa called her Little Miss Perfect at Margaret’s brunch.
As Jackie pulls up the article on her phone, it occurs to me what wild page-views NorthJersey.com is about to get on a six-month-old story. Maybe this is how local journalism can be saved, once and for all: by Bravo stars channeling their passive-aggression into print.