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Housewives, Bitches, Girls and Liars: Women Behaving Badly

Have you been reading, hearing and seeing the word curate more frequently lately? Seems like curate is the new it word when it comes to anything creative. If once, a curator curated an art gallery, these days, a selection of anything, from t-shirts to nail polish, is no longer selected, picked or chosen: it’s curated. Perhaps this word is supposed to trick us consumers into a more sophisticated ensemble of skus? Perhaps next time I make a new music mix, the sleeve will say Curated by Alex? Will that make anyone like the songs on it any better?

Whenever I start hearing a word used frequently in the vernacular, it catches my ear. Why this, specific word and why now?

Word trends, like fashion, come and go. So do television shows.

Over the past decade, specifically during the past 5 years, a new word / TV trend has grown and, this season, has exploded. Seems like you can’t turn on a television station, free, basic cable or paid for, without hearing one of these four words in the title: Housewife, Bitch, Girl, Liar.

I went on IMDb.com to see just how long of a list I can build, so here it goes:

Housewives

Desperate Housewives (2004 – 2012)
The Real Housewives of Orange County (2006 – present)
The Real Housewives of Atlanta (2008 – present)
The Real Housewives of New York City (2008 – present)
The Real Housewives of New Jersey (2010 – present)
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (2010 – present)
The Real Housewives of D.C. (2010 – present)
The Real Housewives of Miami (2011 – present)
The Real Housewives of Vancouver (2011 – present)

In total, there’s 48 titles using the word housewives on IMDb and it seems that The Real Housewives franchise (and its several parodies) accounts for many of them. I also want to include one more in this list:

Mob Wives (2011 – present)

The producers must have known that Mob Housewives doesn’t have the same ring and kept it simple.

The premise of all these shows? Self-entitled, spoiled women behaving in destructive ways, setting low examples for their children and community. And, while at least the first and earliest show in this long list of work is fiction, it either set the stage for the pseudo-reality counterparts or it inspired them. Either way, it took TV just two years to go from desperate and written, to real and staged, and it took this country a very short time to get hooked to this bizarre class of the rich, most of whom must have never heard of Miss Manners or had a grandmother involved.

Money has never equaled class. In the shows above, women parade themselves in obnoxiousness and physically or verbally attack each other.

What does it say about us if the franchise keeps growing?

I’m caught up in the hot mess, too.

I watch Mob Wives, mostly because of my obsession with Scorsese films. In Goodfellas, he gave us an inside look of what these women’s lives were like in the early 70s. In one scene, Karen, the protagonist’s wife, rings the doorbell of her husband’s lover’s building and yells the following into buzzer:

“This is Karen Hill, I want to talk to you. Hello? Don’t hang up on me. I want to talk to you. You keep away from my husband, you understand me? Hello? ANSWER ME. I’m going to tell everybody that walks in this building that in 2R, Rossi, you’re nothing but a whore….Is this the superintendent?… Yes, sir, I would like you to know that you have a whore living in 2R. Rossi, Janice Rossi… He’s MY husband. Get your own goddamn man.”

Watching Mob Wives gives me an idea of what kinds of daughters Henry and Karen Hill, two very real people, may have raised if they didn’t, instead, go into witness protection. It wouldn’t have been pretty.

Bitches

Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23 (2012 – Present)
GCB (Good Christian Bitches) (2012)
Kathy Griffin: She’ll Cut a Bitch (2009)

In total, there’s over 100 IMDb titles with the word bitch. Most are interestingly enough from Europe, and many are film shorts. Bitch Academy, for example, is a documentary on how Russian women attend a special school which trains them to attract a rich husband. How very inspiring!

I watched the pilot episode of DTTBIA23. The lead actress does a great job with her role, being the cynical, non-compassionate and rather cold roommate to her more naive new home dweller. The one-liners are fantastic and the humor is sharp. But how are we, the audience, led to believe that a woman with no real job, no compassion and no family truly exists? Is she a mirror to the new generation or a fantasy drawn up by our collective subconscious?

Even more so, what does it say about the behavior on this show if James Van Der Beek, playing himself, is the likeable character? After watching The Rules of Attraction for the very first time, and each subsequent time after, I can no longer separate the man from his malicious role in that classic and biting modern college tale.

Girls

Gossip Girl (2007 – present)
New Girl (2011 – present)
Two Broke Girls (2011 – present)
Girls (2012 – present)

Three years ago, when my younger cousin came to stay with me for a week, I watched one episode of  Gossip Girl. She asked to watch the show and I’m always curious about the interests of the new generation. Like Cruel Intentions, the Dangerous Liaisons contemporary take of young love and betrayal, Gossip Girls includes betrayal at a very young age. Both New Girl and Two Broke Girls still have a lightness in tone to their characters and the latter has even been compared to Laverne and Shirley, with two, young women trying to make it in a bad economy.

Girls is a whole other story. I did not want to watch this show. This notion of a 24 year old getting her own HBO show, one that she writes, directs and stars in, made me reject it before even laying eyes on it. The fact that Judd Apatow produces it was the icing on the cake. I mean, I should have had my own show at 24.

I kept resisting and then noticed Facebook comments from people in L.A. who are in the biz. They raved. Then it spread to my East Coast friends and, very quickly, suddenly, the Midwest starting watching. And commenting. And loving.

So I watched the pilot. In the opening scene the show’s hero is sitting with her parents at a nice restaurant and after small talk, the parents break it to her that they will no longer be fiscally supporting her. She is shocked, she is in denial. Besides, all her friends get help from their parents and haven’t her own noticed it’s a bad economy and that she’s an only child? She concludes her dinner telling her parents that she doesn’t want to see them any more. Because they won’t give her money.

This self-entitlement turned me off. It also made me feel embarrassed. For myself. And for women everywhere.

But I kept watching. The hero proceeds to have uncomfortable sex, bitch about life to her friends, get stoned and, eventually, in a high stupor shows up at her parents’ hotel asking, again, for money.

Really? WTF? I don’t know of a single 24 year old, past or present, who has even the slightest resemblance of this life. The sex and drugs? Sure. The self discovery? Absolutely. But this notion that your parents owe you anything past the age of 18, that the world owes you anything you haven’t yet earned – money, a home, respect – makes my head spin.

But I was curious. I looked up the show’s writer and it turned out she went to Oberlin, right here in Ohio, and that she also made the film festival darling Tiny Furniture. So I had to give it to her – respect. But then Jimi Izrael, fellow scribe and author of The Denzel Principle,  encouraged me to look up who the parents are of the the cast: Brian Williams and David Mamet. Then fellow MBA Greg Butera mentioned the fourth girl’s father is the drummer of Bad Company. And the head writer’s pedigree? Well it just happened that her mom Laurie Simmons is a prominent NY artist who, back in the 70s, shot figures in doll houses.

Nothing like using your Hollywood DNA to promote four characters being cruel, careless and conniving.

I watched the first five episodes and stared on. In one story arc, one of the characters keeps her friends waiting at an appointment and, instead, has sex with a stranger in bar. Not too bad for a 20-something, right? Until you consider that she asked her friends to meet her and support her at an abortion clinic. Where she never shows up. Another one of these girls gets dumped by the very boyfriend she thinks is smothering her with love, then weasels back into his bed and more importantly, his heart, only to dump him. Post-orgasm. While he’s still inside her. In the end, they refer to themselves as ladies. I don’t think so.

Liars

Pretty Little Liars (2010 – present) The IMDb logline? “Four friends band together against an anonymous foe who threatens to reveal their darkest secrets, whilst unraveling the mystery of the murder of their best friend.”

Enough said.

What are all these shows trying to signal? What are they showing us? Are they a mirror to society? And, if so, when did the female sex stop being a real lady? When did we stop being women?

Was it, perhaps, always in us?

Men fight – on the football field, in the boardroom and over politics. But after the game, the meeting and the drink, it’s over. They walk away from the fight and resume the friendship with their buddy, friend or foe.

Women fight, too. But even as kids, when observed outside, as soon as the girls’ recess game was over due to a disagreement, the girls didn’t think to start another; they just walked away upset, in cliques.

Perhaps we women fight so viciously because the odds are greater.  I don’t quite know.  But I do know that as long as we publicly display cruelty towards one another and as long as TV signals that this is who we are, then everyone loses.

In meta-ironic product placement, a Sex and the City poster hangs in the Girls apartment. Both shows are on HBO. Both are set in New York City. And both feature 4 different women -  the neurotic writer, the gallery consultant, the liberated vamp and the awkward intellectual  – each trying to make it, both professionally and personally, in the world’s most competitive city.

The big difference? Hannah, Jessa, Shoshanna and Allison say and do things to each other without once considering the consequences of their casual actions. Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte had real jobs and fiscal responsibilities. And they showed up for one another – caring, supportive and loyal.

They had heart. They were ladies. They were perfectly curated.

Re posted with permission and gratitude from: 


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Images: IMDb.com

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