Good news not-so-gentle readers! We are not the only ones on the crack pipe that is Bravo. All this time we have thought we were down here in the gutter alone wondering how the hell our lives got to this point. I posted about my own personal journey into the bowels of hell that is the Real Housewives, likening it to a drug addiction gone off the rails. But today I discovered we are not alone. In fact we have one of the most famous female social critics of our time in our midst. Camille Paglia, the anti-feminist feminist author extraordinaire has a new book, Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, a collection of essays about art pieces from ancient to modern times. In a recent interview promoting the book with Salon.com which I highly recommend in its entirety, Paglia goes off on a very long dissertation about her love for the Real Housewives with detailed discussions about editing and who her favorite housewives are. You will not believe who she chooses. Or why she says the Real Housewives of New Jersey is better than The Sopranos and Downton Abbey. Or her thoughts on Andy Cohen. You simply must click through and read this all for yourselves. Do it now.
Exerpt from Kerry Lauerman’s (Editor in Chief of Salon Magazine) interview with Camille Paglia. His questions are in bold. Her reponses follow.
What does inspire you that’s out there now?
Bravo’s “Real Housewives” series! Whoever is doing the photography and editing for “Real Housewives of New Jersey” and also for “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and “Real Housewives of Orange County” — this is absolutely cutting edge. I can watch the same episode — while I’m cooking and eating dinner – five, six, or seven times. I savor how visually interesting they are — how long each shot lasts and how much information it contains. This is intelligent and sophisticated documentary filmmaking that really needs to be honored.
Documentary? Isn’t it just pop spectacle?
The early episodes of that series were bland and dull, even amateurish. Through trial and error, they eventually found a technical groove. It’s not just the sensational drama. As a soap opera fan, I’ve been in the depths of gloom for over 20 years as TV soaps declined. I was already lamenting this in a piece for TV Guide in 1992. I always adored soap operas. I was listening to “The Romance of Helen Trent” on the radio when I bicycled home for lunch in fifth grade. My grandmothers watched soaps, even though they barely spoke English. In the 1970s, I wrote down great lines from TV soaps. That’s when they were aimed at stay-at-home moms — all the tear-jerking emotion from the women’s pictures of the Lana Turner era. But there was this terrible decline when soaps suddenly wanted respectability — so then came the socially conscious message scripts and the crime drama. And they really missed the boat, because in the ’90s, drag queens got big! It was “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” and everything else – that flamboyant drag queen style was exactly the way the great soap opera queens used to behave. But the soap operas played it prim and safe. They receded and receded, and now they’re dead. The producers didn’t catch what was happening. The mass audience wanted theatricality and flamboyance! And that’s what this Bravo “Real Housewives” series is supplying in spades. I don’t like reality shows and have never watched them, but I’m addicted to “Real Housewives” because it’s authentic old-time soap opera reborn!
But beyond that, the shows are all about glamour — make up, hair, fashion. And sex! They show women trying to balance being sexy with being mothers. Most of the women on “Real Housewives of New Jersey” never went to college. So it’s great to see strong and outspoken women who are outside the elite zone of attaché-carrying careerists working their way up on Wall Street.
And these shows are archetypal bitch fests! I read a few months ago that Gloria Steinem hates “Real Housewives of New Jersey” and would be glad to picket it. Well, there’s the big difference between Steinem and me. She sees the show as a distortion of women, while I see it as a revelation of the deep truth about female sexuality. Right there is the proof of why feminism has faded. Those second-wave feminists had a utopian view of women — they constantly asserted that anything negative about women is a projection by men. That’s not what I see on “Real Houswives”! It’s like the Discovery Channel — sending a camera to the African savannah to watch the cheetahs stalking the gazelles! What you’re seeing is the primal battles going on among women. Men are marginalized on these shows — they’re eye candy, to use Obama’s phrase, on the borderlines of the ferocity of female sexuality.
The criticism is that the shows are heavily scripted and staged, though I would guess the pressure to create drama creates its own reality.
Well, there is no doubt that many scenes are staged. Women arrive at a restaurant and are clearly cued to talk about some topic or prior clash. But the conflicts and emotions are real — ending up with people walking out on each other or almost coming to blows. And there are real-life consequences from the eruption of hostilities.
And it’s being filmed, which raises the stakes.
Yes, the whole world is watching. I’m such a private person that I just can’t imagine this kind of intrusion into my private life. But “Real Housewives” is authentic about a stratum of New Jersey Italian life that was badly done in “The Sopranos,” which I hated.
You did, I remember. And you hated the sort of assumed Mafia ties and exaggerated accents. So how does “Real Housewives of New Jersey” compare?
I loved the first two “Godfather” films, which I think are masterpieces. It’s really not the Mafia theme per se that offended me in “The Sopranos” — it’s just the inaccuracy with which Italian-American culture was depicted. To me, it was out of date — it was by a guy who had left there and had vague memories of what it was like in the ’60s. I loathed it; I could never watch it for more than two minutes. The same thing with “Mad Men,” by the way, which everyone at Salon adores so much. I was there! I lived through that period. “Mad Men” doesn’t capture one single thing about the décor, costumes, or sexual interaction. It is a total projection of contemporary snarky attitudes into the past. If you want to see what women were actually like in that period of sexual repression, just put in a DVD of “Psycho” and watch the phenomenal Janet Leigh as a secretary in a Phoenix office at the start. That is it!
I remember turning “The Sopranos” on once and within two minutes nearly throwing a brick through the screen. It was a dinner-table scene where the daughter had just been admitted to Columbia! And everyone is going, “Oh, isn’t that great,” and they’re actually applauding. And I’m going, oh my God, are they kidding? It was like porn for the upper-middle-class of Manhattan! Oh, right! Yeah, the whole world just wants to get into Columbia! All those poor people over the river are dreaming about Columbia! Get out of here! The reality was in a recent episode on “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” where Kathy Wakile’s daughter was applying for college and wanted to go away. Go away? What do you mean, go away? You can’t live at home? So they go down to the University of Maryland to take a tour. And then, it turns out, forget it! The daughter decides to stay at home and go to college in New Jersey.
So which of those “Real Housewives” characters do you like the most?
Well, on “Real Housewives of Orange County,” I love Tamra Barney, who is such a tomboyish mischief maker and very sexy. And then on “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” I really like Jacqueline Laurita, who describes herself as “a Vegas girl,” because she was raised in Las Vegas. I think she’s very hot and also very soulful. Her feelings are always being hurt.
What do you mean yes? You’re acting like you watch it.
Sure, I watch it.
Oh, my God! You watch that show?
Absolutely — I understand everything you’re talking about.
I’m staggered! So Jacqueline is always sort of tearing up or breaking down because she feels so deeply for her broken friendships. There was this incredible moment in this season’s culminating episode where they’re all fighting in the parking lot after the Posche fashion show at a Cuban restaurant in West New York. And there’s Jacqueline standing there alone in her sparkly black outfit and drop-dead strappy gold high heels. She looks like a Polynesian idol with her face frozen and tilted upward. It’s a classic Hollywood moment, all internal turmoil under that mask. She looks magnificent! They keep cutting back to her — which is another great example of editing. Whoever is editing those shows has a tremendous sense of drama. These are great soap opera moments!
The class issues on those shows fascinate me. They’re all aggressive climbers. Some seem to be making a lot of money, others are constantly going bankrupt. They’re trying to figure out how to live as big as they possibly can.
And the McMansions!
Those crazy houses. But then you look at the other end of TV obsessions — it’s “Mad Men,” with a sort of cool Manhattan new money, or a show like “Downton Abbey,” which celebrates old-fashioned aristocracy.
I can’t watch them — they’re claustrophobic. I feel they’re dead visually as well as in terms of their scripts and content. We’re trapped in a derivative period of remakes and retro-this and retro-that. It’s all over “cool” — which is exactly what’s affecting the fine arts, too.
You’ve always said that. That a cool, jejune kind of urban sensibility ruins art.
Right! I can’t stand it. Now Andy Cohen, the executive producer of the “Real Housewives” series, is like an old-fashioned vaudevillian. The vaudeville era fed into Hollywood all those character actors who fleshed out movies for decades — like Thelma Ritter or Jack Benny. Vaudeville was live entertainment, often without microphones, where you had to go out there with a positive attitude and sell yourself. You had just a few minutes to entertain a noisy crowd and try to get rehired by the manager. As the host of “Watch What Happens Live” (which follows the “Real Housewives” episodes), Andy Cohen has that kind of exuberant energy. And it’s so amazing how openly and militantly gay he is!