[Note: Before this post gets a lot of comments about how the women on the Real Housewives of Atlanta have set black women back 100 years, see my thoughts on buying into the idea that any one black person is a representative of all of us.]
So, I watched the Real Housewives of Atlanta last night...Yes. You heard me. I watch that mess on the regular, along with the other entries in the RHO franchise. (But I do watch with a critical eye.) Anyway, the day after I watch any show, it's a particular pleasure of mine to read recaps and show forums. As someone who spends time analyzing pop culture through a feminist and anti-racist lens, I'm always curious how the general public receives a program. And, on a less noble tip, I want to read nasty bon mots and find out if anybody else thinks, for example, Sookie Stackhouse is a huge pain in the rear or that the plot of American Horror Story is headed right off the rails. Sadly, I've found that two of my go-to sites for pop culture, snark and media analysis mysteriously neglect the Real Housewives of Atlanta, apart from its sister shows. And I wonder why.
Hotlanta's entry in Bravo's sordid Real Housewives franchise broke ratings records with its season premiere this fall, attracting 2.9 million viewers. It remains one of the most-watched of the RHO series. Surely, the TV recappers at New York magazine's Vulture and Nick Denton's Gawker would want to turn their razor-sharp wit on this show. Its cast is a snarker's dream. Come on--a self-proclaimed "traditional" Southern belle that does legal work for spectacularly-hung strippers and hip hop royalty and is itching to start a funeral business on the side offering blinged-out home-going services? The jokes write themselves. Besides the program being a hotbed of fuckery, there's the fact that both Vulture and Gawker recap the other big dogs of the franchise: New York, New Jersey, Beverly Hills and Orange County. So, where's the love for the Georgia peaches?
This exclusion seems to be an example of the way the Atlanta show is received a wee bit differently from other entries in the RHOverse. Take the criticisms leveled at the mostly-black cast.
Back in 2009, I wrote:
To be sure, the women on RHOA are no role models. They are alternately bullying, narcissistic, back-stabbing, money-grubbing, cliquey, disloyal, arrogant, self-involved, willfully ignorant, poorly spoken, wasteful and tackily nouveau riche. The show features street fights, wig tugging, name dropping, pole dancing, sugar daddy-funded goodies, "baller" fetishizing, vanity business projects, cattiness, loud arguments in nice restaurants (and nice offices..and nice homes), and whole lot of "flossing" and faux importance. Whether editing or reality is to blame, the women read like gross caricatures of the bourgie set, garnished with a little Jerry Springer.
But here's the thing: These traits are not solely the hallmark of the black housewives of Atlanta. Reality shows are cast and scripted for drama, and the "Real Housewives" franchise serves up plenty of it with each and every season. So I find it curious that these five, black women are singled out as egregiously off-the-hook. Oh, I'm not saying that the white Real Housewives don't catch hell. Half the thrill of watching all the RH series is snarking on the excess and ignorance afterwards. My problem is HOW the Atlanta wives are criticized.
A foray into online coverage, blogs and TV forums like the ones on Television Without Pity will uncover frequent use of the word "ghetto" and "hood," references to this or that housewife looking "like a man," hints that the housewives are high-classed "hos"--promiscuous, scheming she-devils hot on the trail of big money, snark about big booties, talk of how the women are embarrassing black folks. Hmmm...sounds kind of like the type of criticism often thrown at black women, even those who act demurely and properly. (Have you seen the stuff folks say about Michelle Obama and her daughters?) Frankly, I have more problem with this sort of racialized analysis than I do with anything that happens on "Real Housewives of Atlanta." Read more...Criticism of the Real Housewives of Atlanta has been highly-racialized, but what about the decision of two mega-media sites to ignore this one entry in the franchise? What makes Atlanta so different from the other Real Housewives shows? They all feature mostly distasteful people doing scripted distasteful things and having trumped up spats for the camera. The Atlanta gals are no less nouveau riche than the ones in Orange County. They are no less tacky and drama-prone than their sisters up the Eastern seaboard in New Jersey. The Atlanta show is wildly more popular than the now-canceled Real Housewives of D.C., which both Gawker and Vulture regularly recapped.
So now, I ain't saying it's about the blackness of the cast. But if it's not about race, then what is it about?