An American Girl in Washington

Real Housewives, Real Hollywood, Real World?

Posted in Uncategorized by AGinDC on 15 August 2010

*Disclaimer:  I’m not usually like this, but WaPo today really got me in a tizzy.  I apologize in advance.

In 1951, Beaula Richardson accused white women of being so engrossed in their own pink slavery that they didn’t notice that their gilded chains bound them just as tightly as Jim Crow was binding blacks in the South.  Her plea was that these women would awake from the slumbers of their seductive lies and realize that only if they all bound together would they all finally break free.  The speech was heavily reminiscent of Sojourner Truth’s famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?”.  We’re all one here, so let’s get ahead together.

These days, there are certain things that we take for granted.  I’m not sure who I mean by “we”, so let’s just say college-educated 20-somethings from above the Mason-Dixon line.  Narrow enough?  “We” take for granted that it’s 2010, although judging by some of the Tea Party rallies, I may have to rethink that one.  “We” take for granted that people, in general, know what’s politically correct as far as race, class, and gender relations in America.  They may not like it, may not believe it, may even be violently opposed to it, but in general, even if the CEO of a Fortune 500 company really really hates black people, he’s not going to say that out loud.  It’s bad for business.  “We” also take for granted that Hollywood is pretty much only in the business of making money, the pursuit of making actual art having been abandoned decades ago.  And “we” know that the easiest way to make lots of money is to put really really good looking people on the big screen not saying much but blowing lots of shit up.  Preferably big shit.  “We” also know that Hollywood likes to stay away from really really obvious political incorrectness when it comes to race, class, and gender.  Why else would they never cast black people, only put one woman in a movie at a time (or, if there are two, they’re almost never in the same scene or talking about anything except men), and unless poverty is specifically in the plot, make everyone insanely wealthy and living in insanely large New York (and not just New York, but Manhattan) apartments even though they just graduated from college two weeks ago and are working as a really hot bartender three nights a week.  That’s just Hollywood.

So, with all of this general knowledge that “we” just happen to know, imagine my surprise when I’ve started to notice what I’ll call The Real Housewives Effect all across movies and, today I noticed, books.  Let’s start with SATC2, that egregious debacle of a film that effectively pissed all over ten great years of fashion-sex-shoe-dreamsicle-madness.  How did they not know that people would be offended by their all-brown-people-look-alike faux vacation to a nation notorious for their egregious human rights violations, particularly against women, because a band of rich white women are having such a hard time dealing with their Park Avenue apartments and nannies and 6-inch, $600 shoes and the jobs that only Miranda ever seems to go to?  I won’t get into the actual issues with the film because by now I’m sure you’ve heard them all, and if not you can read them here.  My problem is that they chose to make this film right now, in the middle of a ginormous economic meltdown when most people would be happy with a) an apartment, b) a nanny or even day care, c) just ONE pair of $600 shoes (me), or d) the money to take their family on vacation to Six Flags, much less waltzing around a middle eastern country like a harem full of hippies and Harlequin heroine hopefuls and, oh yeah, because what we really need in America is a bunch of spoiled white women flouting their disrespect for Muslims.  Awesome.  I know that films are supposed to be our escape from the dourness of our pathetic lives but there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed, and when a film is offensive, crass, ignorant, and insensitive, guess what?  You’ve crossed it.

*I should make a note here that I’m usually the one saying, “Eh, it’s just a movie, leave it alone”, but the  sheer number and egregiousness of these incidences of cultural ignorance have pushed me over the edge.  Also, it’s raining.  I have nothing else to do.*

However, this movie was a while ago and I had completely forgotten about it until today, when, as usual, a reading of The Washington Post got me all riled up and angry.  This time, however, it wasn’t because WaPo has become a conservative haven equal only to Faux News and Stephen Colbert, it was because of two reviews, one of a book that is about to become a movie, and one of a movie that started out as a book. (*disclaimer.  I have yet to read/see either of these, although they are on my Amazon Prime wishlist pending receipt of funds from my as-of-yet unaquired employment)

On page E4 of the Arts & Style section (yes, now that I’m in the Palace I’m actually reading the paper paper.  It’s ridiculous.  Who the hell thought of the layout of these things?  Couldn’t be more confusing.  No wonder they’re going out of business.) Lonnae O’Neal Parker (awesome name) writes a review of “The Help“, a bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett about, get this, a maid who served her family in Mississippi for multiple generations.  The first thing I thought of, of course, was the housekeeper at the Palace, who has been with this family since the father was a bachelor in Georgetown.  Then I thought about the fact that the one who should be writing this story is the maid, not the daughter.  Especially this one.  Like so many post-civil rights white children of the South looking to make a buck and possibly some penance off the transgressions of the past, this pretty blonde wrote a book about the relationship between the black maids and the white women they served.  She writes from both points of view, which is totally ‘natch, because she probably had plenty of time to connect with her black roots while the nanny took her only child away for a few hours a day so she could quietly write in her Manhattan apartment.  She certainly wouldn’t have been interrupted by the “Hispanic housekeeper” because Stockett doesn’t speak Spanish “so there’s not a whole lot of intimacy there”.  Poor Maria.  No one will ever write a book about her.  It would just be too gosh-darned hard to get to know her.

I know I sound harsh, and I’m probably being a little bit unreasonable, but the whole tenor of the interview was completely arrogant and smacked of white privilege.  It was aggravating to say the least.  Now, of course, Stockett’s poor black maid is still a poor black maid but Stockett is rich and famous and working on her second book about Mississippi.  This one should get done a lot faster, the kid is 7 now, so between school and the nanny, Stockett will have all of the time in the world to get in touch with her roots.  Or, you know, someone else’s.

Then again, at least she’s trying.  Eat Pray Love, reviewed on the front page of the Travel section (in a pretty ingenious way actually, kudos for the three-reviewers-for-three-countries thing.  Win for WaPo!) has all of the indications of being another “Under the Tuscan Sun“.  It even starts in Italy!  And, from the sounds of it, has all of the same “oh-my-God-I’m-rich-and-white-and-over-40-and-just-got-divorced (shocker!)- and-don’t-know-how-to-cope-with-adversity-so-I’m-running-away-from-my-life-to-somewhere-where-being-rich-and-white-still-counts-for-something” ennui.  The review that struck me most was the one from Italy.  I expected that the Indian reviewer would point out that Gilbert (author/Julia Roberts) never actually leaves the ashram where she’s ensconced, calls the country “all dust and poverty”, and pretty much wore ridiculous clothing and lived like a character from Alanis Morrisette’s song “Baba”.  Having once read a travel magazine, I also wasn’t surprised that Gilbert chose to go to Bali, of all places, to experience what? Yoga retreats and luxury shopping in a five-star resort?  It’s Bali!  This is not the Indonesia of Obama’s childhood.  And of course the realizations she comes to (basically, there are poor people in Asia and sometimes they cheat you for money) were like my one-year-old niece discovering that she has toes.  Except less amazing.

But Italy!  We like Italy, we love Italians, they’re all white north of Sicily!  They have yummy food and Rome is, in all honesty, one of the most beautiful, romantic, and sensual cities that I have ever been to in my life.  And yet, even here, Hollywood succumbs to stereotypes.  Aren’t we over the obnoxious arm-waving that doesn’t happen nearly as often in Rome as in certain parts of Boston?  Aren’t we over the fat “Mama” who does nothing but eat and talk about “la famiglia”?  And while, yes, Roman men do have a penchant for pinching bottoms and following American girls around until they’re scared out of their skirts (not that I’m speaking from experience…), isn’t there anything else we can show?  Nothing will ever display Rome’s charms without stooping to stereotypes so well as Roman Holiday.  I’m sure I’m just a little starstruck and smitten when I remember it but this movie passes all of my tests and it was made in the 50’s.  In black and white.  During McCarthyism.  Give me a break folks.

So where is this angry and probably unnecessary rant taking me?  Why, the Real Housewives of course.  I’ve watched at least one episode of every season (I can’t do New Jersey, I’ve seen the Sopranos, I’m done with the whole mafia thing) and I’ve watched all of most of them (to my great shame and embarrassment) and they all amount to the same thing: In this economy, in this time of such serious political and social unrest, when everything is changing and those with money and power actually have a chance to do something, Hollywood is still obsessed with a bunch of silly white women (and occasionally black, thank you ATL) with, as my grandmother would say, more money than sense.  You would expect this in the O.C., in New York, even in Jersey.  But now it’s in DC.  At this time.  With this President.  And it seems just a little, I don’t know, insane.  Of all of the things these women could be doing, they’re filming a reality show that’s just about being rich.  Maybe I’m just new around here, but I think DC should be about more than that.

As the first episode says, Welcome to the District.

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