Sure, there are plenty of TV shows out there that satisfy our cravings for stories about white male privilege, but if you’re jonesing for a reality show that can encapsulate to viewers what it means to suffer from white female privilege, look no further than the mama of all reality dramas, The Real Housewives of New York City. Now in it’s 10th season and ranked number one in the franchise in 2016 by E!Online, RHONY remains the quintessential examination of self-centered female trainwrecks that makes narcissism, social-climbing and neuroses an art form.
So, for those who thought white privilege was all about men, HA! If you’ve watched RHONY but stopped several seasons ago, it behooves you to revisit the show and view it through a new lens. To help alleviate the shame, pretend you’re an amateur anthropologist studying the mores and manners of spoiled upper-crust Manhattan women.
And for those living under a rock for the past decade, this reality-TV program on Bravo features backstabbing, pampered women regularly duking it out in their social bubbles while the underpaid, overworked and severely taxed masses gawk in awe and disgust at how a little bit of money can turn those who have it into supremely obnoxious human beings. It’s the inverse of the gladiatorial combat at the Colosseum in Ancient Rome. Except here, what’s on display for the unwashed Joes and Jills is seeing how far and deep these modern Marie Antoinette wannabes can humiliate themselves for publicity and fame.
There are some instances where celebrity is used for the greater good of society, such as cast member Bethenny Frankel’s charitable efforts in hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico. Or it can be leveraged for the betterment of another, such as when sultry vixen Kim Kardashian recently met with President Trump to plead the case of Alice Johnson, a 63-year-old African American great-grandmother serving life in prison for a nonviolent drug-related offense. That the Kardashian-Trump confab led to Johnson’s release is ample proof indeed of the magical and beneficial power of celebrity.
Wannabes humiliate themselves for publicity and fame.
But there’s a darker side to celebrity. The reality is, those who possess it can get away with anything. Particularly if their skin is white and gender is female.
Nowhere is this more evident than in a storyline involving one cast member, the statuesque and exceedingly pretentious LuAnn de Lesseps, otherwise known as “The Countess” (even though she technically no longer holds that title, thanks to a brief, ill-advised marriage to a smarmy cad last season). Even after the police arrest her in a Palm Beach, FL hotel for drunk and disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, assaulting an officer and threatening him (the latter of which is a felony) the local authorities released The Countess on her own recognizance.
Imagine that same scenario for a Black woman. She would never have made it to that holding cell.
Recounting her night in jail to fellow cast-member Dorinda Medley, a brash platinum blonde widow, de Lesseps waxes horror at the indignity of being fed — gasp! — a bologna sandwich with a mustard packet stuck inside. Sacre bleu!
At least she was alive to eat something and not riddled with bullets on a road.
The incident humbled de Lesseps. It brought out her vulnerability and old, wry humor, both of which are sorely missing from recent RHONY seasons. Seeing how easily she evaded the system — her felonies were plea-bargained down to misdemeanors — is further proof that our wonderfully democratic world is absolutely rigged against the poor and non-white.
Other featured cast members include Sonja Morgan, an upscale society floozy; Ramona Singer, a big-mouthed businesswoman and nasty piece of work; Carole Radziwill, a former TV producer and widow of Anthony Radziwill, the first cousin and best friend to deceased political scion John F. Kennedy, Jr; and Tinsley Mortimer, an ex-society “It Girl.”
And yet…RHONY is a mindless romp.
Like de Lesseps, Mortimer also experienced a public fall from grace, courtesy of the same jurisdiction that arrested The Countess. Only in Mortimer’s case, she was arrested for stalking and harassing an ex-boyfriend — both misdemeanors, she reminds Radziwill in one scene after drawing the obvious comparison between her legal troubles and de Lessep’s in the same county.
Other than her efforts to rehabilitate her reputation and regain access to a glittery beau monde that discarded her like rotting fruit, the sweet, spoiled 40-something Mortimer has no story. Watching her antics might be enough to compensate for the narrative deficit. With her interchangeable little-girl ruffles and hotel residence, she revels in being a real-life, if overaged, Eloise. She’s also a singular head-case any therapist would have a field day with. In a recent episode, Mortimer is with Southern belle mama trying on wedding dresses for fun, even though she’s not engaged. Later, they bawl their eyes out over a clinical photo of Mortimer’s frozen eggs. They can’t stop choking up over a generation of Mortimers yet to be born.
Unsurprisingly, US Weekly reported last week that Mortimer and her boyfriend of a year, Scott Kluth, broke up. He probably watched that episode.
Another subplot focuses on the deteriorating friendship between Frankel, a brittle and bitter entrepreneur, and Radziwill, the self-styled, 50-something hipster. It’s never quite clear why the relationship went sour. Radziwill thinks Frankel might be jealous of her newfound friendship with Mortimer. Frankel theorizes Radziwill and Mortimer have probably more in common. However, this doesn’t mean Frankel isn’t jealous of her ex-BFF’s bonding with Mortimer. After all, she says, “they have no children, no husbands and no careers.”
Ouch. Or meow? Or as Andy Cohen, the cheeky Bravo TV personality and host would say, in his nightly Watch What Happens Live show, “Shade!”
RHONY is an entertaining escape, a mindless romp. It’s the perfect ticket for someone looking to zone out and kill every last brain cell. It’s also a depressing reminder of how the rich and tacky treat the world like their personal theme park, without accountability. It exposes the reality that white women, too, have privilege — and our legal system rewards them for it.