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The cast of The Real Housewives of Vancouver. (DARRYL DYCK/DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The cast of The Real Housewives of Vancouver. (DARRYL DYCK/DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

John Doyle

'This is so awesome.' The cult of rich, obnoxious women Add to ...

And another thing: There are too many rich, brawling, vacuous women on TV. Too much attention is being paid. Why?

Like many people, I would sometimes like to drive a stake through the heart of the reality-TV genre. But it passes. The genre continues unabated and, in truth, it is extremely useful as a barometer of the culture. It’s a way to measure levels of acceptable behaviour and a source for determining the obsessions of societies under stress. Are we under stress? You’re darn tootin’ we are.

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We live in peculiar times. There is an uncertain economy and a suspicion that the 1 per cent versus 99 per cent thing is reason to be angry. New and old ways of communicating commingle. The young don’t read newspapers, but absorb tons of information about celebrities. The definition of “celebrity” is so elastic that some nitwit on a reality-TV show for six hours is very famous indeed. Nobody is sure what is acceptable behaviour and what will get you shunned by civilized society.

Meanwhile, the reality-TV genre has split into several subgenres. There are the dating-and-mating shows, such as The Bachelor. There are the winners-and-losers shows – Survivor and The Amazing Race.

Then there are the freak shows, a subgenre dominated entirely by the Real Housewives oeuvre and its imitators. But, really, they are also about winners and losers. Most American reality shows just are. The Real Housewives women are winners in that they are part of the 1 per cent, wealthy through inherited money or rich husbands, and the internal dynamics of the shows are about winning the shopping and catfight wars.

Big Rich Texas (E! Canada, 9 p.m.) is the latest of the Real Housewives knockoffs to arrive in Canada and it is unspeakable. It makes Real Housewives of Vancouver look like the story of sweet, compassionate people.

The setting is Dallas. The show chronicles the antics of five women and their daughters, all of whom are members of an exclusive country club. The central story has Leslie and her goddaughter Kalyn moving to Dallas and lobbying to get membership to the club. This means they must court key women who will decide on their application.

“Oh, this is so awesome,” Leslie announces when she sees the club. Her host declares, “We’ve got some fabulously hot tennis pros out here!” Then as the host takes Leslie to meet people, she spots someone. “You can probably see why we call her ‘Botox Bonnie’ from here,” she coos sarcastically.

Bonnie Blossman and daughter Whitney are astonishing. Bonnie says, “We get taken for sisters all the time.” Whitney snorts, “Whatever! You’re too old to be my sister.” To which Bonnie replies, “Well, I was, like, only 11 when I had you.” It turns out that Bonnie was actually 17 when she had Whitney. Bonnie talks a lot of nonsense about a lot of things.

Whitney, mind you, is the real piece of work. Much of the drama, such as it is, involves her tattoo, which is prominent on her foot and is just one word, the c-word.

Here’s an interesting thing: Bonnie is no bubblehead. She has a doctorate, is a professor of biology at the University of North Texas and has published three murder-mystery novels. It’s like she lives two lives: one as a professor and another as a bitchy, self-involved rich woman on a reality-TV show.

Men are almost entirely absent from Big Rich Texas, as they are from most of Real Housewives shows and their imitators. That’s part of the appeal. In these peculiar times, women are watching women unleashed, freed from mundane life and behaving badly. It’s about women of the 99 per cent being agog at the 1 per cent of women who get to be loud, lewd, rich exhibitionists.

Women watch, one suspects, envious of the wealth while claiming to be appalled by the behaviour but secretly tickled by the wanton rudeness and crudeness. It’s the only possible explanation.



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