Sunday, November 21, 2010

Food For Thought

As I've been doing the reading for Tuesday about soap operas and their implications for genre and gender, I can't help but think of the Real Housewives franchise. I am sure most of you are familiar with the premise of the shows which involve wealthy women from cities all over the United States who are thrown together in awkward social situations and various expansive displays of wealth and hedonistic pleasure despite not really being friends in "real life."

What made me think of the shows is Gledhill's use of the term "unchronicled growth" in which we think that the lives of the characters on the shows continue despite the shows not being on television at the present moment. In the case of the Real Housewives, their lives really are continuing because they're real people. However, the shows are heavily scripted and the women are told by the producers to say certain things or perform certain actions in order to incite squabbles or God knows what else. It could be said that there is some kind of story line or plot occurring, since the producers clearly have in mind specific scenarios they hope to see happen as a result of the pettiness and vanity of these women.

Also, these shows are geared towards a female audience, to be sure. You'd be hard-pressed to find a guy who's willing to sit through an entire episode without feeling acute pain. These shows are marketed as "real" depictions of "real housewives" across the country, from Beverly Hills to right here in DC that women are supposed to be able to relate to on some level.

That being said, do you guys think that the "Real Housewives" could be considered a soap opera? I think that Gledhill's arguments in Chapter 6 of Representation combined with popular knowledge about the shows and their premises makes for a pretty convincing argument on behalf of them being soap operas.


  1. I definitely think there is a case for this. As a Real Housewives fan myself, I've realized how scripted the shows really are. While they can seem to be real life, there is like you said a lot of director involvement with what actually happens in each episode.

    I think the main difference, however, or potential problem with considering Real Housewives as a soap opera, is that we "believe" the Real Housewives. They weigh in on whats happening, the camera follows them as if it were invisible. On the other hand, many soap operas "look" fake, and most viewers perceive them to be nothing more than drama on TV...or at least I think..

  2. I have two thoughts. First, here's a brief piece on the whole scripted/constructed reality thing. By now, though, you all should be very suspicious of anything that bills itself as "reality." Whose reality, right?

    Secondly, we should think back to Liz's persistent question from last week. Specifically, who is watching these shows? Who is gazing on them? That's a question with no real answer. However, it's also a question that opens the door to really complex and interesting discussions about gender and sexuality.

    Take, like, the entire cast of The OC franchise in the Real Housewives chain. Certainly, these women are playing their roles in accordance with a constructed (heterosexualized) concept of the women in Orange County, hence all of the plastic surgery. However, then they go and do stuff like this. Yeah, I know. It recalls the MTV Video Music Awards shows of yesteryear, along with countless (pornographic) heterosexual male fantasies. But it's also completely queer, no?

    So again, who's watching? And in a Foucauldian/Butlerian/voyeurism/scopophilian sense, who's gaining pleasure from this?

  3. I'd have a hard time not seeing these real housewives as Soap characters, and, looking at them as objects of gaze with reader response theory as that gaze's lens, it'd be interesting to see to what extent the housewives inform characters from other soaps, or inform other non-televised housewives how to melodramatically operate.

    A more recent neuroscientific discovery is that of mirror neurons. These special neurons mimic external gestures of others--the simplest example is that of a baby that automatically smiles back at its smiling mother, or, mirrors its mother's facial expression--and the current consensus is that mirror neurons are fundamental to physical and behavioral development. This not only gives scopophilia some merit, but begs Tuesday's question: to what extent are we fiction?

    I gave the example of hiding in Star Wars for so many years, but refused to acknowledge how it had affected me. But now, when I think of what would happen should I get into a sword fight, I notice that my mind (and, to a certain extent, muscle response) is telling me to use the same dramatic moves as Anakin and Luke, or Dauth Maul and Kenobi. Over the summer I was in some seedy parts of Europe, so I brought a fairly large knife along with me as a means of protection--fuck you if you think you'll get my watch!--and practiced knife fights in my mind...based off of the ones I'd seen on TV. Thankfully, I didn't have to try out this fictional fighting style, but, again, to what extent am I fiction?