Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Word! The City Paper on Reality Television
Who really gives a damn anyway? Image from the Express, "Wildwife Watching: 'Real Housewives of D.C.' Cast Profiles."

You have to read this week's cover story in the Washington City Paper, "D.C.: Where Reality TV Comes to Die Think the new Desperate Housewives season stinks? Blame Washington."

I still haven't decided if I am going to turn the tv on to watch this (is Real Housewives of DC really better than Burn Notice on the USA Network?). I will admit that I had watched Top Chef for the past couple years (not this year all that much). I don't watch Real World. I have watched a couple years worth of Project Runway. I don't watch reality tv generally (American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Survivor, the weight loss show, Extreme Makeover, Bachelor, Ace of Cakes, DC Cupcakes, etc.), I couldn't tell you word one about any of them.

And how much drama should there be in baking some $%^&*()_ cupcakes and selling them anyway? Drama in those settings is what I would call an "indicator" of inadequate management. (Just as drama in local politics and governance indicates the same.) And it's stoked up and made up to make the tv program seem interesting, when ordinarily success isn't that interesting.

Remember the metric that it takes one hour of filming for every minute of produced television. That's a lot of editing.

From the article:

If the Real Housewives—debuting this week on Bravo—were taking place in any other town, Amons would be presented for what she is: A rich dunce with minimal sense of personal dignity. Her analogues during the show’s New York season weren’t cast as representatives of Wall Street; her Atlantan sisters weren’t portrayed as keys to understanding the corporate culture of Coca-Cola’s new-South hometown.

But in the pop-cultural imagination, Washington is different. Money, as anyone who’s never had to get a mortgage in Ward 3 will tell you, isn’t the currency here. Influence is. Thus Amons and her castmates can’t just be rich and embarrassing. They have to be rich and embarrassing and symbolic, a civics-class primer of our federal city’s hierarchy majesty and might. Amons, therefore, has to be a “Washington insider.”

The specifics of her claim to said title are rather dubious: She claims to be a lifelong D.C. resident yet lives in McLean, Va., which Bravo deems “an interesting little neighborhood.” She claims to be “best friends” with Washingtonian publisher Cathy Williams, yet Williams cannot pronounce Amons’ last name correctly.

In an ordinary season, the exposed social climbing would make for some nice reality world schadenfreude, the stuff Real Housewives always trades in. But the problem for the D.C. version is that the reality humiliations wind up trashing the show’s basic promise. In that single, drunken hair-care exchange, Amons—neither a D.C. resident nor a friend of the Obamas nor a particularly powerful person—utterly undercuts the show’s D.C.-centric opening monologue, in which a fellow housewife purrs, “The currency here is proximity to power.”

By the time she’s done, it’s clear that the buskers in Farragut Square are closer to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. than is Amons.

I have seen minutes here and there of the Real Housewives shows while flipping channels. They are titillatingly interesting for a couple minutes, just as Jerry Springer or Maury Povich or the Judge shows (these types of shows are often on the tv when I get my haircut, usually usually in "black" barbershops in my greater neighborhood). I find them interesting from the standpoint of making generalizations about how people function and I find it really interesting that I don't interact with people like that very much.

Reality tv scares me, because it makes me believe that the future shown in the comedy "Idiocracy" isn't that far off.

At least we can rely on the City Paper for calling it what it is.



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