Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Will Loretta Lynn Sing at the Royal Wedding?

The first Royal Wedding I can recall watching on TV was Princess Margaret's, in 1960.

My very first ever gay husband and partner in insufferable precocity and I took one look at the freshly coiffed and titled Lord Snowdon and smiled delightedly at each other, wriggling with pleasure at the acuity of our budding and insufferably precocious babyGayDar.

Hours passed, and still we sat there, held in the enchanted thrall of the snowy image on the little black and white TV, thrilling to the Voice of All Events of Great Import, Winston Burdett.

We knew The Story. We knew that Margaret's Real True Love had been Group Captain Peter Townsend, but she couldn't get married unless her sister The Queen said she could, and her sister The Queen couldn't because Peter was divorced, and, and and...

(Walter Cronkite, in those days, was the Voice of Things that Happened, but to voiceover anything involving crowned heads, popes, or requiring frequent repetition of the word "catafalque," it was Winston who slapped on the oversized headphones and went to work).

I'm going to fast forward past a handful of also-rans in the Royal Wedding Pageant, the matches of various non-Windsors and a few minor Windsors and Windsor-adjacents, not only because my fingers would get really tired (as would your eyes if you even tried to read it all), and not only because the Windsor ones are likely to be more familiar to most of you, but because let's face it, the British royal family gives awesomer wedding than anybody.

So fast forward to 1973. Alas, Prinnie Royal Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise's wedding to future ex-husband Captain Mark Phillips was something of a disappointment. Anne's dress is best described as "quintessential WindsorWear," and PrinnieRoy being deep in the throes of her "dispense with all that" mode, the whole thing ended up being pretty blah. Mark even turned down a title. That was all the Story there was to be gotten out of that one.

All remained quiet on the Windsor wedding front until 1981, when the firm beat its own personal best several times over and set the bar not only for weddings, but any and every kind of royal/papal/catafaulque-havin' occasion you can think of.

Prince Charles, having been commanded by his true and undisputed Queen, and her own true and undisputed lovable old bigot of a mother (who held in equal disdain anybody who was not directly descended from Queen Victoria, herself, or both) to obtain forthwith the services of a uterus, finally put on the itchiest of all his royal uniform jackets and on July 29, dutifully married the hapless 19-year old docent of a functioning female reproductive system indicated by the Queens Elizabeth.

The pedigree of Doctor-Certified Virgo Intacta Lady Diana Spencer was, it was archly murmured in certain circles, at least marginally, and possibly even somewhat, more authentically royal than the rather fanciful lineage of the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg- Glucksberg-Saxe-Coburg Gothas, at least relatively, with some even going so far as to suggest that the Spencers' hereditary titleage might be just a little more hereditary and a little less, um arbitrarily decreed.

Diana also got points for being at least a distant enough cousin from one side of the blanket or another, to effect some needed expansion in the Royal Gene Pool, which had, over the years, become just a smoosh limited, and as a result, had produced, um, Prince Charles.

From the minute that big ol' wrinkly dress, with its big ol' wrinkly 25-foot train was de-clowncar'd from the Crystal Carriage and wrestled to the ground by poor little India Hicks, it was on like Donkey Kong!

Every female viewer from the age of two to a hundred and two, whether she admitted it or not, even to herself, wanted to be that blonde girl, who, like Scarlett O'Hara, was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm, as were women who saw her on that day. In that dress.

Of course we all realize now, with the clarity of hindsight, that it was just a particularly adjective-rich chapter in a very sad and sorry tale, made all the sadder by its utter lack of uniqueness.

While the pomp and spectacle and glitter have yet to be even seriously challenged, much less duplicated, by even Vanisha and Amit, the exact same Story was told, over and over, day after day, all over the world, as it has been since the beginning of time, albeit usually sans crowns.

The creative license whimsy of some biographers notwithstanding, there are really no parallels between The Story's Charmilla and Abdication subplots.

It's safe to say that 9 out of 10 historians surveyed agree that David, known popularly as the Duke of Windsor, and briefly as Edward VIII, is typically painted as something of a wuss.

Yet he was able to overcome his wussiness enough to ball up, call the bluff of an entire government, a centuries-old religious institution, and a full battalion of medal-encrusted, lorgnette-wieldin', crown-wearin' old farts and fartesses, and renouncing the very throne upon which he sat, take to the airwaves and proclaim himself liege man of life and limb to his heart's Queen, a sort of proto-Real Housewife from Baltimore named Wallis Simpson.

While the Act of Settlement of 1701 may ostensibly have been all about preventing the unthinkable possibility that a papist buttock might descend upon the British throne, that wasn't the only agenda. The gene pool thing had already become something of a concern, and while ActoSet closed some sectarian doors, it discreetly opened some very generously-sized windows.

It was, therefore, not Mrs Simpson's US citizenship, nor even her lack of a royal title, that constituted the actual constitutional impediment to England's acquisition of a Queen Wallis, but the fact that she was a divorcee, and in 1936, the Church of England had a zero-tolerance policy on divorce.

Because the sovereign is the titular head of the Church of England, a divorced person couldn't be "received at Court," meaning they couldn't even receive an invitation to the Royal Party Barn, so the question of an heir to, or occupant of, the throne marrying one was a non-starter.

Between 1936 and 1970, when Charles met and fell in love with Camilla Shand, several things had changed, including things like Prime Ministers, Archbishops of Canterbury, and the Church of England's official position on divorces and people who got them.

Even if they hadn't, Camilla, though her virgo intacta boat had probably been sailed for a minute, had neither married nor divorced anyone, Charles was not King, and there was nothing to say he couldn't be if he didn't dump his boo.

In fact, the only people who objected to Camilla were a handful of fusty old relatives with a penchant for brightly colored coat-dresses, but Charles lacked the testicular fortitude to stand up to this (literally) toothless opposition and marry the woman he loved.

Anyone who is inclined to read the Duke of Windsor for trash will not suffer from scarcity of material. He was a bigoted asshat, and those who strive to defend him from accusations of being a Nazi sympathizer are invariably reduced to arguing that he was too stupid to comprehend that Hitler was a way worse bigot.

In the area of girlfriend-related absence of balls, however, which Prince of Wales wears the wuss crown is a matter of public record.

Oh, but we were not talking about all that. We were talking about the Mother of All Royal Weddings, and the vision, forever engraved in our collective consumer consciousness, that was Diana.

What neither we nor she knew was that while gloriously arrayed as The Ultimate Princess Bride, she was, in fact, a Traditional Sacrificial Virgin. That was the secret part of The Story. At least for a while.

Her secret was that like the Shameful Saga itself, she wasn't a bit unique. Her appeal lay, not in the glamorous gowns, or the glittering jewels she wore, nor the pageantry that became the backdrop of her life, but in her accessibility.

The covert marketing operatives who do these things had them some skillz. They knew, as most of us know now, that identifiable and accessible will trump pure aspirational every time. Adam DiVello, when casting for Laguna Beach, did not cast his net for the most beautiful girl in the local high school. Being a Royal Family consultant-grade marketing genius, he chose Lauren Conrad, and the rest is history.

The cheeks of sweet young blonde girls do turn a very pretty shade of pink when they blush, they do have an endearing way of ducking their heads and lowering their lashes and casting shy, sidelong glances. Thus, Diana was first and foremost, familiar.

Every person who ever saw her, in person or on TV, had seen all those things before, in a neighbor, daughter, a niece, a classmate, a girlfriend. There was not one single high school or college, attended by three or more young blonde girls, that could not boast at least one "Diana lookalike."

Hair salons turned out dozens of them daily. Like LC, Shy Di became aspirational because she was ordinary.

All that changed when she grew up - into a woman who was most extra-ordinary, who turned the trite old narrative into whose pages she was so unceremoniously plopped, into an epic that though chilling and tragic, was unique, because it was her very own, and because she, too, and in her very own way, was a marketing genius.

Diana's wedding was so over-the-top and iconic that it was all we were thinking about when Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson. Who among us can honestly say that we remember that dress, hmm? Yeah, that's what I thought. Footnote to The Story. Maybe a sidebar for the first 50 years or so.

Though Prince Edward's marriage to Sophie Rhys-Jones earned itself a place alongside Prinnie Anne's in the Royal Wedding Hall of Boring Shame, Ed might have had the right idea - why even try to compete? It's not his Story.

In 2005, eight years after the accidental assassination of the sweet blonde girl who grew up to present a very real threat to some very profitable industries, Charles' handlers and management bent over backwards to avoid occasion for any comparison to his first wedding, an impossible task, though it turned out being way more about contrast than compare.

At his first wedding, a billion hearts chorused awe and adulation. At his second, a billion shoulders shrugged an overwhelming chorus of indifference.

The only thing that kept it from the Boring Shame Hall was The Story.

At last, thirty-five years after he should have done it, Charles stood at the altar and pledged his troth to the woman who had inexplicably hung onto it through heartbreak, marriage, bearing and rearing of another daddy's babies, and divorce.

Few romantics were hopeless enough to be moved.

Many young people grumbled that they didn't see much sense in people bothering to get married when they were that old, and a hefty chunk of old people gruffly replied that in this particular case, they didn't see much sense in it either.

It smelled an awful lot like a sort of minor contingency afterthought.

Should the Queen prove to have inherited her life expectancy gene from her father instead of her mother (who died in 2002 at age 206 or thereabouts), and precipitously die without warning or enough advance notice to allow for even a fast-track abdication, the country would then be left in the awkward position of having to choose between a reigning sovereign openly cohabitating with a mistress - in the era of TMZ and telephoto lenses, or a Royal Wedding starring a reigning sovereign and a divorcee with whom he had been openly cohabitating.

Having officially established, some time ago, an unofficial Royal Family position of mild embarrassment on subjects like Edward VII and Mrs Keppel, no one wanted to be the one to decree that one would be preferable. Or not.

A pretty subtle distinction, to be sure, but in a culture where subtle distinctions are both obsession and art form, as Tony Soprano would say, "Whatcha gonna do?"

So a deal was cut, and an Archbishop appeased. One wedding today in return for an agreement of no crowning anybody Queen in case Something Terrible, all deities forbid, were to happen tomorrow.

If such rumors are fact, it's overkill seldom seen outside the Pentagon marketing office, a caution whose abundance is rivaled only by restaurant waste.

It's been extremely unlikely for a while now that Charles will ever be King.

As the Queen stands poised to sail into her 85th summer, in apparently excellent health, this would seem to indicate that she will, in fact have inherited her mother's longevity, and that the chances are good that she will continue to reign over us for at least another 15 years or so.

Charles is already in his sixties, but this alone would hardly be an impediment to his making what is, after all, a lifetime covenant, at least in doctrinal terms.

The real issue is that Charles hasn't been very popular since he - well, practically since he hit puberty. As soon as he became a teenager, it became apparent that he is blessed with neither the telegenic charisma of his son, nor the iconic stateliness of his mother.

Any inclusion of a young Prince Charles in lists of Cute Boys compiled by teen magazines in the 1960s was done, if at all, out of pure courtesy or as an afterthought, and most frequently both. A courteous afterhought.

If you were Adam DiVello, holding an open casting call for a love interest for Lauren Conrad, and a young Prince Charles walked in, unless you knew he was Prince Charles and you were open to a whole new direction for The Hills, you'd be yelling "NEXT" before he dropped his headshot on the folding table.

He is neither handsome nor charming, neither an inspiring speaker nor possessed of quick wit. He's solidly and stolidly unappealing and dull.

Yet such is the strength of loyalty and love of the monarchical tradition among the vast majority of the British public, that all that might have been forgiven - even today, in the information age, where "reading well" on TV can trump a multitude of sins and failure to do is the only unforgivable one.

Sheer respect for the institution and the history it represents might have been enough to make Charles not only an acceptable and accepted monarch, but a popular one.

As was the case with his grandfather, George VI, his very bumbling imperfection might have endeared him to his subjects, much in the same way as Diana's blushing EveryGirl endeared her to the world even before she had sat through her first class in "media relations."

And back we come to The Story. We have no way of knowing whether Charles ever wanted to be King. All we know is that he probably won't be, because The Story will have rendered the idea infeasible.

The only reason England has a monarchy today is because enough of the British public is pleased enough with having a monarchy - and pleased enough with the monarch - to keep on paying for it.

Unlike warlords and captains of industry who operate above such petty considerations as public opinion, the British royal family, like celebrities everywhere, owes everything to it.

Diana attained a level of public popularity unprecedented, not only in living memory, but in the history of media. Even years after her death, she's in a category all by herself.

As a character in The Story, she's the innocent Princess victim. And Charles is the villain, the Evil Prince, who deceived her, shamed her, defiled her, and doomed her.

He's the anti-monarchist's Dream King.

It may have withstood nearly a thousand years of wars, and plague, murder and famine and intrigue and warming pan babies and Oliver Cromwell, but it was Diana to whom the head that wears the crown was obliged to bow that day in August, when newspapers blared, in Second Coming Type "SPEAK TO US, MA'AM!"

Her Majesty may have thrown up a little bit in the Royal Mouth, but she did it. She did it because it was her duty. She did it because, according to her deepest beliefs, the monarchy is a sacred trust that must be preserved. So she went out there and she preserved it. But she wasn't preserving it for Charles.

She will have realized long ago that if the crown ever sits on her son's head at all, it will rest there only for the time it takes to draw up the papers to get it onto the butter-yellow and oft-over-gel'd locks of Diana's son, Diana's heir. That's what she bowed to.

And That's The Story of this Royal Wedding.

It's got nothing to do with all that gushing and simpering about Kate Middleton having an ancestor that worked in a coal mine, entertaining though that is to watch. (Yes, I'm easily amused, and I own it. Embrace it, even).

They've stopped short, but only barely, of hauling Loretta out of retirement and flying her over to sing "Coal Miner's Daughter" from the choir stall in Westminster Abbey.

(We probably should shut up about that now and not give them ideas).

The Story of the young couple themselves would put a meth head to sleep. Boy meets girl in college. Boy dates girl. Boy takes break from girl. Boy gets back together with girl and proposes.

I mean, whoa. Stuff like that just never happens.

Kate Middleton, whose striking and most intriguing resemblance to Lauren Conrad may be pure coincidence and entirely unrelated to marketing, seems like a very nice woman.

At 28, she's hardly a blushing young ingenue, and having lived with William for at least some of the eight years they've known each other - and they've known each other in the regular people sense - none of this stuff about random Moments of Destiny in some field some place.

I give her props for wasting very little time in going on public record to squash the crap about keeping a poster of Wills on her bedroom wall before she'd ever met him, or since she was 12, or any of the various Faux Stories that have been preceding Royal Weddings ever since the one about little Princess Lilibet gazing out at her little boat-rowing cousin Prince Philip-of-Greece-but-only-because-Greece-had-recently-borrowed-their-royal-family-from-Denmark.

What Kate will do with her cultural bully pulpit remains to be seen. She's not obligated, frankly, to do anything with it.

There would be no shame in her simply living what she will have now instead of a life producing the requisite quantity of issue, doing her share of the ribbon-cutting and charity event appearing, and trucking along like that until it's time for her to be fitted for her Mother of The Whatever gown for her kids' Royal Weddings, and those of her grandkids' after that.

Those who expect her to "follow in the footsteps" or "carry the flag" of Diana don't realize what they're saying, and will be horrified if they ever do, so let's hope they don't. Nor could Kate ever do such a thing, even if she were "troubled" enough to aspire to it, which I certainly hope she isn't.

In this Royal Wedding, the Story isn't about Kate. She's just the bride.

The Story of this Royal Wedding, like the Story of the monarchy itself, is the same as it was in 1981.

Diana's son, who will be the next King, is getting married. And The Story goes on...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sister Wives: Real Plural Housewives of Somewhere in Utah

The exciting race to be the first network to hit the airwaves with a reality show about polygamy is over, and TLC won!

Patriarch Kody Brown describes the family's faith tradition affiliation as "Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints," but don't expect Warren Jeffs Little House on the Prairie dresses or 19th century pompadour and braid hairstyles.

The family wears modest, mostly unremarkable "modern" clothing, though they sometimes put their own "twist" on it (In some scenes, Christine rocks a fuchsia spaghetti strap top over a long black sleeved crewneck) and when they're not discussing religion or polygamy, have more or less normal speech patterns and vocabulary.

Number One Wife Meri has one daughter, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Number Three Wife Chirstine.

Meri has received the Gift of pain-free baby tooth extraction.

Twice in the first segment of the show, Meri tells us that having someone ready to step up and raise your kids in case you die is is "definitely a plus to this lifestyle."

Um, Meri, next time you're on line, try googling "godparents." Those stultifyingly monogamous Catholics have had the contingency parent thing in place for a while.

Janelle, Wife 2, works outside the home. 6 kids. Only wife who wasn't raised in a polygamous home.

Christine, Wife 3, has 5 kids, and pregnant with what we may assume is another one. (Though don't try to tell me that the TLC execs are not praying for quintuplets, at least)

She always knew she'd be a plural wife. As a teen, she turned down single men who "asked my dad about me" because she "just didn't want them."

"I honestly wanted sister wives more than a husband for a good time in my life," she says.

She specifically wanted to be a third wife, because it "sounded the easiest." She didn't want to be a first wife, because she "didn't want to be married to a guy by myself," and she didn't want to be a second wife, because she "felt like (2nd wives) were a little wedge in the relationship."

She informs us that it is said that if there are problems with a 2 wife family, the conventional wisdom is that the solution is to obtain a third, to "even things out."

The kids were home-schooled until 5 years ago. Since then, they've attended a private "polygamist school" school "for our people."

Christine seems to be the principal homemaker for the family. She does not have a toaster, and makes toast in the oven, because
"More people die from toasters than sharks every year."

Her preferred interjection is "Darn it" or "Gosh Darn it."

Throughout the show, references are made to a "big announcement" Kody plans to make to the family that night.

Turns out that he is "courting" a potential 4th wife, a 30 year old woman named Robin, who "grew up in the lifestyle."

The wives acknowledge that they had a feeling that there was someone else, but the "big announcement" is the first time that the children are told about it.

Robin has children from a previous marriage, and apparently there has been some kind of joint play-date at some point, because dad presents the idea by asking the kids if they remember Robin and had fun playing with her kids. How would they like to have Robin's family join theirs?

The response is enthusiastic. One of the younger children doesn't quite get it, so Kody tries again, but it is Christine who gets the message across that Kody hasn't proposed yet, so the whole Robin thing must be kept on the DL for now.

A couple of the older kids acknowledge that it might be "weird" or "different" at first, as they've all grown up with three moms, but no one has any objections.

Meri doesn't deny that "jealousy issues" exist, but hopes she can get over it.

Janelle says that when Kody first told her about it, she had a "spiritual witness" that Robin was special.

This is the "first courtship" in 16 years, says Kody. Adding a foruth will be a "big deal."

Christine cops to being "kind of hesitant," because she "likes 3 wives a lot." She doesn't want to be a boat rocker, she says, and she doesn't want her boat rocked. "If it hapens," she adds, "she just has to be absolutely amazing, otherwise it might be a little difficult."

Robin, who lives four miles away from the family, has been courted by Kody for about 4 months. The number 4 seems to crop up a lot in this story arc. They are shown going on a date. Robin says he's her soul-mate.

Wives in this lifestyle, Kody points out, are comfortable with another wife, but not another girlfriend.

The day after the premiere episode airs, it is reported that the family is being investigated for bigamy. Coincidence? I think not.

Let's just hope this doesn't mean there won't be a Season 2.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My Generation 2010 - An Even Bigger Disappointment Than The Decade Itself

The genre: Mockumentary. A red flag already. The premise: A film crew who did a documentary of 9 high school kids in the year 2000 returns in 2010 to see Where They Are Now.

To begin with, this show was hard to get into. The dissonance between the Austin setting and the generic US mall accents was bewildering, even jarring. I'm guessing that "Austin" was just pulled out of a hat by a writing and production team whose areas of knowledge and expertise do not include - oh never mind.

My personal preference is to give a show more than one episode before forming much of an opinion of it. In fact, my usual practice is to let it run for several seasons, unwatched by me, end, and then several years after THAT, sit down and watch the whole series at once.

But this one had such a promising premise that I not only watched the premiere episode, but foolishly allowed my expectations to exceed recommended pre-viewing levels, thus ensuring disappointment.

The first really big lump of it plopped itself down when Steven, the erstwhile "overachiever" with "success" as his watchword, was presented as an utter failure, when my perception was that he had indeed achieved success.

He was in a place he wanted to be, doing things he enjoyed doing.

I am obliged, however, to bring myself up short right there. However content, even happy, he might be with his life, because he had neither become affluent nor chosen a career path that the culture claims to value (even if the value is not necessarily manifested in market terms) he was, in fact, made of FAIL.

Later in the episode, of course, I realized that it was necessary to portray him as a worthless piece of ish, and in a way that would indeed be perceived as such by viewers.

As his backstory was revealed, I was obliged to acknowledge that maybe I was being too hasty - maybe he wasn't all that content and happy. Maybe he was just trying to make lemonade out of the lemons life had handed him, and that I was just chillaxing up on my moral high horse projecting stuff about how he and everybody else SHOULD have this huge Epiphany that success is not about how much money you have, or societal approval (even if the society doesn't put its money where its mouth is).

I was also (a little unreasonably) disappointed in some of the other story lines. The rich boy who forsook his true love apparently motivated by filial piety, and/or loving parental dollars more (I guess we'll find out if Dad threatened to cut him off) and settled for a loveless marriage, ten years into which he still sits around watching videos of his Lost Love and pining, was Bollywoodesque in its predictability, as was the story of the wife he settled for - blonde ectomorph with dreams of stardom who makes it to maybe the second Rose ceremony in Season Two or something of The Bachelor, upon which she forsakes her showbiz aspirations and settles for a loveless marriage to the local rich boy instead.

Ditto the boy who as a high school student, claims his only ambition is to have a family with lots of kids. A decade later, not only is he still unmarried and childless, his only "kids" the ones in the elementary school class he teaches, he's still a virgin, living with and caring for a girl he's in love with, but who is married to and pregnant by someone else (Dawn, known in high school as "The Punk") - and as if that weren't enough, he's sterile!

My inner curmudgeoness hmmphed loudly that all this is evidence that the writers are not averse to taking the easy way out, which does not bode well for the future, but I told her to shut up because she was being unfair.

If some of the characters' stories were too obvious, at the other extreme we have Carolyn the ultra-timid, silent "invisible" girl, (quaintly characterized as "wallflower") who, we are told, hooked up with Steven the "overachiever" and Quintessential Popular Boy on prom night.

While such might be the dream of many an ultra-timid, silent and invisible "wallflower," who might indeed hook up (and get knocked up) on prom night, her babydaddy is so not going to be the Popular Boy. Another night, maybe. But I promise you, the Popular Boy is way too busy on prom night to impregnate the wallflower.

Not to mention that fully ten years have passed, during which she has blossomed into a beautiful, articulate and grown-ass woman, doing just fine raising her child, and suddenly she feels compelled not only to inform a sperm donor who never even knew her name that fertilization occurred, but also plants these daddyhavin' expectations into the mind of a child who has made it to the fifth grade just fine with whatever previous explanation of his parentage she had previously given.

This, too, requires excessive levels of suspension of disbelief. Either this is a call she would have made the first time the kid asks "how come I don't have a daddy like Binky and them?" or at least in the first few months, even year, of telling him whatever she told him, or the call would have been for purpose of obtaining family medical history only, as the result of suddenly becoming aware that this is Important, (but not also becoming aware that here in Modern Today, there are tests that can determine that stuff) and would likely have been made through an intermediary, since her only contact with this person consists of that one hookup, and it is reasonable to presume that had she, (who is, remember, presented to us as having blossomed into this intelligent and responsible grown-ass woman) had any desire to have Steven "be part of her son's life," she would surely have expressed that desire, and informed him of the reproductive event, long ere this.

I'm not even going to commit additional rantage on the whole thing of putting these expectations into her child's head. That might be the kind of thing that MethGranny over on Teen Mom would do, but not the character of Carolyn (unless her initial protrayal is waaay deceptive, and we have yet to learn that she is addicted to meth, or suffering from some severe and untreated mental and/or emotional illness).

Almost as ridiculous is the proposition that the girl labeled "The Brain" reacts to the casting of a particular politician as on-camera talent by abandoning her lifelong passion for science and becoming a lawyer who helps banking companies write laws that ensure that banks will receive additional revenue.

This makes me think that the deadline was looming really large, and everybody on the writing team had been really busy with something else, so there was only one story idea in the hat for Brenda, and they just had to go with it.

About the only believable character is that of Falcon, the "Rock Star," who has become a wigga who does production and post-production for bands that have not become commercially successful.

Oh, well, yeah, there's the obligatory "Jock" who sacrifices a promising career in the sport he loves as the result of a belief-based choice to participate in the implementation of business decisions favorable to the interests of key industries. Sadly, that's believable.

Even as, against my better judgment, I went ahead and allowed all these opinions and views to harden like two coats of Sally Hansen's finest, I realize that they could all come back and bite me in the butt.

But I accept only very limited responsibility, because, if they are going to do that, if all my perceptions are just so, so wrong, then the writers should have given me some hint of that.

It would be hints of that, you see, that would flame the spark of my interest, and bring about the presence of a strong desire to see Episode 2.

Not only did the premiere lack cliff-hangers, try as I might, the only real intriguing unanswered question that I can recall has to do with the rich boy forsakes true love to please/obtain money from parents story: because the rich boy is white, his true love is Latin American, and the girl he settled for is the blonde ectomorph, with the Texas setting, the obvious rush-to-judgment is that his parents had a strong preference for a white daughter in law.

BUT - we later find out that the Jock, who is African-American, is his best friend since childhood.

So does the show plan to take us on a journey through the various levels and permutations of anti-Otherness in Texas - that his parents believe that being BFFs with someone from a different ethnic group is OK but marriage is not OK? Or that the parents simply have an aversion to Latin Americans?

I mean, if they want to go there, that is actually pretty realistic. Ethnic divisions, especially those in a demographic majority/minority context, do tend to increase in intensity according to the size of the minority, with the largest ethnic minority in a given region frequently taking the brunt of impact.

For example, at least until recently, if you went to a small town in Alabama, you would typically find a mainstream demographic, or majority population, of Euromericans, or white folks, and certainly the largest, indeed frequently the only statistically registering minority to be African-Americans, a group with which the majority Euromercians have had a longstanding division.

People from Latin America or Asia, as long as there were only a few of them, might experience markedly lower levels of anti-Otherness-driven impact.

In contrast, if you went to a small town in Texas, where again, you might find that Euromerican majority, the largest ethnic minority might well be Latin Americans, and even while there might be a significant level of anti-Otherness directed toward African-Americans, it would be more intense toward Latin Americans.

Add to that the very real prevalence of the belief among some Euromerican groups that social integration, friendship, and between members of different groups, is acceptable, but marriage is not. (Though clandestine sexual activity between white males and females of other ethnic groups, whether consensual or not on the part of the latter, has a long history of quiet acceptance).

Like I said, if they really wanna go there, given the cultural context, it would be believable for Anders' parents to approve of his friendship with Rolly the Jock, but strongly disapprove of the idea of accepting Brenda the Brain as a daughter-in-law, even if they did not disapprove, at least as strongly, of his dating her in high school.

As we see, however, all that seems just a smoosh complex for any TV show, much less a network "mockumentary" whose premise encompasses a decade in the lives of nine different people, which means that Rich Boy's parents disapproved of Brenda is almost certainly for some other reason - maybe her family is poor.

Economic segregation is every bit as marked and and comprehensive as racial apartheit ever was, and in many communities (though not typically ones in Texas) has surpassed ethnicity-based social segregation, which is still pretty comprehensive and marked in its own right.

Or - and here I am clearly sailing off on the wings of imagination - one or more of Brenda's relatives has a history of having committed some crime or other, for which they spent some time subsumed into the judicial system, even generating a revenue stream for the prison industry!

Now THAT would indeed have some cultural reflection possibilities, if the crime were something like shoplifting, or even sticking up a convenience store.

That's because two of the characters were impacted by business decisions made by the Enron company, with one even sacrificed as an acceptable target of opinions and feelings that would, if applied consistently and on a larger scale, be considered anti-business!

So if they wanted, they could contrast how the child of a parent who has stolen a chicken is perceived vis a vis the perception of the child of one who has stolen the coop - white collar vs blue collar crime, etc etc.

But that is unlikely, too, since that would lead us down yet another "Do they really wanna go there?" road, and get into some pretty heavy topics, many of which would simply not be a good fit for commercial network TV.

Maybe it was the Brain thing. Maybe Anders' parents didn't feel that Brenda was a good choice as a marriage partner because they feared that with her Brain, she might not wish to be a full-time parent and homemaker, and that was important to them, or that she would become bored with Anders, which would probably be a pretty good call, had Brenda not pretty much shed herself of the whole Brain thing by ditching science for law school and ending up helping rich men make more money because some suits in another board room made a decision that as it was intended, resulted in rich men making a whole mess of more money.

Plus, ten years post-high school, Brenda continues to carry a such a big torch for the unremarkable Anders that she not only hasn't married - she "doesn't date." If she were really that much of a Brain, wouldn't she have figured out by now that her high school boyfriend is something of a dud?

This brings us, at long last, to the real meat of this episode. Well, the pit, really.

See, one of Brenda's co-workers decides to set her up on a blind date. She agrees to go, it is implied, because the documentary cameras caught her gazing wistfully at a picture of Anders the Dud, and she wants to throw us off, you know, so we won't think she still hasn't gotten over him.

Whoever this co-worker dude is, it'll be interesting to see if he turns out to be a recurring character, because he clearly has an abysmally low opinion of Brenda, because the dude with whom he fixes her up is a total asshat. "I have a small penis," he leans forward to confide, less than five minutes after Brenda sits down. "But I know how to use it," he adds, and then offers Brenda the opportunity to speak, something she has yet to do, since asshat has been sitting there rattling off one proof after another that he is not somebody with whom even a moderate Brain-owner would want to have so much as a nodding acquaintance.

But it's his table manners that Brenda cites to the co-worker in the de-briefing scene. He put his olive pits on the bread plate.

Let me preface this by stating how much I resent being in the position of defending even this minute detail of the behavior of the Blind Date From Hell character.

Though I agree it is riddled with aesthetically-challengedness, if the restaurant did not provide a plate specifically to contain the pits, putting them on the bread plate is pretty much the conventional Western dining etiquette wisdom.

I didn't happen to catch whether before putting them there, he removed them discreetly and unobtrusively, but that's what is supposed to happen.

The rule says "remove by the same method it went in" but in the case of olive pits, even if they went in with a fork, discrete and unobtrusive removal is more likely to be achieved by pretending to dab delicately with one's napkin, then swiftly removing the pit with the fingers of the other hand, using the napkin as a shield, having first (discreetly and unobtrusively) pushed the pit up to the lips/front teeth area, so that the fingertips do not need to enter the mouth). Ew.

Here's Why: There may have been a time when it was a common practice for people to hold their napkins up to their mouths when inserting a food-laden fork, but in Modern Today, this is so seldom if ever done that it would call much more attention than just holding a napkin up to dab, which is done all the time, thus exponentially increasing the likelihood that no one will notice that you removed something from your mouth. (That is, until they see you put it on the plate, whether bread or olive pit).

Unless it is a very casual restaurant with paper napkins that you can ball up, hiding the pit in your napkin is extremely poor manners, because a human being who has just as much value and worth as you do is going to pick up that napkin when they clear the table, and another one is going to unfold it, and neither is on this earth, or working in the restaurant, to have stuff that has been in your mouth tumble out into their hands. Re-Ew.

I don't know if I will bother watching Episode 2 of this show or not. Having committed such a massive word-dump on it, you might think I would be really eager to discover how wrong - or right - my initial impressions prove to be.

You might be right, maybe I should see some more of it, if only for that reason, but that's kind of the problem. The show itself hasn't given me any reason, or even particular desire, to tune in next week.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Real Housewives of DC Makes White Folks Real Mad

In keeping with franchise tradition, not one of them appears to be an actual housewife.

At least so far, any casting office hopes that Paul Wharton might emerge as DC's answer to Da-wight have been stultifyingly dashed. He comes off more like a 5th Housewife version of last season's Alex McCord: so abysmally lacking in skankitude that you wonder if he signed up for the wrong show by mistake.

Or maybe he's there to tell Mary ("Michaele was in her perfectly coiffed riding jodhpurs and boots.") that clothing items do not sport a hairdo.

Clicking around the internets, "Cat," the one who kept bragging about her husband being the Lord High Photographer was just sad. She reminded me of Kelly on RHNY, who seems to get way too much of her sense of identity from having once been married to a famous photographer, who in turn, reminds me of Brody Jenner, who reminds us every 15 minutes that his biomom once dated Elvis.

She seems to be one of those love her or hate her characters - her admiration for a beloved political figure was appreciated by the predictable half of US viewers, while her comment that "all British children aspire to be American children" seems to have resonated a little less with the rest of the world, some even going so far as to disagree with her outright, asserting that British children are quite pleased to be British and do not long to be another nationality.

I tend to agree with those who have questioned whether the show will really be a good cultural fit.

In fact, I predict it will require extensive post-production to keep it from being labeled as "inflammatory," which might not be good for either the franchise or the network.

Stacie has already made herself a mess of enemies.

For a person of color to mention the existence of racism is extremely displeasing to many US white folks, who receive a very real psychological benefit from the belief that both slavery and apartheid happened some time during the early Pleistocene era, and have long been completely absent from the heart of all white Americans with the possible exception of a couple of toothless crackhead Aryan gang members who are now safely behind bars now anyway, so African Americans should, if I may quote approximately 7 squillion internet comments "get over it."

In fairness, people, including white folks, watch these shows for the skankiness and schadenfreude, not to be reminded of bandaids on sucking societal chest wounds or herds of elephants tromping around the TV, both tall orders for any show set in Washington, even if the only cast member with any claim to a "political connection" is the dude that takes PR stills of the current on-camera talent.

I guess Bravo gets props for going there at all.

My guess is that they were maybe targeting an older audience, and hoping that the prevailing viewer reaction would be more in accord with an offline comment I overheard: a polyester-clad matron in a small southern town referred to the DC ladies as "real classy," and went on to declare that they represent her "ideal America."

I'm skeptical that any generation will bestow upon these Housewives the mantle of "ultimate aspirational character" bestowed on Lauren Conrad and The Hills gang.

At least we jaded Snark extremists get our usual helping of the delicious characteristic Real Housewife staple of people with dramatically annoying personalities acting really trashy while tossing around not-so-subtle insinuations about how superior they are to everybody else. ;)

Cat and Stacie may have their share of fans and haters, but the unquestioned stars of the show are "The Salahis."

We may not know the name of the covert Bravo operative who returned from that 1st reconnaissance mission into the mean salons of Washington with orders to sniff out Hamsters Most Likely, who discovered this pair of prizes, but we do know that whoever s/he is, that will be one hard-to-top career triumph.

Ditto for the marketing genius who thought up Operation Party Crash, and double ditto if the same person cast the Salahis in it.

It was a Cultural Fit Powerball, with just the right Golden Drop of subliminal Retsyn (ouch. Obscure allusion to 60s breath mint commercial? Really?)

And now, a moment of silence to acknowledge the awesome power of television - even really bad television. No other force, man-made or natural could so instantly transform a couple of lacklustre practitioners of petty sleaze to Defcon 5 Level Public Enemies.

He, whose principal resume bullets include a spurt of short-term employment related to implementation of business decisions on behalf of some US "key industries," and an equally non-stellar attempt to run the family wine business, the latter culminating in a lawsuit-embellished family squabble, appears to excel only at playing polo.

Michaele, a retail cosmetics counter clerk by profession, had hoped to obtain wealth and fame by becoming a fashion model, but believe it or not, not every blonde ectomorph who auditions is cast, and she will be neither the first nor the last pretty girl who, after an accurate evaluation and assessment of her own natural talents and aptitudes vis a vis the marketplace, accurately determines that her best chance of acquiring a large bank balance is marriage to an already-wealthy man.

The current chorus of US viewers flooding the internets with outraged calls for their imprisonment, tarring and feathering and extermination by live burning are predictable (and I'm gonna guess also predicted) and consistent with the culture, but that any two people of such spectacular mediocrity would inspire such a tsunami of any sentiment among any population is such an incongruous absurdity - and such a monumental feat of marketing, that I predict it will be the opening chapter in textbooks on the subject unto the 7th generation.

It's also, judging from these first episodes, anyway, the DC franchise's one chance at getting high enough ratings to placate the suits in the accounting department.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Bachelor/ette: Is Roberto Really Hot? Ethnic Ambiguity, Demographics, & Beauty

Call me a love-grinch if you will, a jaded Debbie Downer of romance, an old fuddy-duddy who just doesn't understand the young folks and their new-fangled ways, but even setting aside my somewhat limited capacity for suspension of disbelief with respect to reality shows in general, I have just not been able to jump on the rainbow-and-My-Little-Pony-festooned bandwagon of misty-eyed wonder at the latest candidates for the Great Lovers of All Time Hall of Fame.

Judging from the media and prevailing chatter, online and off, the level and intensity of admiration and adulation for this couple is unprecedented in Bachelor History!

The range of opinions, the ongoing battle between belief and suspension of disbelief, the pragmatists and the faithful, invariably plays out into a much more full-bodied entertainment experience than actually sitting there watching it.

Full disclosure: Although I do have it as a tivoid timer, and dutifully make a sincere effort to watch every episode in its entirety, I admit that I have, on more than one occasion, fallen asleep.

The human mind - or at least my allegedly human mind - can only endure a limited amount of helicopter rides and pageant-worthy comments about the importance of family and being real, and the phrases "here for the right reasons" and "one on one time" can cause my eyes to close and my head to fall faster than Pavlov's pet pupdog.

Maybe I don't enjoy actually watching the show much, but I do enjoy listening to people who enjoy watching it, I think I called it a "cultural phenomenon" in the previous rant.

The Bachelor is one of the most thoroughly and unapologetically ethnically and culturally homogeneous shows produced in the US today, clearly targeting an ethnically and culturally homogeneous audience. And that's OK.

I have no intention of going off on any lofty tangents about the myth of multiculturalism in the US of Modern Today, I'm just saying that it's a network show, with the potential for some high-dollar ad rates, and business is business.

Everything we see - or don't see - on the show is the result of a business decision. From casting to story arcs, to wardrobe and makeup, as with any commercial entertainment product, it's about the money.

It's also, as RealitySteve pointed out in his season wrap-up, about the drama.

Previous years had made it very clear that the future of the franchise depended on the show's ability to compete with the increasingly popular trashy reality shows, many of which were, ironically, actually inspired by The Bachelor, according to Mark Cronin, who, in an interview a few years ago acknowledged that the whole "Skankapalooza of Love" franchise was inspired by his wondering:
"... what if the Bachelor was actually a big character? The Bachelors tend not to be big characters. They tend to be nice, eligible men. Hunks, maybe, but that’s not character. A good character is someone who says funny stuff and who has a weird, whacked-out lifestyle. So, really, we wondered, “What if the bachelor were a crazy lunatic?..."
That's when he and partner Cris Abrego decided to call Flavor Flav...

Fleiss et al responded by ramping up the drama - and the sleaze - accordingly, with the MesnickDump Heard Round the World, the lame but nevertheless effective Rozlyngate, and even going so far as to insert an "insurance policy" early in Ali's season - the famous Jake vs Vienna bout, which predictably raised viewer interest in the show to unprecedented levels even as it dashed whatever hopes Jake might have had for "ever working in this town again."

Anyway, back to viewer reaction. This season, I was especially struck by the division of opinions about Ali's options along demographic lines.

Generally, girls and young ladies of the "mainstream" US demographic were going wild over him, while their counterparts in the rest of the pie chart, well, weren't.

US mainstream demographic viewers seemed to perceive Chris as more "husband material," often referring to him as "real," and "family-oriented," while Roberto was seen more as the "fling," an embodiment of an thrilling fantasy of sampling strange fruit, so that one will have lived a little before settling down and nesting oneself in that weathered-wood-picture-frame-and-matching-dadface environment, the idealized version of the culturally familiar, featuring a less physically attractive but more "realistic" partner.

Outside that mainstream demographic, while the numbers might be lower, perceptions were predictably the opposite, with Roberto viewed as only modestly handsome, at best, and about as interesting as a pile of sawdust, certainly no competition for the exciting and cinematic dream of Chris and Ali, stereotypical blonde couple, living out a charmed life in an eternal - and yes, "exotic" - Norman Rockwell painting.

As one viewer put it:
"She shd hav a afare w Roberto so she wil have sum memoris cuz he is HOT n SPICY but don get carid away cuz he wil so brake her heart, Chris is the 1 she shd marri cuz he wil aprecate her"
Variations of this sentiment abounded among Ali's demographic sisters, even among the Old School contingent who spelled most of the words right, with the phrase "not that into her" bandied about quite a bit.

As a rule, I am not a big fan of critiques and comments on peoples' physical appearance, and I intend no unkindness to Roberto in saying this, but it is simply a fact that - well, let me try to present it a little more politely:

Just as many mainstream demographic young men expressed the view of Ali as attractive in a "girl next door" kind of way, while their sisters viewed her as having an "accessible" kind of beauty, Roberto tends to be perceived by the larger chunk of earth residents as very "boy next door."

But return to that US of Modern Today context, with seismic demographic shift in full swing, and Roberto has a "look" that is extremely popular with one of, if not the major viewer segments - those mainstream demographic females 18-35, who tend to view him as "exotic," the stereotype of the "Latin Lover," yet assimilated to a fault - "diversity" in an acceptable dosage, as highlighted by the remark about his mother cooking "Spanish things I don't know the names of."

It's that demographic shift, the ologists would tell us, that is responsible for the corresponding shift in the prevailing "standard of beauty" embraced by that mainstream demographic.

While the society is still largely socially "segregated" along ethnic and cultural lines, that has to do with a purely cultural change, and cultural change tends to prefer a slower pace.

When we talk about things like "standards of beauty," we're talking about something that goes a little deeper, even less likely to reflect any conscious choices, something that touches on primordial proto-caveman instincts.

Here's how the ologists would, and frequently do, explain it (and believe it or not, using even more words than I am):

In the case of the US population, it simply means that as a larger percentage of the population becomes more ethnically heterogeneous, peoples' ideas of what is beauty changes in order to increase their likelihood of finding a mate and reproducing sooner, thus preserving the species.

The US/Western European standard of beauty is currently in the process of widening to include what has become a currently popular advertising buzzword, the "ethnically ambiguous" look.

Now of course the preservation of the species does not really depend on this event. It is just one of those sort of leftover things we don't really need anymore but are still there in or biochemistry, kind of like the way some populations have body hair.

Originally its purpose was to keep them warm - the same reason their even more pre-historic ancestors had it - and many other species of mammals still have it today.

But many ologists believe that the reason some humans hung onto it for a few more million years was because they got into stuff like more organized societies, written language, science, etc, a few millennia later than the other boys and girls and thus continued for a longer time to need something to protect their skin from thorns as they wandered around in the bush gathering berries or hunting bison or something.

Others point out that the only people who still have it tend to be from colder climates, so it was always about keeping warm, and that the later adapting of all that stuff was coincidental and/or weather-related, but whatever.

The point is, they still have it now, and they don't need it - any more than they need any unconscious and/or involuntary perceptions of blondes or "ethnically ambiguous" people as more or less attractive in order to prevent human extinction.

It's that kind of thing - against the backdrop of that vortex of change - that makes all this interesting.

Plop the whole thing down into another population, one that is NOT in the throes of a major demographic shift, and there's nothing to see. In a traditionally heterogeneous population, you'll get some of the same "split" along those old lines of "my tribe bestest," but you'll get that today and 150 years from now, and in a solidly and eternally homogeneous population, anyone who did not conform to that single standard of beauty would never be cast in the first place.

But with a population in transition, we get stuff like this:

While the current twin ideals of blonde and ectomorph still hold sway, with both blonde AND ectomorph being almost a guaranteed winner, even though Ali is blonde, we did not hear her referred to as "hot" by male and lesbian viewers of that mainstream demographic anywhere near as much as we heard their sisters and gay male brothers use that adjective when referring to Roberto!

If the viewer-expressed adulation of the undisputed audience favorite set me to musing and pontificating on relative standards of beauty and changing faces of a population, and clearly it did, since I seem to have gone on about it for several pages, watching the undisputed Queen of Roberto worship, Ali herself, fawn over her Chosen One should have been more fun than it was.

So enchanted was Ali by her perception of Roberto's physical appearance that on more than one voiceover occasion that she expressed misgivings about the possibiliy of a relationship with him on the basis of his being so much more attractive than herself that she felt insecure, as if he belonged to some kind of higher aesthetically-pleasingness-based caste.

Once I got past the sheer sadness that anyone would feel that way about themselves, I could not help wondering what Roberto thinks about that.

Even if she didn't say it directly to him during shooting, he will surely have heard it by now.

Every viewer who was ever asked to prom, or worse, proposed to, because someone thought they were "exotic," or even that they were so nice to look at that they didn't really give a damn about the rest, is going to be asking the obvious question with me:

Just who is more likely to break whose heart here? I'm just sayin'...

We have no way of knowing whether their post-show photo-ops, some of which reach Speidi-adjacent levels of sheer cheesiness, actually reflect a sincere mutual attraction.

Internets, checkout lines and water coolers alike are positively trembling with an unprecedented groundswell of certainty expressed by such an overwhelming swath of (mainstream demographic) viewers that Ali and Roberto are not like all those other Bachelor/ette couples, that their feelings for each other are not either superficial, they are in Real Love with a capital L, and they are going to live happily ever after.

I certainly hope they are right. I hope that happens to everybody. Who doesn't?

But let's face it. One of the primary sources of amusement afforded by this show is the wild absurdity of the premise best illustrated by the episode (at least in Bachelor seasons) where this dude buys an engagement ring, and tells us that he intends to propose marriage to somebody tomorrow, he just doesn't know yet to whom.

By season's end, the couples have, with luck, spent a total of a few hours in each other's company without the chaperonage of a camera crew.

With the understanding that most romantic relationships do begin because one of the parties feels some degree of physical attraction for the other, and that millions of people live out perfectly happy lives without having a single relationship, romantic or otherwise, that millions of other people would not call "superficial," what chance do any of the Bachelor couples have?

Have any of the ones who are not Trista and Ryan ever wondered how their stories would have played out if they had met each other at a friend's house or a cooking class or the neighborhood gym?

Do any of them ever wonder if they might have "made it" if their romance had not started out as a "showmance?"

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Questions We're Not Asking About The Fergie Sting

For some of us, $500K is beyond a lot of money. For some of us, it's more money than we'll earn in our lifetimes, more than anyone we know will earn in their lifetimes.

It's so huge, it might as well be expressed in one of those generic terms for "more money than I can conceive of," like a gazillion, a squillion.

But that's just some of us. For others, $500K is a reasonable price for a nice house, for a year's work, for still others, it's about what they'd expect to spend on a wedding, a piece of jewelry, a vacation, what they'd pay to buy a small company, to educate their children.

For the Queen, $500K is the daily interest earned by some of her holdings.

What am I suggesting? I'm not sure. I'm not really suggesting anything. Just pointing out the fact that $500K has a very different meaning, is a very different amount of money, to the Duchess of York than it is to most of the people reading about the News of The World's Excellent Adventure, and to to some of the people writing about it.

But how much is $500K to Fergie? While the sum would buy a whole new life - a whole new identity - for some of us, exactly how far would $500K get the Duchess of Debt? It's hard to believe that she owes LESS than $500K. So as a one-time lump sum, it's hardly likely that it would even get her out of the red.

Nor is it likely that she would be able to use it to just dump her Princess daughters, get a little strategically placed "work done," and start a whole new life for herself in a small Sri Lankan village, in a cozy little ancient dwelling with 50s-era electric lighting, a big ugly satellite dish in the front yard held together with duct tape and coat hangers, a hand pump in the sink, a household staff consisting of an illiterate 12-year-old, and a passport that says "Agnes Higginbotham."

Are we to conlcude that this was not a one-time result of the Duchess having enjoyed one cocktail too many with her Prozac, but a regular practice, a sort of Royal cottage industry with which she and perhaps also the Duke, have supplemented their incomes? Prince Andrew's annual income starts with around $335K every year from mom, plus revenue from his own business activities from Dubai to Kazakhstan, about which little is known, so we can be pretty sure they didn't conspire to do this one time and split it and both go off to live in a Sri Lankan village. It does not seem like the kind of sum a Great Game playa like Andikins would have much interest in.

And if it were something that they did every 3rd Tuesday, may we not assume that they both have enough sense to vet potential clients at least enough to determine that they are not being paid by News of the World?

That's the thing about $500K. It is a high enough figure so that the price of a private detective is not an unreasonable amount to spend in the obtaining of it, but it is not such a huge sum that either Fergie or Andy are likely to regard as life-changing, worth betting the farm for.

And what happens now? Will Andy evict Fergie from Royal Lodge? How much does she know about those business activities of his? Is she in danger of being considered, like Diana, a "loose cannon" that could potentially jeopardize business activities worth sums that would be considered in the gazillions even by those who pay $500K for homes or weddings?

Where did the idea for the sting operation come from, anyway? Which News of the World employee thought it up, who approved it, funded it? And to what end? To discredit the Duchess of York? Was she, before this, all that "credited?" No pun intended, but hey.

Let's just say that if she were my close and personal friend, I would strongly encourage her to consider the benefits of becoming that new-nosed Agnes Higginbotham, enjoying the roses, fresh air, and promise of long life in the humble safety of her rural Sri Lankan home.

Real Housewives of New York Channel Harold Pinter

I was all set to do a nice little recap of this episode. It looked so promising. Ramona has been in the throes of a major Renewal this whole season, and she has invited the Housewives on a Caribbean getaway to celebrate it.

At first, it was what you'd expect. The girls get tipsy. They bicker. Alex gently tsk-tsks, her role on the show has been reduced to Den Mother, the token grownup. Ramona proudly displays her bikini collection. Bethenny gives everyone little swag bags of beach-appropriate personal care products. This displeases Kelly, who feels it is impersonal. Actually, Bethenny's very existence appears to displease Kelly more by the minute.

Perhaps seduced by visions of reality show fame on a scale like that enjoyed by Real Housewife of New Jersey Teresa Giudice, Kelly proclaims that Bethenny is a ho-bag.

Bethenny excuses herself and accompanies the Renewing Ramona, liberally fortified with Pinot Grigio, to the neighboring Hooters boat where the two ladies enjoy some Turtle Time.

Sonja announces that she smells cat pee and retires for the evening.

Meanwhile, back in New York, Jill and The Countess, who did not go on the trip, have dinner. Jill announces that she will go down to the Caribbean and surprise Ramona. The Countess declines to join her.

Kelly takes photos of the girls on the beach. Bethenny cooks dinner, and at some point during the dinner, the spirits of Pinter and Ionesco descend and possess them.

They all mount the loa and are subsumed in a whirling vortex of non-sequiturs, the most intelligible of which is Kelly accusing Alex of being a kabuki-dancing vampire and revealing that she threw up because Bethenny is trying to kill her and went after her girls and Gwyneth Paltrow.

I mean, really. It all just goes down hill from there. They all take turns being Stanley.

Alex and Bethenny try to resist, but only succeed in dissolving in a fit of helpless giggles.

In intermittent flashes of lucidity, all agree that Kelly needs help.

"You couldn't write it," declares Sarah Jessica Parker, who is inexplicably this week's guest on the Aftershow. "Not even the finest actor..." she trails off, and Andy shows us a preview of next week, when Jill will arrive on the island to surprise the Renewing Ramona, and no one will be glad to see her.

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