Friday, May 22, 2009

Southern Belles Louisville - Not Suitable for Sensitive Viewers

May all applicable deities, djinns and spirits be invoked, and my household instructed to inform visitors, in hushed tones, that I am laid upon the bed!

I have watched the "Real Housewives," in all its various ghastly iterations. I have squee!ed and shuddered in delighted disgust with the best of them in the unspeakably lurid parade of the majestic oeuvre of Chris Abrego, each more grandiloquently repellent than the last.

So what is it about the seemingly innocuous-by-comparison Southern Belles Louisville that makes my flesh crawl?

It took me a while to figure it out, but I think, to put it as politely as possible, that it is the diminished suspension of disbelief requirement.

With all due respect to DiVello, Abrego, et al, their creations give the senses an "out." The much-decried obviously scripted and totally UN-real nature of the reality shows to which we have become accustomed permit us to emerge from our viewing experience comforted, even if subconsciously, by the knowledge that it is "just a show," a work of fiction no different from Ong Bak or Original Recipe Exorcist.

But somehow, Southern Belles Louisville, whether due to artistic intent on the part of the director or exceptional dramatic talent on the part of the cast, fails to provide that cooling spray of reassurance.

These hamsters, this reality show, cranks the realness up a couple of notches past my viewing pleasure center.

Maybe it is just the unavoidable damning by faint praise of calling these characters "better drawn" than the typical Rock of Love skank, a sort of superficial pseudo-documentary version of Arendt's banality of evil.

Or maybe it's because that banality hits a little too close to home in ways that at least for most of us, Bikini Corrie and Heidi Montag do not.

While relatively few of us can make such a claim about Saaphyri or Brittanya, if we are to be brutally honest, and leaving aside any and all distinctions of geographical or cultural context, most of us have, at some point in our lives, known these Belles.

And even more poignantly, most of us will have, at some point in our lives, faced the sad task of comforting their hapless Beaux.

The Belles' grisly payload of skeeve is not about just another gaggle of bimbos "suckin back" on the glorified screwdriver whose current popularity has no doubt caused the descendants of that crafty old imperialist Lauchlin Rose to ceaselessly bless his crusty old opportunistic soul, nor is it yet another stream of glittering scenes of yet another charity event where the total sum of funds raised is slightly less than price paid by most of the attendees for their gowns.

If we are tempted to gasp at the incogitant cruelty of Hadley, as she describes her dream wedding standing two feet from the man who has just declared himself and been spurned, what really gets us is the look on his face. That's just a smoosh realer than I like my reality, thanks just the same.

Hadley actually breaks two hearts in the course of the first episode. Her best friend, who, though presented to us as a "ladies man," has the words "quintessential nice guy" painted all over his every word and gesture, is also in love with her, and meets the same sad fate as his rival.

If we can manage to move past the cringeworthy pathos of those sorry little scenes, we are obliged to acknowledge that it would be disingenuous, not to mention impossible, to completely divorce the show's zeitgeist from cultural context.

On the contrary, we are hit in the face with the social costs of a culture in which some of the children remain children until they are well into their thirties.

If Hadley displays the emotional nescience of a teenaged girl, Emily seems similarly oblivious to the gilded cage from which she acts out "her dream."

Thanks to parents depicted as annoying salt of the earth folksy folks who dine at a card table adorned with a bottle of supermarket salad dressing, whose down-home working class ethos belies their inherited millions, in return for some relatively mild belittling of her unremarkable hairstyle choices, Emily receives the safety net that permits her to eschew a seat in the family boardroom in favor of a low-wage fun job at the local TV station.

The Belles' blondetourage is rounded out by Kellie, the obligatory divorcee "waiting for her settlement," currently obliged to live in a modest home that she petulantly boasts would have fit into the garage of the residence provided by her erstwhile spouse. The poor thing has even been reduced to using one of the bedrooms as a closet, to accomodate the designer spoils of her late marriage. At 32, Kellie declares she wants to have her own money now. She wants her settlement, dammit!

Of all the Belles, Julie is the least fleshed out, at least in the first episode, where her role seems to be primarily that of Culture Victim. A low-end fashion model in her mid-thirties, she is now subjected to the indignity of being told she could get work in ad campaigns looking for "soccer mom types." As the camera moves from the decade-old glamour shots in her book to her face upon hearing this verdict from a smug-faced agent, the narrator doesn't have to say a word. The strains of the leitmotif of heartbreak swell as clearly as if sounded by a score of violins. Julie's story is trite but true. The Youth Culture really does destroy lives and souls. Well, duh.

Speaking of narration, apparently Shea does need some. We hear her background described as "nouveaux riche," against a montage that screams "Ya think?" If ever reality show has shown us a stereotype, Shea is it. Her shallowness and vapidity soar to cartoonish near-Hills quality heights. She has captured, it would seem, the heart of a suitor, but pouts that she has no ring. She takes him shopping for one. He would, he says, need to sell both kidneys in order to afford one that she would wear.

Shea is the creepiest of all because if you have known only one Belle in your lifetime, whether you knew her in Louisville, Lagos or Lhasa, in the 20s, the 60s, the 80s, she's the one you knew.

Maybe you know her today. And even if you missed it, you just know she had a really amazing Super Sweet Sixteen.


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