Thursday, June 18, 2009

Real Housewives of New Jersey: Bravo Gets Its Discovery Channel On

Two things I doubt we will ever know: 1) what transpired between Dina and Danielle, and 2) What role Bravo played in the structure of the finale, including the "big family dinner" and the presence of Danielle and the book.

Both Dina and Danielle have made repeated references to a falling out between them, conflict that pre-dates and is unrelated to the book.

That the date of the big family dinner would coincide with the show's season finale could have been a post-production decision, or it could reflect routine, run-of-the-mill reality show "collusion" between producers and cast, but as was the case with the famous Salsa Night event, the idea that the decision to invite Danielle originated with the family strains "suspension of disbelief" to the breaking point.

The Manzos all have some relationships with non-family members, with whom they are on good terms, yet the only non-family member invited to this family dinner was Danielle.

That Danielle might seize a gathering of all the Manzos to confront the family about their reaction to the book, and to her, with or without prodding and/or logistical assistance from Bravo is believable. Whipping the book out and plopping it onto the table smells, at least to me, of a closer, more familiar relationship with and knowledge of production values than Danielle's modeling experience would have provided.

I have not been able to watch a single episode of this show without being involuntarily shifted into Discovery Channel mode, and I think the finale may have done that to a lot of viewers who don't even watch the Discovery Channel.

It was a continuous anvil-drop, flattening the heads of the viewing audience with the message that 1) The Manzos are a closed society, and 2) Intruders are not welcome and will be ejected.

So who really "took the book through the town?" The whole point of the show was that it does not matter.

If one Manzo did it, they all did it, and Caroline, as the tribal chief, will "take the blame" on the tribe's behalf.

Just as kings and chieftains of old rode out to battle in front of their clansfolk, so Caroline assumed responsibility for her tribe.

That is the "real" reality, and it trumps and renders irrelevant the minutiae of individual actions on the part of those who ride behind her.

The most interesting Discovery Channel Moment was of course when one of the tribe stood in opposition to the rest.

The principle that loyalty to a group, family, tribe or nation takes precedence over any and all other values, mores or moral code so permeates our human family, today as yesterday, in the glittering modern city as in the most isolated mountain hamlet, that many of us don't even notice it, or if we do, we simply take it for granted, and consciously or unconsciously seat it firmly at the head of the table at our own "family dinner" of attitudes, opinions and beliefs, above tenets or doctrines of our faith tradition, even our own personal notions of "right" or "wrong."

If a group with which we have a strong association, with which we identify, does it, it is right, even though we might be the first to call it "wrong" when the same thing is done by a different group.

Group members who diverge from this take a big risk. Historically, they would most likely be set upon and killed outright by the other group members, or physically banished from the group, which historically would mean death, as a matter of practicality, since once humans had established tribes and communities, we became dependent on them for survival. They were, after all, established in order to enable us to survive.

Today the banishment is more likely to take a less literal form.

Banishment of a primal dissenter - meaning one who places some other principle or value above the primal and unassailable rule of "if my group does it, it's right," in modern times frequently involves banishment by dismissal - the dissenter is labeled as one version or another of a harmless fool, and any potential threat to the group - or to decisions made by the chief on the group's behalf - is removed.

That threat, of course, the danger being averted by this action, is that other group members might follow suit, stand up with the dissenter, divide the group and reduce its power.

This very thing has, of course, happened in the course of our history, so many times that today it has become commonplace for another group to initiate the tactic, by encouragement of an existing potential dissenter, or by outright placement of a "ringer" to act as dissenter with the aim of dividing the group, and conquering the two resulting weaker groups, thus the expression "divide and conquer."

Caroline - with the help of her brother, in the role of lieutenant - deftly averted the possibility of anything like that happening to the Manzos, shrewdly dismissing Jacqueline's dissent by attributing it to the latter's "good heart," and magnanimously forgiving her, including her in the fold even as she is effectively banished from holding any real power within it.

It's unlikely that she realized that she was also delivering, in the approximate words of a popular sacred text "a lesson for those with eyes to see."

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