Friday, July 17, 2009

Southern Belles Louisville: Lord, this show makes me preachy!

Mercifully, subsequent episodes of this show have not been quite as "raw" as the "premiere," maybe it was just a learning curve thing, with the 1st couple of airings taking viewers along for the ride - an extra bonus layer of "reality" as the producers figure out just how much of that commodity viewers should be asked to stomach.

To atone for past sins, the last couple of episodes have featured some frankly comical overstaging - like the "slumber party," but it's Julie's "babysitting" sequence that, for all its hilarity, gives our suspension of disbelief a serious workout!

First, we are asked to accept the idea that Julie, in the 35 years she has been alive, has never spent so much as an hour or two alone with any children.

From there we glide into the idea that her first-ever conversation with her father on the subject of whether she might one day wish to be a parent occurred last week, and then it is just a hop-skip to Julie's grand Epiphany that in order to find out how becoming a mother would change her life, she should spend an afternoon babysitting - not one, not two, not even three - but FOUR small children!

Enter two of Julie's good friends - each with two daughters of about the same age - two sets of extremely telegenic sisters, one pair blonde, one pair brunette, all completely at ease with lights, crew and camera.

Of course we only see what makes it out of the editing room, but it does not appear that the two sets of sisters have ever played together before. All the interaction between the children that we are shown involves sister playing with sister. Kids who know each other would be much more likely to pair off according to age, kids who have never met will tend to interact with their respective sibling.

This show just might be a contender for the Mostest.Audrinage.Ever reality show tradition award - if some, even most, of the cast of the various Real Housewives shows were only glancingly acquainted with each other prior to the first day of shooting, the Belles' lack of shared "history" is glaring.

Nevertheless, as I continue to watch it, I find that it provides as much fodder for sober refection as for helpless giggling fits.

Kellie's situation, for example, is heart-rending, a grim reminder that whether it feels awkward, weird, even inappropriate, the time for the "Do You Want Kids?" talk (or more kids, if one of you has, like Kellie's Jeff, already obtained offspring) is preferably the second, but no later than the third date, BEFORE either party has had a chance to become "emotionally invested" enough to cause serious damage should there be a wide variance in their respective views on this subject.

It's a thought-provoking illustration that no matter how trashy the show, how stupid the script, or how inane the hamsters, even the lamest and most superficial television shows can educate, even illuminate, and this is something that every one of the "single ladies" - and their single brothers - who watch this show can "take away" from it, and receive the huge benefit of saving themselves from the kind of agony Kellie is suffering, an agony that would be even more emotionally eviscerating, even more causative of permanent harm, if Jeff were not such a tool.

At least when it is all over, she will have the comfort of relief that she did not make a permanent committment to a total asswipe.

Shea, who also has a Jeff, is confronting basically the same issue, at least in my view, since I don't make a large distinction on the basis of species.

Even if we lay aside their housing preferences - while Jeff dreams of mulching and mowing as proud handyman and householder, Shea's notion of the ideal home involves maid service and a spa on the premises - the real non-negotiable, potential deal-breaker is that Jeff comes with what is, for all practical purposes, a child.

The well-being of dependent family members who share one's home, whether human or not, can be neither relegated to the status of non-essential "extra," nor swept aside entirely, and anyone who would even consider such a thing is presenting empirical evidence that they are NOT husband material.

If they are capable of, much less willing, to renege on their committment to that being or beings, what could one expect who considers choosing such a person as life partner? And this goes both ways. If Shea can so easily dismiss the needs of Jeff's dog - well, in the case at hand, Shea has already been pretty upfront with Jeff about just what kind of living hell he could expect, and indeed the internet buzz is that he has wisely delivered himself - and his pupdog - from such a grisly fate, and empowered Shea to return to the garden to seek a more suitably crushable flower.

That this match was doomed was pretty much foretold in every frame of Shea-and-Jeff footage that made it to air, and in case there were any doubts, it was writ large in big red flags in the scene where Shea takes Jeff for a pre-marital counseling session with an gentleman who looks eeriely like Emily's creepy dad. Shea believes that the counseling will prevent her from ending up divorced like her parents.

"I have changed so much for you," Jeff blurts. Shea asserts that she has seen no change, but whether she has or not, whether it is even objectively true or not, if such a sentiment is in the heart of either party, that relationship is dead in the water.

Ideally, true love does change us, in that it makes us want to be, and become, better people, the best version of ourselves, but that's several galaxies away from Jeff's orbit.

As always, even as we keep in mind that the footage of each hamster is deliberately edited for the purpose of drawing a particular "character," we are also obliged to recognize the flip side of that: no matter what they leave out, no matter how they change or remove from context entirely - if the hamster doesn't say or do it, they won't have it to leave in.

Although it may be that Shea's footage is edited frame by frame in order to paint for us a portrait of a woman completely devoid of substance, if we assess the footage that she has given them to work with, we can come to no other conclusion that she is either a talented actress or that there really is no "there" there.

Internet personality aklein has called Emily "painful to watch." She has, aiklen remarks sadly, "emotional maturity of a 12 year old."

It's hard to come up with a credible rebuttal to that.

I am so not the appropriate person to defend any of these hamsters, but in fairness, there was a scene where Emily's Xtreme Cage Match Creepy dad was ragging on her about her hair, while Mama just sits there and says nothing, and there was something about it that looked like it was one of the more natural and effortless bits of footage we are likely to see on any reality show. I got the distinct feeling Emily heard that song with dismal regularity, just another number in CreepyDaddy's extensive repertoire of Pick on Emily showstoppers.

Whether Emily's dad is "for real" or not is a tough call. On the one hand, we have all known people with the misfortune of having parents like that. If it's a role and he is an actor, he has certainly "committed" to the character. He has it down, down to the teensiest creepy nuance.

This is probably born more of wishful thinking for Emily's sake than concrete perception, but a couple of times he has appeared to be mugging for the camera in an almost SpencerPrattian cartoon villain face mode.

I would be willing to bet that there is a connection between Emily's emotional development issues and having grown up with a father who considers his daughter having physically "matured too early" as a sort of inexpiable indiscretion, an unforgivable transgression for which he is still reprimanding her even as her thirtieth (or 30-something) birthday approaches.

Emily is presented to us as the classic damaged bird, her plumage dulled by a lifetime of stern reproaches for having ever had any plumage, without an ally, reviled in the nest which should have nurtured her, and which she now fears to leave, torn between what remaining shreds she has of natural, healthy instincts to go forth and be a person, pitted against the sheer terror of displeasing the father she has never, can never please, who has devoted himself to steadily and relentlessly breaking her down, convincing her that she is essentially incapable of personhood, and her female role model appears to conform to that ideal. Emily's mother is painted as a non-entity, an empty cipher who silently accepts Ogre Dad's condemnation of her daughter.

Her determination to move to Las Vegas may not be the shrewdest move, nor her aspirations of becoming a high profile broadcast journalist the best match for her aptitudes and abilities, but that she has enough "oomph" left into her to recognize and follow the self-preservation instinct to get the hell away from her toxic Daddy is a positive and hopeful sign.

Ironically, while it is Emily who dreams of becoming a TV star, it is Hadley the Flounderer who has the face for it, though she, too, appears to suffer from an extreme case of arrested emotional development, in some ways even more fundamental and deep-seated. So much so that if I were obliged to bet on which of the two would "succeed," in terms of growing into a whole and functional person, I would put my money on Emily.

The character of Hadley is as materially empty and vacuous as Shea, at least as she is presented to us, and as always with the understanding that she could be acting, playing a role that was assigned to her.

Lord, this show makes me preachy!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I am going through some of these issues as well.

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