Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Analyzing the Culture of The Real Housewives of Orange County

My Engish 103 (Critical Thinking and Writing) students at Fullerton College are currently writing essays in which they critically analyze a local culture.  Today, to practice this, we watched an episode of the wildly popular reality TV show "The Real Housewives of Orange County."  As we watched episode 18 of season 8, we wrote down our observations, and then discussed the strange customs, clothing, values, and social lives of the local "housewives" tribe.  Here's what we found.

The appearance of the housewives is reminiscent of the citizens of The Capitol in The Hunger Games--artificial and highly decorated.  Their hair is always professionally styled with such opulence that they look like they are going to a senior prom or wedding every day.  Their faces are caked with makeup and have the artificially smooth sheen of cosmetic surgery and serious dermatological work.  Their faces are, quite frankly, haunting.  

Clothing and jewelry are top-of-the-line expensive, but lack any sense of unique individuality.  The housewives appear as walking billboards for major high-end designers, their dress chosen more for social status than anything else.  From their appearance, one does not get the impression of human beings with rich inner lives.

The housewives' dwellings are multi-million dollar mansions in gated communities of south Orange County--places like Newport Coast, Coto Ce Caza, and Laguna.  The interior of these modern castles are as opulently decorated as the housewives themselves.  Much of episode 18 takes place at Vicki's house, as she celebrates the fact that she has re-decorated again.  Like the clothing and facial decoration, the houses' interiors lack human individuality.  The objects (furniture, artwork, light fixtures, fireplaces, kitchen cabinets, etc.) seem chosen primarily for their brand, cost, and the social status they imply.  The fact that the housewives live in gated fortresses of wealth may (at least partially) explain their worldview and social outlook, which is totally insular and shockingly unconcerned with anything happening in the outside world (unless it pertains directly to them).

The drama of the show tends to center around in-fighting between the housewives, as they bicker over things that are, from any reasonable standpoint, petty and insignificant.  The main "conflict" of episode 18 begins when Lydia's mother puts her feet on Vicki's couch.  Somehow, this action sparks an argument that soon engulfs everyone and threatens to upset the whole dynamic of Vicki's party.  This kind of thing seems fairly typical of the show.  Watching the housewives argue over trivial matters is apparently part of the mysterious allure of this television program, which is (again) well into its 8th season.

Ultimately the housewives make amends and remain friends.  The episode ends with a quote from Lydia: "If we can get through these really tough times, there's nothing that can get in our way."

1 comment:

  1. I watch this show. And 've seen this particular episode. Sometimes my friends ask me why I am fascinated by something that is so utterly inane. I think it's because the show embodies all of the things I detest about Orange County culture: the obsession with appearance, (which ironically drives these women to look like plastic freaks), the whole "keeping up with the Jones" attitude, (which I realize is not unique to Orange County), and the Jesus freaks who attend mega churches and spend their money on cosmetic surgeries and cars they can't afford instead of giving to charity. I love hating it. It's trashy and superficial. It's a bizarre exaggeration of OC culture. What's even weirder, is that the creator (Andy Cohen) puts on an after show where he has the housewives come on as guest stars to comment on the night's episode. He mocks them- and they are totally oblivious to it. It's both enjoyable and despicable to watch.
    One of the things I found most disturbing about the episode you reference is that the military husband who yells at the foot-on-the-couch guest gets so unnecessarily aggressive with her. He's in the military. He epitomizes the kind of Orange County Republican "bro" that I find really icky.
    Sometimes I read blog posts that dissect the episodes, and they are often written by (mildly) intelligent people. I'm baffled by the popularity of the show, yet I keep watching. I can't wait for season 9!