Housewives in Crisis, Economic that Is

January 23, 2010
By | 4 Comments

Though we can always expect a good relationship crisis from the gals, the “Housewife” series on Bravo in 2009 promised all sorts of insights into market crisis. There were short-sales on housewife houses in Atlanta and Orange County.  The New York elite kvetched about the lack of luster on the donation party circuit. Even the New Jersey series was a strange comment on the economy, focusing on mostly members of one family, as if the state didn’t have enough millionaires to offer up to the masses.

So I’m excited in 2010 to see Tamra, Orange County’s self-proclaimed “hottest” housewife, lose it all week by week in the current season.  First, she has to (shock) go back to work, in real estate of all things.  Happily she chirps about the joys of selling others bargain basement mansions, while her marriage is suddenly falling apart.  The pretext of the discord is Tamra’s friendship with the other women, but the juicy part is that her house, newly renovated in earlier season, is now going to be hocked for nothing to pay the bills and divorce.  Husbands can be replaced apparently, but marble bathrooms!  Tamra tears up just pondering leaving the expensive Coho residence.

Not to fear, however, because, on the housewife series, even crises can be good spending opportunities.  The gals in Orange County are still riding in limos, getting plastic surgery, and going on shopping sprees.  But this season does seem a little less opulent.  The recent lavish event to bring together the couples featured on the show was a Tupperware party of all things.

For longtime viewers as (ahem) myself, you might notice that the price-tags that used to caption nearly everything they did are no longer there.  Should we assume that the fancy trips and opulent objects were not as glamorous as in seasons past?  Were they bought on sale?  Or with a coupon discount?  Worse yet, maybe they were product placements, donated luxury items for the now-poorer, little rich girls of Orange County.

If this keeps up, I’d like to pitch a new housewives twist, one that gives captions as to their real financial conditions.  I’d like to know, for example, the ladies’ liquidity, their accumulated debt, and their credit scores as they squabble over the crumbs of the mortgage meltdowns that have affected every place Bravo seems to have chosen as the hometowns for the bourgeoisie.


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4 Responses to “ Housewives in Crisis, Economic that Is ”

  1. Jonathan Gray on January 23, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    I love that closing, idea, Vicki — it could be like a lifeforce bar in a videogame, perched menacingly at the top left of the screen

    • Nick Marx on January 23, 2010 at 12:45 PM

      Totally agree. How about if they have a sweeps-week special on The Suze Orman Show? I smell synergy!

  2. Myles McNutt on January 24, 2010 at 9:12 AM

    It’s interesting how shows that are clearly peddling a heightened sense of reality feel obligated, to some degree, to reflect the ongoing economic crisis. It’s an issue, I think, of finding that sweet spot where things seem glamorous and exciting without seeming too glamorous and exciting. The show obviously does not represent the true reality of these women and their lives, but it also does not want to draw too much attention to its manipulations: so, it subtly introduces some signs that things are tight financially (relatively speaking, of course) in order to convince viewers that the show doesn’t only exist in a bubble. Of course, they don’t necessarily draw attention to this fact in big block letters so as to suggest the show is a commentary on the plight of the American housewife in the wake of the economic downturn, but it’s a subtle way to put the reality back in reality television…to a degree.

    What’s interesting to me, in an aside, is how The Office has used the same technique: its sixth season has engaged with an extensive financial crisis at Dunder Mifflin, and while the show has suggested that this is at least partially the result of mismanagement, it nonetheless feels like a reflection of what a small paper company would be dealing with in the “real world.” We know that Dunder Mifflin doesn’t exist, just as we know that the Housewives are living lives driven by producers as much as by their own hopes and dreams, but signs that our world is starting to influence their own offer another way for viewers to connect with the series, or a way to keep them from disconnecting due to the growing gap between the two realities.

  3. Erin Copple Smith on January 25, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    Great post, and a fascinating topic. The folks at Bravo have been thinking about this, too–and talking about it, even. As I was researching a project on Bravo, I found a bunch of trade press from the last year or so in which Bravo execs addressed the issue of the economic crisis & the extravagance of the Real Housewives. A NYT article from May 9, 2009 interviews a “regular” housewife (whatever that is–are “regular” housewives “UNreal”?), and says “she found the women’s spending habits even more fascinating in the current economy.”

    They also point to a moment from RHoNJ, in which Teresa buys furniture and pulls out cash, saying, “I hear the economy’s crashing, so that’s why I pay cash.”

    Like so much of Bravo’s programming for “affluencers” (their term), the economy ultimately makes the series even more enticing to audiences who are tuning in to gape and roll eyes and interpret the Bravo wink at the audience. In fact, Bravo’s Andy Cohen told the NYT, “That wink is also something that allows a lot of people to feel like it’s OK to watch these women.”