Reality hits ‘Real Housewives’

Every week, millions tune in to watch Bravo TV’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The series – along with the other popular Real Housewives series from all over the country – has kept audiences enthralled as it continues to reveal the inner workings of the lives of the rich and infamous week by week. These are apparently real women who are presented to us as having all of the fabulous things – money, clothing lines, fast cars, designer clothes and shows, sports star husbands, mansions – that the average woman is supposed to aspire to. There’s no doubt that it makes for compelling viewing.

It is becoming increasingly apparent, however, that the lives of these Real Housewives are much more real than the ‘reality’ the TV show presents. From watching the show, viewers are led to believe that catty fights, name calling and petty gossiping are the extent of the issues that these housewives – who are billed as being part of Atlanta’s elite – have to contend with. But as time goes on, the true reality – one which is often much more troubled than we are led to believe – of these women’s lives are being exposed in other parts of the media, often to theirs and the TV producers’ chagrin.

This weekend, the ex-fiancé of songwriter and Real Housewives of Atlanta star Kandi Burruss was tragically and unexpectedly killed after receiving a severe blow to the head during an altercation. Such violence is always shocking and sad, but it seems even more so when it happens to those whose lives are presented in a perfectly glossy format to the world on our television screens. Such incidents are not supposed to happen to the ‘elite’ and they blow a hole in the popular notion that career and financial success make one immune from the troubles of everyday life. Indeed, they shatter the impression that the Housewives’ lives are different from anyone else’s.

The truth, of course, is that TV producers sell viewers an illusion, which although ‘real’ in TV terms is far from real in the worldly sense. It is the same illusion that permeates our consumer culture – one that is based on the idea that when you have a certain amount of money in the bank, have celebrity friends and can buy luxury goods without looking at the price tag, life will be perfect and worry-free. It is clear that even for the Real Housewives of Atlanta, this is not the case.

In recent months, other revelations about the true financial and personal state of some of the Real Housewives lives have been brought to light. They include bankruptcies, divorces, secret children and less-than-perfect pasts. And of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. That is real life. Everyone has skeletons in their closet. The trouble with shows like The Real Housewives is that they are billed as being ‘real’ when they aren’t.

Why not just show us what’s really real about these women’s lives? Why not allow the viewing public to see these women’s messes and the upsets and to allow us to empathize with them as the humans that they eventually come to be revealed to be rather than as the caricatures they are presented as on TV? Why not allow us to see their victories and triumphs, their joys and their tears, as they contend with the ups and downs of everyday life? What’s wrong with presenting their lives as being deeper than shopping for shoes and discussing what each other is wearing, particularly when it becomes apparent that they have many more serious issues going on in their lives?

Honesty is endearing and it is clear from society’s voracious and seemingly unending appetite for reality shows that the public has a desire to see into and understand the true nature of other people’s lives. If we were able to get a genuine insight into the housewives’ lives, perhaps it would be less of a shock to the viewers when reality really does come crashing in.