Living dolls

20 Sep

I think I speak for a lot of gay men when I say, I wish I’d had Barbies growing up. When my friend Liana asked if I’d do Barbie-themed recaps of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for Crushable, I was delighted. I can’t lie to you—getting to play dress-up with a bunch of dolls for work is actually one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done. I’m getting paid to subvert traditional gender roles. Plus, look at those pretty dresses! You can read my first recap here.

But as I watched last night’s episode and took notes, I discovered something shocking—I still have a conscience.

I know, right? Nah, anyone who reads this blog is well aware that I have feelings (lots of ’em), and that I basically always feel guilty for everything. But there’s a time and a place for humanity, and it’s not while writing snarky reality show recaps. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun lampooning six ridiculous women doing ridiculous things, but given the heavy content of last night’s episode—not to mention the recent suicide of Russell Armstrong—the enterprise felt morally questionable. Am I a monster for reducing Taylor’s nervous breakdown to a Barbie doll with her arms in the air?

Maybe a little. I’m not one of those people who says, “At least I acknowledge it,” because frankly, that just makes it worse. If you know what you’re doing is wrong, maybe stop doing it. I don’t think recapping RHOBH, which will continue to air with or without my commentary, is inherently evil. But it did force me to do some serious introspection. I try to be a compassionate person, and here I am mocking women in legitimately dire situations. Taylor was crumbling on television, and I was already thinking about how to stage it with dolls.

In my defense, I didn’t laugh while I was watching Taylor’s breakdown—which wouldn’t have been funny even without the knowledge that her estranged husband would eventually take his own life. Where does the humor come from, then? For me, a lot of the hilarity is the way Bravo has exploited the situation. And I’m not saying they made the wrong decision financially, but I think most of us agree airing this season of RHOBH, without so much as a delay, was insensitive. And yet, watching real-life drama is what makes reality TV so appealing—a season so fraught with tragedy means more drama than ever. Great for Bravo, terrible for our souls.

But I don’t want to pretend that I’m above it. I may be laughing at Bravo and not at Taylor, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking away. And I’m posing my Barbies to poke fun, which I guess means I’m exploiting the exploitation. It’s bad enough that I’m watching RHOBH. Pretending the women are toys, posing them for the biggest laugh—that just adds an extra “ick” factor.

I was reluctant to write this post, because I spent a lot of time on my recap, and damn it, I want people to read and enjoy it. But it was important for me to work through my conflicting emotions, and to share them with those of you who also might feel like assholes for enjoying a televised train wreck. What I’d say is this—I’m not defending myself. If you think my Barbie doll recaps reflect a lack of basic human decency, that’s a fair opinion. But no, I don’t think I’m a monster. I’m a pop culture-savvy writer who has learned to appreciate reality television for what it is. And more often than not, that means checking my compassion at the door.

Look, it is awful. It is all awful. Part of me can’t believe that we’re allowed to watch a marriage fall apart—two seasons in a row now for RHOBH. And the shadow of a cast member’s suicide lingers over everything, the elephant in the room shouting, “Change the goddamn channel.” I should look away. We should all look away. We’re not going to. This is the nature of the beast, and I commend those who can live lives free from Real Housewives and Kardashians and Snookis. I have chosen to immerse myself in pop culture, which in my mind, means taking the good with the bad.

On a final note, I’d remind you (and myself) that there’s nothing off limits in comedy, or there shouldn’t be. I may have to compromise some of my ideals to recap RHOBH with Barbies, but I’m deriving enjoyment out of it, and I hope my readers are, too. To anyone I have or will offend, you’re right, and I’m sorry. But hey, I was doomed to an eternity in the Lake of Fire, anyway. Save you a seat?


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