I can't figure out why I can't stop watching RHoA. I'm not a snob. I'm not someone who believes that 50 Cent's image is "bringing down the race." But I really didn't expect to be interested in this show. It was good to see Eric Snow, who I loved from his days in Philly. It's good to see a show set in Atlanta, a kind of Mecca for the black bourgeois. But RHoA isn't about housewives (this season, only two out of the five women qualify.) It isn't particularly real (much of the set-up feels scripted.) And it isn't about the elite world it claims.
It's more Sister Carrie, than anything. What you are watching is five people, most of whom are possessed by a thin ambition. There really isn't much else going on, and yet I can't look away. I'm sure someone here will tell me why. I gorged on the first season like a box of hot glazed from Krispy Kreme. I think its the deeply sinful thrill of watching people who have no idea how much they don't know. Think about Ne-Ne (real name "Lenitha") calling Kandi "ghetto." It's just the spectacle of it.
That said, I don't know if I can stick with it. There is something about the dynamic between Kim (the only white woman on the show and the other women that's really uncomfortable. Almost all of the women now hate her, and it's a little tough to watch three black women gang up (sometimes literally) on the show's only white cast-member. There's something about the casting and the scripting that is really uncomfortable. Kim isn't just white, she's a kind of caricaturized embodiment of black women's worst thoughts and stereotypes of white women. If you could draw a picture of the mythical white temptress that steals black men, she'd look a lot like Kim. Big fake blonde hair. Fake boobs. Botox at 29. Vaguely pretty. And sleeping with a married man.
And then there is the larger notion of punishing naughty women. I'm thinking about torture porn, and the slasher flicks, where the first girl to catch it is always the kind of pretty buxom white girl, satirized by Drew Barrymore in "Scream." Kim is a kind of cartoonish version of America's "traditional" beauty standard. And when you watch her squaring off with someone like Ne-Ne, who isn't that, it feels like an effigy-burning. There's the pure physical threat of blackness, the "I'll kick your ass," that comes from all of the stereotypes about us, which undergirds every interaction between the other Housewives and Kim. I'm almost sure this is intentional.
It should be said that Kim is no more moral than anyone else on the show. But watching her treatment leaves me feeling like they're punishing her, like they're humiliating her, and her self-worth is so low, that she keeps going back for it.
The pivotal moment for me was when Shiree tugged her wig, and attacked her for having fake hair. "Your's is fake too," Kim charged. "No, it's a weave, boo," Shiree retorted. That exchange says so much.