Arts and Culture

Watching the Home Team: 'Real Housewives of Vancouver'

Contemplating the one per cent most Botoxed of the one per centers.

By Steve Burgess 13 Apr 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess has figured out a way to watch television shows like this and get paid. Not a lot. But some.

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Are 'RHOV' viewers motivated by contempt or envy?

Hey Tyeesters! Imagine a conspiracy -- I know you can -- involving Premier Clark and Stephen Harper. They've hatched a nefarious scheme involving, say, enslaving local tykes to frack school playgrounds under the cover of dodge ball games. They need to spread the word to their evil minions. But how to set the plot in motion without catching the attention of fearless, ever-vigilant Tyee readers who would surely raise the alarm?

Simple. Harper and Clark could explain the whole plan in a 60-second ad to be run during Real Housewives of Vancouver, the new reality TV series on Slice. In fact Harper and Clark could jointly announce the public flogging of David Suzuki on that show and it's likely no Tyee reader would ever know.

It's a shame really. Tyee folks should get out more. Slice is offering all of us a chance to see how the other per cent lives. If you're one of those who thought Wizard of Oz would have been a better film if we'd seen more of Margaret Hamilton's social life, look no further.

An NDP ad buy opportunity

Even without the massive Tyee audience, Real Housewives of Vancouver is a ratings smash so far, setting a Slice ratings record for its debut with a Canadian audience of over 100,000. It's brilliant counter-programming for playoff season -- Wednesday night's third episode is probably one of the few shows not affected by the kickoff of the Canucks-Kings series. Different sport, different fan base.

The people who really ought to be running ads during RHOV are the New Democrats. Maybe the Marxist-Leninists, even. After watching this show, a lot of people will surely be in the mood to embrace socialism. The unfairness of life hasn't been this clearly illustrated since Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

The five principals in this wildlife documentary series are Christina Kiesel, Reiko MacKenzie, Ronnie Seterdahl Negus, Mary Zilba, and Jody Claman. We are introduced to their opulent lifestyles, mating habits, and fascinating anatomical adaptations, just as National Geographic Channel might show us a prairie dog den or the three hearts of a squid. Anthropologists could actually profit from the study of shows like this. There's a certain sameness in many of the women's faces that suggests human intervention is creating an entirely new and instantly recognizable breed. The relationships of this new species will be traced not through shared ancestors but shared surgeons.

Thanks to RHOV we learn the difference between wealth and taste, that rich people sometimes wear clothes apparently inspired by the upholstery on a cathouse sofa, and the answer to the question: what kind of asshole drives a Hummer in 2012? And that's all just from watching Jody.

This carefully crafted atmosphere of harmless voyeurism was threatened by the recent revelation that MacKenzie's husband Sun is in fact the former Sun News Lal, one-time associate of the late gangster Bindy Johal. It does spoil the lighthearted tone when you muse whether that's blood dripping off the money.

That’s how they role

Ultimately though, these shows are not really designed as successors to MTV's Cribs. More like Game of Thrones, with fancy castles providing the backdrop for a whole lot of backstabbing and bloodshed. Producers hope to cast the women in defined roles -- the bully (Jody), the victim (Mary), the gold-digger (Christina, who is considerate enough to put on a "Gold-digger" T-shirt for those of us who were too cheap to buy a program). Viewers are invited to enjoy catfights and drama, presumably while reflecting on how, if they had that kind of money, they'd be helping fix cleft palates in Africa.

Not that the participants on RHOV don't offer up their own ideas for world development. Christina's gay best friend Kevin surprises her with Botox shots for her 30th birthday, then tells viewers that Botox is what the Third World really needs. "If you've had a hard life, people don't need to see that on your face. The kids in Guatemala," Kevin says, making a circular motion around his face, by way of advice, "just take care of this."

Haters gotta hate. Or so the network hopes. But is that really why the show is an out-of-the-gate smash? Do RHOV viewers watch out of contempt or envy? It's almost certainly a carbureted mix -- too much pure contempt and you'll just go read The Tyee instead.

As for me, I've got better things to do than watch a bunch of multi-millionaires scrapping and yapping at each other. The NHL playoffs are on.  [Tyee]

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