By Heidi Hiatt
Tabloid-like court shows.
These are the new soap operas, the modern purveyors of chaos in American society. We have become captivated by hateful, violent, self-indulgent women without boundaries whose every outfit is worth more than the money it would take to feed several small Indian villages for a day. Their earrings are so extravagant that they appear to be chandeliers ripped from the ceiling of a hotel ballroom, and they have more shoes than Imelda Marcos. They overdo “glamour” to the point that it inhibits their natural assets.
If they were reading this, I’m sure I’d instantly be attacked with all manner of foul language and worn-out gems like, “you don’t know me!”, “talk to the hand!”, “you can’t judge me!”, and “how dare you!” No, I don’t know them personally. But I know the juvenile behavior and dysfunction they are spreading on TV, and they should be ashamed. The men who support and encourage this moral decay should be ashamed as well.
Yes, unlike some critics, I have watched a lot of these shows to figure out what the appeal is. I can see how they become addictive, and how some people feel more secure and normal, as one friend put it, after viewing their debauchery. Unfortunately part of these shows’ appeal (and profit) comes from the cycle of violence they engage in.
As in an abusive relationship, there’s a period in which tension builds between the characters, there’s an explosion of violence, and then a honeymoon period in which the characters make up and bond… until tempers flare again. The best thing that could happen to most of the women on these shows is to stay away from each other. Yet they seem addicted to the drama or hooked on the public attention they get for acting like volatile, backstabbing banshees.
The lifestyles of the women on these shows are portrayed as glamorous and exciting. The age-old lie that money can buy you happiness or class is plastered over every episode. Glamorous and exciting is not what I see though. I see pain. I see emptiness. I see wounded little girls who are still struggling through the effects of their parents’ dysfunction and in some cases, their own domestic violence.
It’s terrible that they have to drink so much to cope and brim with hate and anger to the point that they think it’s okay to attack each other physically and emotionally. Instead of stopping the cycle of violence they may have experienced themselves, they are ensuring its survival through normalizing it and showing the world that it is a way of life. They are letting this demon pillage the lives of their own families and encouraging it to thrive in the families of their viewers.
Whether they are survivors of violence or not, this is wrong. Ever since Jerry Springer came out twenty years ago, shows like these have taught young people that it’s normal to sleep with several different partners at once, have an entitlement mentality, not know who your baby’s father is, and expect your woman to come back to you after you’ve beat her up. Yes, these things would happen if there were no TV. But I would argue that their frequency has increased since the armpits of the airwaves like MTV started marketing them as the “real” world.
People, especially younger ones, tend to emulate what they are regularly exposed to. On that note, I began to wonder what possible appeal Jersey Shorecould have to teens and 20-somethings. So I finally forced myself to watch part of an episode. Basically, a bunch of cosmetically-enhanced attention seekers are thrown together in a house to see who will have sex and who will fight. One word says it all: vapid.
Just minutes into my experiment, amidst an alcohol-fueled club scene, one of the male cast members started screaming at one of the females because she wouldn’t do his bidding. He showered her with a string of epithets that were classic domestic violence offender lingo. Not long after, two other characters got into bed together while the others sat in the living room and discussed the seemingly random hookup.
If you asked these characters (or TV execs) what they think their effect on society is, they’d probably point out all the work they do for charity or how viewers want this. They might think of themselves as fashion icons, role models, or the men and women everyone else wants to be. They probably don’t consider or don’t care that their party-all-the-time lifestyles promote domestic abuse, sexual assault, and unwanted children.
Speaking of children, it seems that a lot of the people on these shows have children. I feel so bad for these kids because their parents’ lifestyles revolve around themselves. In many cases the kids seem like little trinkets, fashion accessories that are displayed at strategic times so others will see what “great parents” they are. I wonder how much of a priority these kids are given their parents’ hard-driving, endless adult social schedule.
Even more alarming is the dysfunction and violence these children are exposed to. In these shows dad takes a swing at the uncle, the uncle and his entourage verbally lambast dad with their limited vocabulary of mostly four-letter words, dad stalks the uncle by text, and on it goes. The mothers scream and claw at each other over Christmas presents and allegations of cheating and fraud abound. These poor kids are lacking consistent positive role models who can demonstrate mature behavior without resorting to violence.
There may also be psychological problems at play in some of these programs and there is definitely substance abuse. Some characters on these shows act like poster children for borderline personality disorder and narcissism. These are real disorders that need treatment and are not a joke. They are treated like a joke by these shows. Instead of the people exhibiting such symptoms seeking assessment and treatment, their aggressive behaviors are encouraged and then immortalized in “reunion” episodes.
There are a few women on these shows who seem sincere and genuinely concerned about others. The others seem to be the mean girls from high school, who think they are “all that” and make sure that everyone is mesmerized by their charitable efforts to reach “lesser” folk. That really encapsulates shows likeReal Housewives for me– women who never matured beyond high school. They have a herd mentality and whatever good they do is to promote themselves. They have a deluded view of their own beauty, not realizing how intensely ugly their backstabbing, loose ways make them.
While thinking about this whole “housewives” phenomenon, a verse from the Manufacturer’s Handbook entered my mind that makes the above point better than I can. Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” D’oh! Any questions?
Now I like pigs, but they do tend to get dirty and eat gross things. The author knew exactly what he was saying in this Proverb though and his thought is valid and timeless. These “real” women have a glaring lack of boundaries and continually return to volatile situations they should just stay away from. Some of the fellow cast members they call “friends” are more like two-faced enemies and whatever truces they call don’t last.
Friends are going to have problems from time to time; we’re human. Personally I wouldn’t keep going back to “friends” who are always trying to find fault and tear me down. Friends are there to accept you as you are and build you up. They’re your support network, your shoulder to lean on, your confidantes. They’re good for you.
If your “friends” continually violate your boundaries and/or don’t like you unless you act like them, let them go. That’s not a friend. That’s not respectful. They’re not interested in your success. You’re their entertainment, their punching bag, and their blood supply. They are vampires with empty tanks who try to quench their inner emptiness and feel better about themselves by sucking the life out of you.
There are other Proverbs that describe the self-absorbed, emotionally unbalanced dynamic that makes these shows so popular:
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:6)
A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand. (Proverbs 27:15 & 16)
Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. (Proverbs 21:9)
Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf. (Proverbs 11:28)
For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. (Proverbs 5:3 & 4)
There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife. (Proverbs 17:1)
Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house— too much of you, and they will hate you. (Proverbs 25:17)
I have a concept for a new TV show using the same cast members, and I might watch it. I’d like to see these people learn proper boundaries and respect. They should also be educated about domestic violence so those who need to can get out of their situations they’re in and stop portraying violent behavior as normal or as something “sophisticated” people do.
Many should learn to prioritize their lives and to be better examples for their children. They should learn to fight back against the dysfunction and denial that engulf them. Some should receive treatment for alcoholism and drug abuse. They need to learn that they don’t need alcohol to have fun or survive a social gathering. They need conflict management skills.
Ultimately, I feel bad for these people. All their showy wealth and social gatherings can’t give them what they really need. They can’t expect other people, or material things, to fill a God-shaped hole in their heart. The acceptance and love they so desperately need isn’t going to come from one more boyfriend, or one more round of holding a drink above their head and shaking their hind end while saying “whoo!” Only their Heavenly Father can do that for them.
I appreciate the material gifts God provides as well as fashion. I’m not a Puritan who dresses in sackcloth and believes deep spirituality only comes from deprivation. I’m not criticizing those who watch these shows but the people on them. I just don’t like how the housewives, monster-in-laws, Kims, Parises, and other attention seekers whose need for fame has kicked into overdrive as they compete for magazine covers and screen time have become “worthy” of imitating.
What these people are doing is teaching a generation of young men and women that violence, abuse, and self-destructive behavior is normal. Their public personas are mainstreaming chaos, and not only is it harming relationships, families, and the self-image of other Americans, it makes our enemies hate us even more.
Normalizing domestic violence, substance abuse, a lack of boundaries, aggressive behavior, mental problems, and standing idly by while others are being abused is fueling an increase in narcissism. It is a rot in the fibers of our society. This “me me me me me me me” crap may be an exciting roller coaster ride of drama, but it’s a setback for women and for civilization. I challenge these reality stars to get public control of their demons and to start reaching out to the lives such chaos destroys.
We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship. -C.S. Lewis
Heidi Hiatt, MA recently graduated as a Forensic Psychologist. You can read more of her posts at her personal blog, Truth, Justice, and All-American Allergen-Free Apple Pie Straight Talk in a Crooked World