My true confession: I have watched every season of every Bravo TV’s Real Housewives franchise – OC, NY, Atlanta and New Jersey (though I have given up on this season of New Jersey). While I have missed the occasional episode now and again, for the most part the Real Housewives shows are appointment TV for me.
For those of you who haven’t watched any of the Ho’wives shows, let me give you a very brief synopsis: five to six women sign on to have their “fabulous” lives documented for our entertainment. However, since even the most “fabulous” life isn’t nearly as interesting to others as we may think, the producers at Bravo encourage (contractually state?) that these women must interact and do interesting things together. Since you have to be a narcissist to agree to be on one of these shows in the first place, the woman vie for more camera time by manufacturing drama. By the time the second season comes around, they have all become minor celebrities with inflated egos and products or other career ventures to flaunt (jewelry and fashion lines, books and music are especially popular), so camera time becomes an even more important commodity. With each successive season the drama becomes more and more overblown and ridiculous.
Part of the fun for the viewer is warming up to a Housewife or two, and then taking their side in whatever cat fight they get into. It’s a female version of rooting for a sports team*. And like guys who may get together after a game to relive all the drama on the field, fans of the show gather and talk Housewives with real life friends, office buddies, and online – discussion boards, blogs, and Twitter. Normally these discussions have been fun, light-hearted and a bit snarky. That is, until this last season of the New York franchise.
This year a real life tiff between the former favorite Jill and the Snarkmeister Extraordinaire, Bethanny, turned into an ugly onscreen war. Jill, engorged with fame and hair extensions, went from being a likable Yenta to a grudge-holding, calculating Medusa. Bethanny, who used to be somewhat controversial because of her biting and mean-spirited humor, became extremely sympathetic this season due to the death of her father, being pregnant, and her genuine hurt over her loss of friendship with Jill. And just as Jill turned on Bethanny, the viewers turned on Jill. The message boards and blogs overflowed with, at first, just anger at Jill and then by the end of the season, seething hatred. With her reputation in tatters and the fan’s open and rabid disdain, who knows if she is going to return to the show.
And then there is Kelly.
Kelly Killoren Bensimon was added to the cast in the second season. A former model, apparently a fixture on the New York and Hamptons social scene, Kelly never quite fit in with the rest of the girls. It was almost as if she didn’t quite understand the pretense of the show – that you’re friends with the other cast members and you all hang out together and do fun and fabulous New Yorky kinds of things. Kelly stayed aloof from most of the cast, though she and Bethanny developed a mutual loathing towards one another. Kelly was amusing in a ditsy sort of way, but didn’t add much to the show.
With the start of the second season, it appeared the Kelly got on board with the basic premise of the show. With the exception of Bethanny, she started playing nice with the other girls, and even seemed a bit likable. And then things started to turn, and by the end of the season most of the discussion about the show centered on debates whether Kelly was insane, drunk, on drugs or all of the above. On the blogs, discussion boards and Twitter, the hatred Kelly triggered in others was off the charts.
Now, me being Mary Mary, quite contrary, I feel the need to defend Kelly, in my own small way, against this onslaught of anger. Like many others, I felt that Kelly probably was suffering from sort of mental illness and that she needed help and our compassion, not anger and hatred. But, it was some things that she said during the final episode of the Housewives Reunion show that made me rethink my stance and develop another theory of Kelly’s behavior.
There was something Kelly said during the reunion that made me wonder whether her craziness was actually crazy wisdom. When confronted with a clip reel of all the contradictions she made during this season, Kelly calmly explained that she is a different person on different days. Some days she only eats non-processed foods, and other days she enjoys things like gummy bears. There is no contradiction. Both statements are true, in the moment.
According to Buddhist teachings, we tend to hold to the view that things (including ourselves and others) exist inherently. Based on limited information, we come to conclusions about how something or someone is. This makes us feel more secure when we feel like we understand someone or something. And when a whole lot of other people agree with our view, well, then that must be the truth, right? And while this view may make us feel better in the short run, it also leads to suffering when things change in ways we don’t like or didn’t expect. So, this season, when Jill becomes a fame hungry shrew, viewers suffer (hatred is a form of suffering) because they liked the old Jill. When Bethanny rebuff’s Jill’s attempt at rekindling their friendship, Jill suffers because she thought they would forever be besties, despite the occasional argument.
Kelly, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to hold onto any one idea for any period of time. Whether this is because she is mentally incapable or because she intentionally is practicing non-attachment, she avoid the suffering when things change. Yes, she is in Kellyland, filled with lollipops and unicorns. But, then again, we are all in our own land. We all have our own reality. Sure, there are shared concepts and perceptions that we tend to call the truth, but we all see the world differently. Despite Andy Cohen saying Bravo did not force her to go on the trip to Scary Island, that is probably what Kelly heard. That is her truth. And I have to applaud her for standing by her truth and not backing down. You could almost see the panic in the other Housewives as if the social order were crumbling by her refusal to acquiesce to Cohen’s thrice repeated statements that she was not forced.
But what about her genuinely bizarre behavior on Scary Island, you may ask. How are you going to explain that away, Ms SmartyPants? You may want to put on a parachute for this one, ’cause we’re gonna jump off the cliff.
Having witnessed Bensimon display some crazy deep wisdom regarding the transient nature of the self, I can’t help but wonder if she isn’t an enlightened Buddhist master. One of the functions of a teacher or a Buddha is to help show us the nature of our own own mind. And many Buddhist masters have been known to do this is ways that we would considered unorthodox to say the least. One can look at tales of Marpa or Chogyam Trungpa to see the major mindfucks teachers have unleashed upon their students in an effort to awake them from their complacency. It’s very easy to think we’re OK and genuinely good people when we surround ourselves with circumstances and people that make us comfortable. But, when someone gets in your face, behaves erratically, calls you Al Sharpton and refuses to acknowledge your culinary career, well, let’s see how OK you feel now.
Kelly’s bizarre behavior unmasked the three mental poisons – hatred, confusion & attachment – in both her cast mates and the viewers. Her refusal to comply with shared notions of reality even further inflamed the viewers to new heights of anger and hatred for someone whose life has absolutely no impact on theirs. She is merely a character on a TV show. For those who wish to look at what is truly hidden in their hearts and minds, Kelly has managed to show it to us. And it ain’t pretty.
Of course, I could be full of shit, and Kelly is simply a pretty lady with some mental problems who found herself over her head on a TV show. Or she could be a Buddha. You never really know . . .