Kelly Bensimon: crazy person or Buddha?

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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 . . .

*please excuse my oversimplification of gender roles in this explanation. I am fully aware there are female sports fans who love to talk game, and there are certainly men who also love to dish the Ho’wives. I am just speaking in really broad strokes here.
** this is meant as no offense to Italians, or meant to say all Italians communicate this way. I think it’s just because in movies and TV this is often how Italian gatherings are portrayed.
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10 responses »

  1. “Big Italian Family Dinner” – you can substitute Jewish for family (and leave out the big) and the
    metaphor fits .

    I’ve never watched the show, in fact, up till now
    have never even heard of it. However, your musings about Kelly has piqued my interest.

  2. Having never watched an entire episode of ANY of the Real Housewives of Wherever, I can, however, assure you beyond a reasonable doubt that NO ONE has plumbed the depths of character analysis about the series as you just did 🙂 Well done! As one of those sports loving types, I totally agree with that comparison. I think it’s true of all reality TV – at some point you pick a favorite and attach yourself to them and that keeps you engaged in the show for better or worse.

  3. Interesting analysis.

    I have only seen the HoNJ…it was so bizarre…kind of like a train wreck you glance at it to see what everyone is talking about and then see it again with your mouth dropped to the ground while shaking your head.

    I then realized that the one causing all the conflict & drama in HoNJ (Danielle) was too weird to be real and must be mentally ill. I then could see she needed help rather than a show. I started to feel sorry for her children who now had a mother who was being encouraged to be even more bizarre now that she was in the limelight. Their hopes of ever getting help for their mother and are forever gone.

    I now view these shows as our cultures new type of shock entertainment. It is similar in a way to when the Romans used people to feed the hungry lions in the collesium. I guess we still like to see the drama of people squirming. At first it bothers us and then we get over it and want a new fix of squirm and bizarre.

  4. AnotherQ – I think these shows start out as an innocent, yet guilty pleasure. We all have an interest in “seeing how the other half lives”. Whether it was sniggering at how shallow these women are, or being envious of their houses and the ease with which they spend money, it used to be fairly light entertainment. But, you’re right, the drama factor has been amped up to the point where there are some sick puppies who will do anything to keep the camera pointed at them. Danielle, I think is the foremost of these. That’s why I gave up on the NJ franchise: it was one sick puppy vs a group of uneducated, smug, uninteresting women.

    But, what I have found most interesting recently is the audience reactions. Maybe they were there all along and I simply didn’t peek into all the dark corners of the online discussions. But, it certainly seems like some people genuinely hate Jill and Kelly. Yes, their behavior this year was less than likable. But, what do we really know about them, really? What we see is what they choose to show the cameras and then what the editors choose to show the viewers. Granted, the behavior we see is certainly representative of their personalities. But, some of the reactions to them is like they were messy, bad smelling, serial killers who always leave the cap off the toothpaste who were camped out in your spare bedroom and refuse to leave.

    So, this post was simply to have fun and posit an alternative theory to Kelly’s rather odd behavior on the show. Perhaps she is mentally ill. Or perhaps she is just an odd odd bird who didn’t react well to the pressures and expectations of reality TV. Who knows. But, I wish they would go back to the Housewives being fun, frothy entertainment without so much overt pain and suffering.

    Christina – Due to the fact that I have tons of readers for this post, but very few comments, I’m guessing there is not much overlap between people who enjoy both the Housewives and Buddhist theory on the nature of reality. 😉

    Jamie – the NY housewives are gone for this season, so you’ll have to find some other reality show if you want to see the crazy. Trust me, it’s not hard to find these days. But, it is a really interesting exercise to watch your own mind when you are watching these to see how easily we get sucked in and believe what we are seeing is “reality”, and to watch the attachment or anger that arises in our mind based on pixels on our TV screen. These people are no threat to us, nor will they be by our bedside when we’re sick. Yet, we develop these very interesting and strong reactions to these people, even though they have no impact on our lives.

  5. I’ve seen one or two episodes of some of the Housewives (not sure which where they were from, though). I often wonder if it was Sue’s “rat and snake speech” from the first episode of Survivor (one of the original modern reality shows) that turned on the drama for all future reality shows (drama that has increased with time and reality shows).

    The way you tied in Buddhism with the Housewives is interesting. I enjoyed following your thinking.

  6. Having bin a former housewife eye M purty shur Kelly is a Tantric Buddhist Master ~ so as long as Al Sharpton is dewin the cooking I M headed towards Scary Island to engage in Tantric Sex with my newest consort ~ Sweet Kelly ~ but eye M gonna need a sex change first = donations N E won?

  7. “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 . . .”

    an thatz wattz sew enter tayning

  8. Never seen an episode – though I’m sure its probably shown on one of the satellite channels over here. I tend to avoid ‘reality’ TV. My life is real enough. For which, read, full of weird people and desperate attempts to find meaning 🙂

    But I liked your analysis of the show and the characters. And I can kind of empathise with Kelly – I, too, often feel, think, look and act differently on different days. Mood is a powerful thing.

  9. eye like to act differently on the same daze weather eye feel like it or knot. also I notice that eyev gottin real eye good at the humility thingy ~

  10. I love this idea! I much prefer it to the mentally ill/spoiled and mean/dumber than a box of rocks viewpoint

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