Reality television has provided the modern viewer with a unique look into the lives of people just like them and people radically different from them in a variety of different situations.
In reality television the viewer can watch people do everything from perform daily tasks similar to their own daily routine to reacting to situations the viewer themselves will likely never experience, like trying to survive on a deserted island or competing with twelve other people for the love of another person. In this way, reality television has become a sort of escapism that lets the viewer image that they’re someone else or think about how they themselves would react to a given situation or person. The most recent wave of reality shows has included a series of shows including “The Real Housewives of Orange County”, “The Real Housewives of New York” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”, featuring affluent women in each of these locales. The shows chronicle the lives and careers of a group of about five or six women who are all related, friends, or socially acquainted.
The viewer is given an in-depth look into their family lives, their careers, their everyday routines, and their social lives. The show also depicts how the women raise their children and interact with their spouses, if they have one. Drama often ensues when fighting occurs amongst the housewives. These shows have become vastly popular because, while they feature women that are very unlike the majority of the viewing audience, they convey elements of things that most of the viewing audience wants to have, attain or be. Each of the “Housewives” shows features commonly perceived stereotypes associated subtly with the group of housewives. This causes the viewer to feel like they know something about the housewives and are somehow connected to them. For example, the housewives of Orange County, California all live near the beach and are wealthy. The viewer likely already associates Orange County with wealthy people due to information from other shows or media, so they feel like they understand this lifestyle.
There are undertones that some of the New Jersey housewives have connections to the Italian mafia, and all of them are of Italian descent. This gives the viewer a perception of how a mafia family operates, even though there is never any definite connection linking them to organized crime. The New York housewives often drop the names of well-known celebrities and fashion designers that they socialize with, again giving the viewer something to relate to. These commonalities give each of the housewives featured a connection to each other and the locale that is understandable to the viewer. The viewer realistically has very little in common with the housewives, but they feel some sort of understanding about how their lifestyle operates because they recognize some of the elements of it. This relatable effect causes the viewer to want to watch because they feel like they understand the housewife set featured. The infighting that is prominently featured in the show also causes the viewer to want to watch.
Each set of housewives seems to have one housewife that is the chief troublemaker or two housewives that are rivals that fight constantly. This appeals to viewers because they might know a woman like this, and also because they want to watch the dramas unfold and see how it affects the group as a whole. In Orange County, Vickie’s outspoken personality sets her apart as the instigator in many fights. In New York, two women, Bethenny and Ramona, used to be best friends but are now rivals that can’t be in the same room together without fighting. All of this fighting is very human, and the viewer gets to watch the worst elements of greed, anger, jealousy, and hatred play out in the form of real people. There is also always the threat that the current fight or rivalry will tear the group apart. The viewer wants to watch the next five minutes, the next episode, or the next season to see who remain friends.
The drama of the housewives mimics the drama that can occur in the viewer’s life, but it also has an element of wealth and unattainability to it because these fights are often staged in lavish houses, exotic vacation locales or expensive restaurants. There is the appeal of both the rich and famous, but also the relatable situation that could have happened to the viewer yesterday. The viewer still gets to experience escapism while watching emotions, fighting and drama that they relate to themselves.
The limousines, expensive jewelry and fancy restaurants are contrasted with very real situations and experiences. This has an effect of making the viewer relate to the housewives that have gone through something they’ve also experienced. In a recent season, one housewife nursed her husband through cancer. Another faced divorce after years of marriage. Other have renewed vows, gotten pregnant, gotten engaged, buried parents and moved away. These are all situations that happen to ordinary people in real life all the time.
This makes the fabulous housewives seem more human, and it also gives the show the added appeal of humanity and vulnerability. The viewer gets to feel like they’ve been given an inside look into the lives of the housewives as they cope with these big events. This has the effect of letting the viewer relate to the housewives, see how someone else deals with something they might also have gone through, and watch it happen to someone else. These in-depth focuses give the reader a feeling of something close to superiority or at least equality. The housewives might have more money in the bank and bigger houses than the average viewer, but they’ve had to go through many of the same things that the rest of us go through. This appeals to viewers because it lets them get a glimpse into the fabulous life while understanding that deep down, those housewives are human just like everyone else.