It is only with envy that I hear people speak of their “guilty pleasures”. The phrase alone seems to provide instant acquittal from the crime of bad taste. In uttering it, the “guilty” instantly absolve themselves of any guilt at all derived from enjoying franchise burgers or fiction or reality TV. To say that you read Twilight as a “guilty pleasure” is not only to distance yourself from those other idiots who enjoy it more innocently, it is to cast yourself as a bit of a clever devil.
I envy these guilty self-pleasurers. And, I’ll bet you a lifetime supply of Big Brother, that they’ve never endured Catholicism or Cultural Studies in early life.
As I have suffered both, I am scarred and unable to say that such-and-such a thing is a “guilty pleasure” and leave it delightedly at that. No. In the absence of a priest, I confess to readers my habit of enjoying evil things. And I’ll do it guiltily and in an over-rationalised way. And, hopefully, make the readers feel guilty for the things that they enjoy as well.
This is not, I should add as a genuinely guilty lapsed Catholic, a prideful statement made about myself. It is a statement about nearly all critics, who are former students of Mother Church and/or a Cultural Studies department, both institutions where guilt is always presumed.
And, it’s a rationale for why several paragraphs must appear before the revelation that Real Housewives of Melbourne (RHOM), and, in fact, all of the Real Housewives programs ever, is my genuinely “guilty pleasure”.
I can watch them uncritically for hours at a time. And even enjoy them like a sane person with bad taste would.
Which is a sin I will now try to justify, Father. Especially in this gloriously guilty week when we have learned that a Real Housewives of Sydney is currently in production. !!! Even if the campest producers at Foxtel elect not to renew RHOM—and why wouldn’t they? This show is gold, GOLD and as golden as all of Janet’s oldest very old dental work—then we can only suppose that the women of Sydney will be every bit as vile and even richer and more sun-tanned than their southern sisters.
Goodness, but these programs are good. They are so good, that I can suspend the nuisance of a guilt-laden critical faculty and watch them uncritically for hours at a time. And even enjoy them like a sane person with bad taste would. Recently, I took a day off from the work of writing guilty cultural criticism and watched an entire season of RHOM. I lay on my indolent arse, crammed my happy face with coconut-flavoured protein balls and yelled, “Gamble, you are such a dumb whore!” at my mobile device.
I should say that Gamble seems neither particularly dumb nor whorish. At least, not in relation to her cast-mates.
Then, when the binge is done, the stink of guilt chokes me with the force of one hundred nozzles of Gina Liano’s sassy new fragrance, available for $39.99 at Chemist Warehouse, and I am forced to explain the anatomy of my “pleasure”. And, of course, of yours.
There’s one easy explanation for the pleasure of RH, which I am sure has been written before. It goes: we who are not well-to-do are comforted by the fact of our moral superiority to the wives of our overlords. These women, even those who did not come to their fortunes by marriage, are seen as the immoral excess of wealth. “I might not be rich, but at least I’m not selfish and stupid,” is a common and gratifying reaction to this show. We first experience the pleasure of guilt, then the thrill of moral redemption. Even if I’m poor, we tell ourselves, I’m not like them.
The stink of guilt chokes me with the force of one hundred nozzles of Gina Liano’s sassy new fragrance, available for $39.99 at Chemist Warehouse.
But, I have begun to suspect that I am more like them than I would care, if not raised a Catholic, to concede. Which is not to say that I am rich or interested in sex with Shane Warne or that I observe a punishing schedule of physical training and cruel gossip like Pettifleur, or one of invisible cosmetic procedures (where does she get her work done?!) and smiling malice like Lydia. It is to say that there is another reason for the lure of this show, and it’s not just the hope that Jackie will perform another psychic trance for her husband while barely dressed in a diamante bustier.
It’s because this show, which also plays out in the “real” world of social media where all the Housewives, save for Chyka, call each other dumb whores, reflects our quite common, quite contemporary crime of narcissism.
Save for Chyka and for Gina—the only two cast members who appear to work for a living—these women are much like infants who see their reflection in a mirror for the very first time. It has just begun to occur to them, as it does to toddlers, that they are not the whole world, but they’re not yet convinced of this fact. In any case, they’re far too fascinated by the image of the self staring back at them to bother for the moment with the problem of others.
To watch RHOM is to observe the primary self-absorption of infants. Or, it’s a bit like watching any argument on Facebook. One person makes a statement. Another, absorbed in their own reflection, mistakes that statement for a personal slight. The meaning of the original statement is completely buried in the desire of each subject to believe that it is them, and only them, that exists in the world. “Don’t you dare reflect me back in an unflattering way!” says one evil queen to another, when the magic mirror or early ego starts to tell the truth of other people.
These women are much like infants who see their reflection in a mirror for the very first time.
This, I think, is why I am lured by RHOM. It’s a horror show that plays to my worst and most unspoken fear. To wit, that in this time of My Story, My Curated News Items and My Personal Shopper, I have forgotten about the existence of the other. I think of other subjects as mothing more than a flat mirror that serve the image of my fragile ego. I am Jackie who flies off the handle about anything at all and Janet who is always nervous and Gina who is wont to say, without even being asked, “I am not a woman, I’m a drag queen”.
I mishear what others are saying and think of all troubling statements as an assault on my identity. I like only those who mirror me back in exactly the way I prefer to be seen. I am a Modern Housewife. I hate every part of the world, every unhelpful shop assistant and every unflattering garment for the threat it poses to the stuff of myself.
Yes. I’ve offered a Lacanian reading of RHOM. And, if you were raised Catholic or by the cruel nuns of a Cultural Studies department, you would, too. Get off my back.
Get off my back and remember that we love stuff like RHOM only because we hate ourselves—and we don’t hate ourselves without reason. And we love it because Jackie looks fantastic in her underwear and Lydia, surely, is the actual devil.