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Andy Cohen is the Andy Warhol of the 21st Century.
April 29, 2013 2:31 PM   Subscribe

How the Real Housewives Have Made America Better, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. "Watching these housewives scramble to suture up their tattered personas is both anger-inducing and heart-wrenching. That's what literature is supposed to do: make us angry at certain behavior; then when we recognize ourselves in the characters we so harshly judge, to change our behavior."
posted by Phire (63 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's not a bad essay, but my primary reaction is still WAT?
posted by GuyZero at 2:39 PM on April 29, 2013


I'm sorry, I seem to be having a fever of some sort.....
posted by lattiboy at 2:45 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are we getting Mefi Posts from the amber universe again?
posted by The Whelk at 2:46 PM on April 29, 2013 [29 favorites]


A surprisingly good article, and well worth reading.
posted by koeselitz at 2:49 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He fights using mind powers.
posted by Artw at 2:50 PM on April 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


I.......guess....
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:56 PM on April 29, 2013


I like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He fights using mind powers.

Heh. I saw him on some celebrity version of Jeopardy! last year, and he just eviscerated Dana Perino (who had smugly predicted that she'd win because she had been coached by the World's Greatest Genius, Karl Rove) and some other pundit I'm forgetting right now. It was a thing of beauty and joy forever.
posted by scody at 2:56 PM on April 29, 2013 [25 favorites]


How the Real Housewives Have Made America Better, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

...How the Real Housewives Have Made America Better
...by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


Sorry, this is one of the more surreal things I've read on the internet
posted by windbox at 2:57 PM on April 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


Well, I take exception to everything about this definition of literature. But if we were gonna go with it, here's one important distinction: literary characters are not paid $250,000 per appearance in order to teach us moral lessons through negative examples.
posted by munyeca at 3:00 PM on April 29, 2013


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on reviewing Girls.
posted by Artw at 3:02 PM on April 29, 2013


Sorry, this is one of the more surreal things I've read on the internet

Then you missed when Abdual-Jabbar reviewed Girls. Seriously, it happened.

And he's writing on HuffPo, which makes this all a bit more odd.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:03 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's hoping he doesn't turn anti-vax, that'd be a bummer.
posted by Artw at 3:08 PM on April 29, 2013


I think he should write under his pen name, Roger Murdock.
posted by condour75 at 3:08 PM on April 29, 2013 [22 favorites]


Well, I take exception to everything about this definition of literature. But if we were gonna go with it, here's one important distinction: literary characters are not paid $250,000 per appearance in order to teach us moral lessons through negative examples.

That's like saying that Dickens's work isn't as well-written as you thought because you found out he was paid by the word.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:11 PM on April 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


It showed.
posted by Artw at 3:13 PM on April 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


The lit crit equivalent to "Why do you keep hitting yourself?" "Because it feels so good when I stop."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:13 PM on April 29, 2013


I enjoy the look of terror on the faces of those gathered around the pool as a 7'2" man prepares to leap from a high dive.

I'm enjoying just thinking about it. He's quite good at this.
posted by irrelephant at 3:15 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The airline wouldn't let him use his real name.
posted by whuppy at 3:15 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think I would enjoy reading a weekly column wherein Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finds something of value to discuss in otherwise godawful television shows, but yeah I'm gonna keep on not watching Bravo, thanks.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:16 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think most people would do well to consider this thought from the article: "we often do the opposite of what we claim we believe in, not out of malice, but out of lack of insight."
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:20 PM on April 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


Tell your old man to drag Vicki and NeNe up and down the court for 48 minutes.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:21 PM on April 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


I'm curious if Kareem can touch type. Do hands that big work on a keyboard? Can he use a sony vaio one handed?
posted by srboisvert at 3:29 PM on April 29, 2013


Viral Marketing: How to create and control controversy on the internet
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:36 PM on April 29, 2013


Wow, that was an incredibly insightful essay. The premise is weird and oddly tacked on but his points are solid and worth the read. I hate "RTFA" comments, and don't blame anyone doing some snark-and-run on this because really The Real Housewives shows are the dregs of reality TV no matter what insights you can pull from them, BUT the article is worth a look-see.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:52 PM on April 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Jabbar sat in my desk chair to do an interview once, after a book signing. A brush with greatness!

That's what literature is supposed to do: make us angry at certain behavior; then when we recognize ourselves in the characters we so harshly judge, to change our behavior."

That's a very moralistic idea of literature, which seems to be a big thing to some people. I am not one of them.
posted by thelonius at 3:58 PM on April 29, 2013


IMHO, putting bad behavior on television does not seem to decrease its frequency. In fact, the opposite seems to be true.
posted by wittgenstein at 4:03 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, he could use a less didactic and edifying view of literature, and could probably benefit from a more radical perspective on feminism, but this still had some pretty canny insights. Somebody get him a subscription to Bitch and he'll be off to the races.
posted by klangklangston at 4:12 PM on April 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


That was surprisingly insightful.
posted by shoesietart at 4:24 PM on April 29, 2013


IMHO, putting bad behavior on television does not seem to decrease its frequency. In fact, the opposite seems to be true.

Exactly. It would be nice if everyone had these types of insights about these shows or if even a portion of its audience was subjected to essays like this, but the fact of the matter is that people enjoy it as entertainment which goes a long way towards making this normative behavior rather than building critical insightful thinking.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:45 PM on April 29, 2013


Takeaway Points

For those who skipped right to the end of this article, here's what you need to know:


I have to admire a columnist who has his own take on tl;dr.

I think he's a pretty interesting critic, although all I know of Real Housewives is what I see in commercials when I visit my mom and check out Bravo in hopes of a Top Chef marathon.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:56 PM on April 29, 2013


That's like saying that Dickens's work isn't as well-written as you thought because you found out he was paid by the word.

He wasn't. /Victorianist derail

Anyway. He's working with some ultra-traditional notions about the role of fiction, but then again, those notions are still around because they actually function for a lot of people. (Lynn Neal's and Valerie Weaver-Zercher's scholarship on inspirational romances and their audiences, for example, shows that these romances succeed for many Christian readers precisely because they can make practical use of them--the situations can be applied to their everyday lives, they can use the novels to reflect on their own choices, and so forth.) I imagine that he's probably right about how these TV shows may function for at least some of their viewers.

My parents were at UCLA at the same time Kareem Abdul-Jabaar was, and have fond memories of watching him stand around, casually leaning against the top of a door frame.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:06 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like the idea, but I disagree and I think this is beanplating of the highest order. Why are we holding up all the worst examples of humanity to show us how not to be? Why not hold up the best examples to show us how TO be?

This is such a simple question that it brings down the whole house of cards. It also made me think for the millionth time how genius it is of the powers that be in tv to make a show full of people who are such assholes so popular. It's like they started with the question "Sure, your day is full of assholes. Assholes everywhere. Assholes all the way down. Now. How can we get people to watch MORE assholes when they're home, instead of relaxing in for what is hopefully the one time of day when your life is asshole free?"

It literally boggles my mind. I need fewer assholes in my life, not more. Genius. It really is.
posted by nevercalm at 5:11 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Enjoyed the article, and might have enjoyed it more if I hadn't actually watched the shows. However this:

They parade their kids around like shields to prove they are really decent people, never realizing that the ways in which they do this makes them seem exploitative of their children. Parenthood is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Is brilliant.
posted by justgary at 5:13 PM on April 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


The next most surprising post: Marie Osmond reciting Dadaist poetry. Post.
posted by shothotbot at 5:19 PM on April 29, 2013


That article made me want to watch the show. Just a little.
posted by shothotbot at 5:21 PM on April 29, 2013


He should stick to flying planes.
posted by miyabo at 5:24 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think he should write under his pen name, Roger Murdock.

Listen, kid ... I've been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I'm out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:42 PM on April 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


My dad used to go to dances at Kareem's (back when he was Lew Alcindor) high school in Brooklyn and watched the games before the dance watching 'this huge black kid' play. He did great stuff on the court and is a cool guy generally. That said:

No.
posted by jonmc at 5:49 PM on April 29, 2013


Wow, that's a great article. The fact that this line

I'm reminded of Susan Faludi's 1991 National Book Award-winning book, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women

was written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in an article about the Real Housewives make me pretty happy with the world today.

Also, the helpful summary - "Takeaway Points" at the end was pretty great.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:03 PM on April 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Kids, please observe: Jabbar is bringing it Old School. It would have been enough if he were just the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, with 38,387 points and six MVPs. It would have been enough if he had just made his film debut in Bruce Lee's 1972 film Game of Death, in which his character Hakim fights Billy Lo (played by Lee). It would have been enough if he had just played co-pilot Roger Murdock in Airplane. That all should be enough, but it was not for Jabbar. Hell, yeah. Jabbar.

(I really enjoyed this essay. I wish I could write half so well as he.)
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 6:13 PM on April 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Kids, please observe: Jabbar is bringing it Old School. It would have been enough if he were just the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, with 38,387 points and six MVPs. It would have been enough if he had just made his film debut in Bruce Lee's 1972 film Game of Death, in which his character Hakim fights Billy Lo (played by Lee). It would have been enough if he had just played co-pilot Roger Murdock in Airplane. That all should be enough, but it was not for Jabbar. Hell, yeah. Jabbar.

I thought the same thing. We need another Ebert now. Please, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, be our new Ebert.
posted by nevercalm at 6:20 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Watching these housewives scramble to suture up their tattered personas is both anger-inducing and heart-wrenching. That's what literature is supposed to do: make us angry at certain behavior; then when we recognize ourselves in the characters we so harshly judge, to change our behavior.

This shit right here, no. I hatewatch RH of whateverthefuck, and why do I watch it? To see awful people humiliated and roll in the schadenfreude. No, I am neither rich nor beautiful and certainly not on tv, but thank the fucking Christ I am not trapped in whatever evil web makes them act like awful beasts.


Wait. Maybe I just argued against myself.
posted by angrycat at 6:31 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


By the way, I would like to clarify that my appreciation of Jabbar's talents as an essayist does not fall into the camp of "he's good for a jock." No; he is good for an essayist, and he beats the shit out of most stuff I read daily on the usual internet sources. No, he's not writing for publication in a scholarly journal, but for popular journalism. In that realm, he is really elevating the art, and I hope he continues it and inspires others to do the same. Or, he could appear in an Airplane sequel, and that would be fine, too.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 6:38 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Andy Cohen is the Andy Warhol of the 21st Century.

I'm not sure who this insults more.

Why not hold up the best examples to show us how TO be?

Nielson ratings, alas.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:40 PM on April 29, 2013


A good read! But yeah, still not going to watch any of the Housewives.
posted by Glinn at 6:43 PM on April 29, 2013


we often do the opposite of what we claim we believe in, not out of malice, but out of lack of insight

Just trying to understand the multi-dimensionality of a word like "insight" (at the prompting of a book and encouragement from a psychiatrist) has led me in all sorts of directions and has given me quite a well to draw from in managing my own crazy-making brain and the bed it's made.

What he says about "we do it because we like it" reminds me of a position I've taken on cigarette smoking, having quit for the dozenth or so time after 14 years...and by "quit" I mean "pursued other less harmful ways of consuming nicotine." Whenever there's an encroachment on "smoker's rights" like was the case in Boulder, CO on Pearl Street (a popular shopping destination with lots of cool oddball local small businesses) you have a loud contingent of folk screaming about the "freedom of choice" in deciding to become smokers and the argument that allowing automobiles to expel exhaust precludes any measures taken to curb smoking in public areas.

I feel like an evil fascist zealout-convert but I have a hard time not responding "what makes you think you chose to start using nicotine? Why not Betel Nuts? Aren't you just an addicted schmuck who was exposed to it through probably your parents, advertising, etc? And in a world of far more entertaining, tasty substances, and you just happened to pick the most lethal horrible habit with the least mood/cognitive payoff because it's legal, and shouldn't we be spending our attention on increasing the legal private use of better substances, and wouldn't you likely opt out of legal outdoor crack and opium and meth and bath salts smoking? So fuck off?

But then everything we know and "choose" is passed down this way, from religion to "common sense" to bigotry and we just have to learn how to decide who is the good influence, who is bad, who is well-intentioned but bad, who can go climb a tree, and who should be emulated as a shining symbol of human awesomeness?

This life shit is hard.

But I'll say it's not insight that holds me back...a chain of associations:

Laziness
Passiveness
Path of least resistance
Occam's Razor
Life's too short to give a fuck
You can't change anything anyway
Oh hey I'm ADHD, now I have some insight into this shit, hmm, life is still short and kind of pointless
Oh hey I guess I'm bipolar, now I've got some insight, let's have a health kick here and there and get all intense and shit
Laziness

TV is so. fucking. toxically. stimulating. It's paralyzing, as strong or stronger than food, Yoga, drugs, exercise, whatever. It pins you down. I enjoyed the article overall and am in a numb place where I'm not sure how I feel about any of it, and I think increasing numbers of Americans are basically institutionally depressed. Life is short, why bother, it's easier just to get through the day and let shit happen and then be lazy during the parts where nobody is harassing you to do something.

We all "know" that indecision is better than no decision, but indecision gave me a huge 401(k) out of freaking nowhere because I spent years not directing it and blew into the stratosphere after Wall Street. But that is the logic of a schmuck who doesn't wear his seat belt because hey, I heard sometimes the seat belt does ya in. It's hard to figure this shit out, who do you trust?

And so we have the fundamental flaw of capitalism rooted in perhaps the fundamental challenge of humans striving to transcend autonomous resource-hoarding: bad decisions and indecision are often favorable approaches when every fucking thing that can happen has an upside. Not doing anything is a great way to externalize and make a shit-ton of money. Making it easy for people to live day-by-day is extremely profitable, we all want it when our lives are consumed with work and tedium and unnecessary complexity and arcane-ness and arbitrariness.

So the people who play way ahead and know the horrible shit on the horizon and know why they should let it happen basically just sit there while shit hits the fan and we all scurry around and become statistical clouds of random actors in a predictable crisis bubble, and just want to know when we can get back to maxin' and relaxin'.
posted by lordaych at 7:03 PM on April 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


all I know of Real Housewives is what I see in commercials when I visit my mom and check out Bravo in hopes of a Top Chef marathon.

Ditto. I'll keep tuning into Bravo as long as they retain Top Chef, but that's the only Bravo program I watch and the commercials just mystify me. Either the network makes no effort to showcase programs that Top Chef-only viewers like me would actually find interesting, or they literally have no other such programs.

It feels like like tuning into TLC to watch Junkyard Wars (is that still rerun?) and seeing ads featuring Honey Boo-Boo. It's a conversion that just ain't gonna happen. KAJ even makes the point himself, distinguishing "between the two main types of reality programs."

any time a cast member is given a line to say, the FCC should ban that show from being called a reality show

Okay, this is a total derail but as long as he's putting the FCC and reality shows together in a sentence: Am I the only one who thinks celebrities should be prohibited from using reality competitions to raise money for "charities" they are...let's say, closely affiliated with? I like Celebrity Apprentice and I think it's awesome that Dennis Rodman raised money for Make-A-Wish, that Trace Adkins raised money for the Red Cross, etc, but alongside those you have a lot of celebrities representing charities that share their surnames. I'd like to think the IRS looks closely at that, but I wouldn't mind the FCC nixing it.
posted by cribcage at 7:04 PM on April 29, 2013


(Yes I know that "live is short so waste it" makes no sense to a lot of people, why waste something that's going to be over and out, why not go wild and enjoy it, and for a few months out of the year I understand that.

But part of insight for me is saying out loud those stupid toxic paradoxical things that really do "live" in the crevices of your tenuously stitched-together beliefs, and it never makes sense or seems valid when someone other than yourself puts it into words. Kareem was touching on that, I think.)
posted by lordaych at 7:13 PM on April 29, 2013


There are two types of people in L.A. You're either a Kareem, or a Magic.

Magic is all that is glitz and flash of L.A. This is the traditional view of L.A. It's Hollywood.

Kareem is at once deeply thoughtful and deeply goofy. This is the version of L.A. that brought you both Joan Didion and Plan 9 From Outer Space.

I'm a Kareem all the way.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:20 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow. Dude can write. Who knew?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:24 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I read Moby Dick I first had to convince the bookseller that I was a former whaler named Queequeg. When I read the poetry of Sylvia Plath, I had to pretend I was a depressed white woman with daddy issues. Don't worry, I used a fake ID.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a ridiculously talented man.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:37 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


KAREEM! AB! DUL-JABBAR!
All time great super-superstar
posted by BinGregory at 7:51 PM on April 29, 2013


A very well-written article.

I've long maintained that my main interest in the Real Housewives shows is because they so thoroughly depict what happens when feminism fails. That is, you have a group of ambitious, motivated women, and they, through ideology or circumstance, have to rely on their husbands' wealth and influence to accomplish anything.

In my mind, then entire franchise is a giant promo for "Yay, feminism makes the world a better place!", and so I watch the shows with an almost sociological interest in how our current society creates a world in which these ambitious women are discouraged from the workplace and then derided for not working.
posted by jaguar at 9:29 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Only a couple real housewives ever had true wealth and security from their husbands. Many more of them have shaky marriages and finances that struggle to keep up with their materialism. If they were the true elites, being on a show like that wouldn't interest them.

The genius of Andy Cohen is his ability to cast each city with about three really narcissistic, sociopathic or toxic women and some other more passive ones, so that the relationships among the cast just explode repeatedly (maybe for show, but the drama and hurt isn't completely fake). That's what's entertaining about it.
posted by knoyers at 10:05 PM on April 29, 2013


I doubt Kareem watches this show. I remember when Springer, and Lake were on in the early 90s. insulting. I was in my early twenties, and it was easy to see these shows would just dumb us down. It's all Springer to me. I've watched Bravo maybe 15 times since the station aired. Never seen Real Housewives, Dances with stars, American Idol, Friends, Two and a half men, or any other shows like that sewage. I knew what tv did to women at an early age because I kept wondering what was going on with African Americans on tv back then, and just kept comparing us with others over the years. I am thankful for Luther, Firefly, Sherlock Holmes, DS9, Life on Mars, Big Train, Frisky Dingo, Samurai Champloo, Fufurama, The Cosby Show, and Roseanne. Who would watch any of these, and Real Housewives in the same life?

Kareem is a really good writer, and I never knew he was one, until now. But, still, I'll give it to you like the cable guy I am..Real Housewives is a great show, but there are so many other shows. Duck Dynasty, and Pawn Stars , and Hoarders, and The First 48 too. We really should upgrade you with 4 dvrs, then you can do other things and come home and watch these shows with your family. They're real quality productions. Ok, ma'am, your husband says it's ok to upgrade to dvr? Great, I'll make the call now. I agree, Obama IS trying to take your guns.
posted by Flex1970 at 11:28 PM on April 29, 2013


I really enjoyed the essay, and while my vicarious sense of embarrassment for those involved makes it very hard for me to watch shows like RH, I appreciate that someone is looking beyond the easy put-downs to find some value there.
posted by maxwelton at 11:33 PM on April 29, 2013


Oh Flex1970, what ARE you onning about?
posted by mippy at 6:42 AM on April 30, 2013


Life Lessons With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - "8. Listen more than talk. And that’s all I’m going to say about that."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:38 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


so that the relationships among the cast just explode repeatedly

If you went back and watched the first couple of seasons the show was actually about the women, their friendships, and their lives. But then they got "smart" and realized that it was best to make all that secondary to the manufactured problems between the women who would probably never have been real friends in the first place. So it quickly devolved into the shitshow that is on these days.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:40 AM on April 30, 2013


Not that i watch the show these days and only see bits of episodes here and there, but iirc the first cast was mostly made of friends before they began the show.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:49 AM on April 30, 2013


I used to watch Real Housewives of NYC, because a friend of mine from college was one of the housewives. (Alex.) For the first season she and her husband were painted by the editors/producers as some sort of social-climbing phonies. What was odd was, knowing her, I could detect how the context of some clips was being edited to make her sarcasm appear genuine. (A good example was the opening credits - I forget the exact line now, I think it was something about "I wouldn't want to live in the suburbs" - which really isn't that unusual a sentiment among tons of urban folks. But by putting the line in voiceover only, they made it sound like something snide and insulting.)

She and Simon for the first season had never watched shows like it before and had no idea what was going to become of the filming they did. In fact I think she even said the show was pitched to her as something much different in the first place. But by season two, she and her husband had wised up quite a bit, and knew how the game was played. She and Simon were hated by many viewers during season one, but within a couple of years, it was clear she was really the most sane and honest one on the show in comparison to the wild backstabbing bitchery going on among the others.

One thing did kind of fascinate me about the show. When I fist started watching, I was also in the midst of reading Proust's In Search of Lost Time, which has TONS to say about behavior among the upper crust of "society." It was interesting to think how these sorts of women were the devolution of the old world of "society." (I mean c'mon, the NYC show had an actual Countess, of a sort.) Proust wrote about society women who would never be caught sight of at some particular person's house, but they'd feverishly read the gossip column in the paper the next day to find out who had been there. RHONYC had plenty of instances of who-got-invited-to-who's-party, and who made what sort of scandalous scene at what event.

I was so often baffled at what I can only call delusional behavior by some of them. It's bizarre to pull an "I never said that" lie to someone, when there's actual film of you actually saying it, and everyone's seen it.
posted by dnash at 12:19 PM on April 30, 2013


In The Big Chill, Jeff Goldblum's character says that rationalization is more important than sex. When another character protests that nothing is more important than sex, Goldblum replies, "Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?" Nailed it, Jeff!

And then Jeff Goldblum and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar high five.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:07 AM on May 1, 2013


Why not hold up the best examples to show us how TO be?

I give you Duck Dynasty. Eccentricity without psychopathy, conflict without screeching, absolute confidence in who they are, no bitchery, no (current) substance abuse.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:19 AM on May 2, 2013


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