What Do These 5 Reality Shows Have in Common With Fine Literature? ALLOW ME TO EXPLAIN.

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Rebecca Jane Stokes
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It’s frustrating being a human being, well, for a variety of reasons. The one I’m currently grappling with is that as a homosapien, I can be a lot of things and have a lot of different feelings at the same time. When I wrote a funny article for you guys (my tongue-in-cheek Best Places To Cry thing) some folks (my mother included) were perplexed. 

“But you usually write about sad things!” she said, after asking me if I really spend time on my roof dressed as Batman and scream-wailing. 

To which I responded, “I’m vast, fucker, I contain multitudes!” I didn’t actually because she is my mom and I am not a giant jerk.

Sometimes I am sad and going through shit and that’s what I want to talk about, other times I am happy and telling joke-stories for you. Sometimes (brace yourselves) I TRY TO DO BOTH AT ONCE. I know, whaaaaat? I’m this way with the media I consume too. I imagine a lot of you are, too. Like, sure, let’s have a talk about what prestige television has done in terms of promoting the false notion that unlikeable white male protagonists are people we should idol worship, I can dig it. But also if you’d like to discuss Million Dollar Listing or E! ‘s new delight Dash Dolls, I am there with bells. 

I believe there’s a story in everything -- you just have to look closely enough. If you disagree, prepare to get bitch-slapped with wisdom, because here are some reality shows that share themes with great novels.

Survivor and Lord of The Flies

On Survivor, a bunch of adults become sunburnt and sinewy as they scheme in order to be the last person kicking it in highly-produced wilderness environs. It is a lot like if a low-stakes version of The Hunger Games had unprotected coitus with CBS’s aging soap The Bold and The Beautiful. Also Jeff Probst is there, all homage pay we to his pooka shell necklace.

If you like watching charismatic characters forge alliances as their unbridled passion for the almighty dollar grows ever stronger, you would probably really dig Lord of the Flies. It’s basically Survivor but with English schoolboys who have to actually fight for their lives on an island in a post-apocalyptic version of our own reality. The only prize? Not getting your head put on a stick by a bunch of feral tweens.

RuPaul’s Drag Race and The Danish Girl

Side note: Have you listened to RuPaul and Michelle Visage’s podcast What’s The T? Stop what you are doing and go subscribe. It’s in the only podcast where I don’t buzz through the ad spots because even listening to RuPaul talk about sheet companies is soothing and inspirational. Drag Race is equally awesome albeit in another vein entirely. If you enjoy watching men strut the runway in self-made high fashion that you could never dream of replicating nor their walk emulating, you should for defs check out The Danish Girl.

Don’t get it twisted -- this is not a novel about drag life or drag culture. This novel by David Ebershoff is about Lili Elbe, one of the first people known to have received gender confirmation surgery. Lili began questioning her identity when her wife, the painter Gerda Wegener, asked her to stand in for a female model in one of her paintings. That joint was a hit and soon everyone was like “WE WANT MORE OF THAT” and then L Dawg was like “uh, I do too!” 

A book celebrating identity, art, and the public’s love for models subverting the norm? It’s a no-brainer. Presumably, she werked.

The Swan and Look at Me

Long before the Housewives franchise blessed us with Heather Dubrow in all her champagne swilling glory, her husband, Botched star Dr. Terry Dubrow, was on one of TV’s earliest reality shows The Swan. That this show is real is probably part of the larger cultural problem in America that contributes to shit like me being unable to look in a mirror and like what I see without doing real work. 

Contestants who deemed themselves “ugly” were given plastic surgery makeovers and competed for a crown. It is here where I casually mention that Dr. Terry Dubrow was recently featured on the Real Housewives strapping duct tape to his abdomen after going through voluntary leech therapy to have his own gut blood massaged into his face.

In Jennifer Egan’s book Look At Me, Charlotte Swenson, a famous fashion model, is in a horrific car crash that destroys the face she once had. Egan’s book is a gripping, studied, smart character study of a woman who is now unrecognizable to even her former lovers, let alone the fashion world, and it is one of my favorite books. While we’re talking about the thematic relevance of a woman’s face being “ruined”, I would also very much like to see “Goodnight Mommy”.

The Bachelor and Pride and Prejudice

Confession: I have never watched The Bachelor. I have, however, watched The Bachelorette and also I exist in the universe so I am pretty sure I understand the concept. All these broads who want to find love go this creepy mansion and fight for the bed of one Ken-like (in personality, not penis-ly speaking) man. Those he rejects are then foisted into a pit of fire or may enter into servitude in the basement pleasure abode of one Chris Harrison.

Definitely Pride and Prejudice, right? Jane Austen’s satirical romance is all about ladies being all “ravish me disreputable military man” or like inuring themselves to a life of quiet misery by marrying comically terrible clergymen for security. WHAT LADIES WILL DO FOR LOVE, AMIRIGHT? 

Sadly, on The Bachelor, there is a seldom a Lizzie Bennett, all smart and observational and getting it on with cranky hotties. Usually it’s just a woman crying about how she thought she felt a connection to this man who handed her a plant two days before.

Any Real Housewives Show and The House of Mirth

Don’t try and play like you haven’t watched at least one episode from one of the franchises. You got your Miami ladies, and your New York ladies, and your Atlanta Ladies (LEAKES 4 LYFE) and your Jersey ladies and your oh my god there are so many and did I not even realize how many until I started typing (I’m real into Melbourne AND also Ladies of London which like, doesn’t count really but it should right? I mean come on). 

The conceit of each show is the same: Brittle, wealthy women in troubled marriages start small businesses, fight with each other, go on vacation, and ultimately decide to lift each other up or become mortal enemies. In some franchises more than others (I’m looking at you, RHOBH) there is a running undercurrent of the quiet desperation of struggling to maintain your place in a class system where the dice was cast long ago.

Um, hello yeah The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. I’m no longer pursuing my higher education (I’ll stop with the masters and the crippling debt accrued there, thanks) but if I were I would clamor to take a class where I could write a paper juxtaposing Kim Richards’ arc in RHOBH with Lily Bart’s arc in Mirth. 

If you haven’t picked it up -- do it. If you’re a feminist it’s an important read. If you are not a feminist, it is a still a book. Set in the 19th century, Lily is broke but a part of New York’s upper class. She’s got debt up the ass, can’t land a man to marry her (all she has been raised to achieve) and is eventually decimated by the people and culture that informed her adult self. 

Word of warning to the literal among you: The house is far from mirthful. First time I finished reading this book I had to quietly lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling and think about how I must right the world for my unborn daughters. So yeah. That.