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The Fantasy of Reality

Critical Essays on «The Real Housewives»

Rachel E. Silverman

With over twenty different casts, multiple spin-off series, and five international locations, The Real Housewives franchise is a television phenomenon. The women on these shows have reinvented the soap opera diva and in doing so, have offered television viewers a new opportunity to embrace a loved, yet waning, genre. As the popularity and prevalence of the docu-drama genre of reality TV continues to increase, the time is ripe for a collection of this sort. The Fantasy of Reality: Critical Essays on ‘The Real Housewives’ explores the series and the women of The Real Housewives through the lens of race, class, gender, sexuality, and place. The contributing authors use an expansive and impressive array of methodological approaches to examine particular aspects of the series, offering rich analysis and insight along the way. This collection takes seriously what some may mock and others adore. Chapters are both fun and informative, lending themselves well to Housewives fans and media scholars alike.
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5. Affective Enterprising: Branding the Self Through Emotional Excess



In 2008, reality star Bethenny Frankel first appeared on The Real Housewives of New York City. Focused on the extravagant lifestyles of wealthy socialites, The Real Housewives of New York (RHONY) weaves together the Housewives’ professional careers, family life, and interpersonal relationships into dramatic storylines propelled by conflict and competition. Bethenny, the single, career-minded “housewife,” is positioned in RHONY as ambitious and entrepreneurial on one hand and desperate for a husband and child on the other. This narrative is realized by the ongoing tensions between Bethenny’s hapless romantic life and her promising business ventures, a familiar prescription for women who aspire to domestic and entrepreneurial success. In season one, Bethenny’s anxieties about her nascent romantic relationship culminate when she decides to ask her new boyfriend to cohabitate. To prepare for the proposal, Bethenny invites a girlfriend over for specialty martinis. While they express their anticipation and apprehension about his level of commitment, the cocktails repeatedly appear—in conversation described as drinks that will “blow your socks off,” framed in close-up on the table, and again, as the women sip from their glasses (“Social Wife”). In this revealing scene, Bethenny introduces viewers to her signature Skinnygirl cocktails by integrating them into the emotionally fraught narrative.

It is in these intimate melodramatic moments where Bethenny most effectively promotes her Skinnygirl brand through, what I call, “affective enterprising.” By performing emotional excess, the Housewives construct compelling narratives as platforms to market their engineered personas and...

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