Critical Essays on «The Real Housewives»
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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