Ceci n’est pas une pipe

I’m going to step outside my usual commentary on my life and talk about TV. I enjoy talking about TV shows with other fans. Sometimes those discussions are philosophical and intellectual, and sometimes they are light and diversionary. This will be a bit of both. Probably unpolished as I’m forcing myself back into the habit of writing.

Real Housewife and restaurant investor Lisa Vanderpump describes the setting of “Vanderpump Rules” in the first “to camera” segment of the show (Bravo TV).

“Villa Blanca is where you take your wife, and Sur is where you take your mistress,” she purrs to the camera.

I’ve been a loyal “Vanderpump Rules” viewer since the crossover episode of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” I got completely hooked by the characters on the show.

Yes, characters.

“Vanderpump Rules” star Katie Mahoney (aka Bubba) smacked me down on Instagram for referring to her as a “character” on VPR. “I’m a real person,” she wrote. Then naturally a couple of her followers called me an “asshat” and wondered why I follow her if I don’t like her. The medium is very reactionary and people go on the defensive very quickly. I meant no insult. I have watched every episode of VPR as well as every “After the Show” program. I know the characters on the show. The actors who play them see their “real” lives on the screen. They live the production schedule. Nevertheless, they are participating in a curated reality. I didn’t take the time to defend myself this way on IG.

I was just supposed to tell Katie how pretty she is and move along.

I barely noticed Katie in VPR the first few seasons because she was a background player. Her role was to provide reactions to the drama of the two lead drama seekers, Stassi and Kristen. Each of those waitresses was dealing with a cheating boyfriend and Katie’s storyline was not going to bring in any viewers. It wasn’t until the first appearance of Tequila Katie in Season 2, Episode 8 that she showed any qualities distinct from the booths Kristen and Stassi sat in when they cussed out their enemies and slandered their rivals.

So maybe the people who play these parts see themselves as “real,” but they are not real on the show. It’s impossible to be your authentic self with cameras rolling. In physics, this is the Observer Effect. The act of observing a phenomenon is going to change the phenomenon.

It’s sad that all of these waitresses ultimately have the same storyline: their boyfriends hooked up with someone else while drunk and out of town and the camera captures the aftermath of those revelations.

When I was in my twenties, I was involved in equally incestuous friend groups, so I’m not judging. I ended up with my best friend’s ex-boyfriend when I was 21, because not only did I know she dumped him to see a guy at work, I knew she lied to him about it. Even more in my favor, I thought, was the fact that I’d been in love with Charles since 8th grade, and she only liked him once he’d become a football star.

I loved him when he was a drama nerd who wore Metallica t-shirts. Anyone can love a football star.

Football star, drama geek, metal head, cheerleader. These are all labels that have accompanying images. Ceci n’est pas une pipe. When my student first showed me the image, I said, “Of course it is!” and she reveled in becoming the teacher. “No. It is the image of a pipe. It is the representation of it. It is not the thing itself.”

Reality show television characters are versions of the people who play them, but they are not the people. There is the director’s vision, the writer’s story arc, the actor’s performance, and the audience’s interpretation. You think you are a real person on a TV show, but you aren’t. You are only a real person when no one is looking.

Maybe we are only our authentic selves in solitude. I don’t know.

Watching season 1 on Hulu, I’m struck by how skinny everyone is. Kristen and Tom Sandoval look pretty much the same, but all of the other characters look shockingly different. The Sur uniform is a handkerchief dress that has no room for a bra and barely covers the women’s asses. Stassi openly admitted using Adderall while filming and claimed she wasn’t alone, though she didn’t name names. Stassi is one of several actors on the show who was very thin in the first two seasons, but heavier later. They are all very attractive and much thinner than regular non-tv people even later in the series, but several characters in season 1 are strikingly thinner. Stassi told Brandi Glanville on her podcast “A bunch of [employees at Sur] do the blow, but we were all addicted to Adderall.” Again, just to be clear, this is Stassi talking. I couldn’t find anything Katie said about it publicly, but Kristen’s response was “Stassi doesn’t fucking lie.”

Images and illusions are what we see on TV. It’s called “reality tv,” but it isn’t real. I still can’t get a clear idea of what Katie’s relationship is with Schwartz. He doesn’t appear to have a job. He thought that he and Tom Sandoval could work for Lisa Vanderpumps sangria line by showing up to bars and being “brand ambassadors” but could not articulate what that meant. At all. Katie is marrying him this summer despite his goofy stunt proposal, his infidelity, and his lack of a big boy job. The fact that they don’t have sex, mostly because Tom isn’t into it, has been repeatedly brought up on the show.

Why get married? Maybe she’s hoping to be featured on the next season of Vanderpump Rules like Scheana was last year. There’s nothing like a wedding to bring in the viewers! It makes me wonder not only how observation affects their fake show lives, but also their real non-show lives. Katie and Kristen both discouraged Stassi from breaking up with Jax in season 1 because they would have such cute babies.

It’s great television. Let’s all hope it isn’t “reality.”

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Once upon a time

I’m not sure I can write fiction.

Let me rephrase. I’m not sure I can write fiction anyone wants to read. I probably haven’t worked at it enough, and I won’t give up. My dialogue is unnatural. It doesn’t sound the way people talk. The characters don’t feel authentic.

Running through all of it is the doubt. Who am I to pretend to be a man? How can I possibly know how a man thinks or what he thinks about? Everyone will assume this is what I think. People will think these characters are them. My friends will be embarrassed for me. My sex scenes make even me blush. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?

This year, a student asked me if he had any talent and should he write? It doesn’t matter what I think, I told him. What matters is that you are compelled to write, and so you must. I can give you tips. I can teach you tricks. I can tell you what I would change, as your editor. But don’t ever let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough or you shouldn’t.

I am unable to take my own advice. What kind of teacher can I be if I don’t live the advice I give?

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