nenenkim.jpg

She's A Stone Cold Bitch

By Michael Murray | TV | September 4, 2009 | Comments ()

By Michael Murray | TV | September 4, 2009 |


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The dominant villain of The Real Housewives of Atlanta is Sheree.

She's a stone cold bitch.

Athletic in appearance, with a long masculine face, she looks like somebody who probably took steroids while on her high school track team. Now seeking a seven-figure divorce settlement from ex NFL player Bob Whitfield, she's utterly shameless and self-centered. You will hate her, as she is a charm-free zone.

Actually, there's a pretty good chance that you'll hate all of the women featured on The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The third in the franchise, following The Real Housewives of Orange County (think Barbie dolls with money) and The Real Housewives of New York City (think ball-breaking New Yorkers with money), The Real Housewives of Atlanta has proven to be the most popular of the lot, pulling in over two million viewers, making it Bravo's most popular docudrama of all time.

The show follows the lives of five self-obsessed and extravagantly spendy women from Atlanta. Whether they're actually rich or not, is another matter, but they live like they're rich, and that's the point. We're told that Atlanta is a Mecca for wealthy African-Americans, one that has a firmly established and entrenched upper tier of wealthy blacks. As a result, four out of the five women featured on the are black-- but make no mistake, this isn't The Cosby Show.

No.

Far from it.

The show has Jerry Springer written all over it, and nobody seems to embody this spirit of trailer park trash better than Kim, the lone white woman on the program. With blonde hair, big tits and a want to make it as a country star, she resembles Jessica Simpson in 25 years. Fumbling along with an excruciating singing voice and the blank, uncomprehending eyes of a Sunfish, it's hard not to feel sorry for her.

As the second season starts, we find Kim confronting tough times. The sugar daddy she had found for herself-- whom she insipidly refers to only as Big Poppa--has departed, and she is left to fend for herself. What this means, at least in the quasi-scripted world of reality television, is that she is going to become an independent woman and get a job.

She doesn't have a lot of ideas in this regard, but the one thing she'd like to do is get her name attached to a line of wigs. Wigs are important to Kim because she wears one. A few years ago, she tells us, she got sick and lost her hair. However, she quickly adds that it wasn't cancer that she had, as that would be, well, ugly, I guess. At any rate, she started to wear a wig, and now wants to introduce a white mainstream to the glory of weaves, extensions and all variety of fake hair.

Like a cougar dressing up for an Aerosmith concert, Kim, wearing a tiny, pink leather jacket, attends the Empire Beauty School for a day. Sadly, Diana, the instructor, is kind of fat. The look on Kim's face when she sees her is a combination of shock and amusement. I mean, what could a fat person possibly know about beauty? Kim begins to snicker and lose focus, admitting to the camera that she doesn't actually want to learn about stuff, but really just wants to be rich and famous for wearing a wig.

Like most of us.

Meanwhile, Sheree, who is as focused as a Rattlesnake, is planning her Independence Party to celebrate her divorce from he ex-NFL spouse. She hires an expensive party planner to do this, telling him that the event must be all about her, as if that was ever in doubt. A helicopter is to transport her to the party, rose petals are to be thrown at her feet, sycophants will grovel, and a poet will sing songs of her glory. Seriously. This is their shared vision.

However, Sheree proves to be a micromanager, constantly calling up the planner to give him bossy instructions. A meeting ensued in which a screaming fight, that looked like it could easily veer into homicide, erupted. You could see the tendons straining in their necks as they waved their arms about, shouting filth at one another that would make the Wu-Tang Clan pause. It was exactly the way that a sheltered white boy might image that things go in the ghetto.

This, of course, is an issue that plagues The Real Housewives of Atlanta. It's presenting what's supposed to be the gentrified and established doyennes of the city as a bunch of ghetto whores who'll cut you for bus fare. I mean, an episode doesn't go by when there isn't some brawl, foreclosure, scam, paternity test or illegitimate child.

Of course, this is reality TV, not reality. The Housewives franchise always amplifies the women, and the culture they come from, on all of their programs. They're all stereotypes, whether they're representing Orange County or the suburbs of Atlanta. It's not an even-handed documentary, but a wildly embellished interpretation of reality. The producers shoot hundreds of hours of footage, and from that footage they sculpt characters and stories that will appeal as broadly and immediately as possible to the intended audience.

And so, when we see Sheree, after a failed attempt at reconciliation, trying to yank the wig off of Kim's head as they tussle outside of an Atlanta restaurant, we're just watching the same fictive theatrics that fuel any nighttime soap. What makes this dangerous, I suppose, is that it's a primarily African-American cast, and the implicit message is that although you can take the person out of the ghetto, well, you can't take the ghetto out of the person.

Standing in contrast to this is Kandi, the most likeable of the women on the show. She's a Grammy award winning songwriter (the TLC song "No Scrubs") who was in the group Xscape. She lives with her fiancée and his six kids, as well as her own young daughter. It's clear that of the women on the show, Kandi is the one who's the most independent, hard working and responsible. She's the only one who seems to have any talent beyond the force of her own personality, and she's trying to make herself a better person, refusing to play-up any stereotypes for ratings.

Entering into a new relationship in which there will be a blended family, she speaks of her past, and how in her family, all the mothers were single, a cycle she never wanted to participate in. But she did. And as she speaks, she becomes emotional, and suddenly in the midst of all the lurid hyperbole and self-centered posturing the show throws at us, we have a sincere and touching moment of honesty. But it passes, and in a flash, whatever humility and vulnerability was present, is quickly consumed by the more entertaining, if less challenging, caricatures of the city.

Michael Murray is a freelance writer. For the last three and a half years he's written a weekly column for the Ottawa Citizen about watching television. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.


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