On Sunday night I sat down with my mother and my sisters to watch the premiere episode of Bravo! TV’s latest train-wreck of a reality show, “Princesses: Long Island.” The show is a derivative of the ‘Real Housewives of’ franchise that turned being fame-grubbing and unemployable into a full-time profession on TV and is singlehandedly responsible for the spike in sales of Pinot Grigio over the last five years. Only this time around the river bend, Bravo and Executive Producer Andy Cohen are exploiting the lives of Jewish girls who live with their wealthy parents in Long Island as opposed to botoxed divorcees and socialites.
These ‘charming’ ladies spout out delightfully stereotypical phrases such as “I’m Jewish, I’m American, and I’m a Princess. Bring it on” and “I’m not your typical Nice Jewish Girl.” Their lives revolve around living in their parent’s mansions, shopping, pampering themselves, and the search for a husband. The parents say things like “You should be looking to date a Doctor or a Lawyer, someone who can take care of you” to their daughter who is moving past her prime at the ripe age of 27. In this bubble, there is never any discussion of jobs, or brains or anything past ‘Can I have another AmEx card, mine’s maxed out this month’ and finding a husband that they can service with cooking and not working for the rest of their spoiled rotten lives.
God forbid anyone treat these college-educated women like adults, or value them for what’s inside their skull as opposed to how thick it is.
Their depiction is offensive on several levels. In one scene, one of the girls tells the camera that her family is Reform Jewish, and is therefore, “not really that Jewish,” and then proceeds to serve her Modern-Orthodox friend a non-Kosher hotdog under the pretense that it is Kosher. And this disturbed me on several levels.
I’m sad that the stereotype of “not really that Jewish” is one that will probably stick to Reform Jews when in most cases that is not the case. I know so many Reform Jews that have an unbelievable connection to their faith that I often envy.
I’m sad that instead of inquiring about what makes food Kosher or not Kosher, this girl chose to deceive a friend who obviously cares about upholding that Mitzvoth, and instead chose to be lazy about her friend’s faith for seemingly no reason.
I’m sad that when Bravo TV found two girls who had been friends since they were children from differing sects of Judaism, they decided to make them into a punch line instead of opening up a dialogue that mainstream America rarely gets exposed to.
I’m sad that instead of having any conversation at all about Judaism that could have been complex and interesting, Bravo put up an hour long info-mercial for what people who have never met a Jewish girl in their life think that we behave.
But more than anything, I’m sad that we were complicit about it as viewers. Why are we as a country more drawn to watching other people scream at each other and act like fools than watch Mad Men or Parks and Recreation or read a book? It’s not like we all pretend that Princesses and Real Housewives is quality programming while secretly thinking its smut. It is smut and everyone knows it, but we watch this garbage out of some sort of compulsory cultural stigma, or under the guise of a guilty pleasure, or maybe because it is just far enough removed from our lives that we don’t care.
I’m disappointed in myself that it didn’t even bother me until I felt like the victim to even say anything. I can’t think or a face or religion or ethnic group that hasn’t been victimized for the gain of TV, and how sad is that? I want to go back to when the first episode of garbage aired and write a protest letter to the network. I want to go back and delete all of the episodes of the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo out of my mind permanently, but I can’t do that.
The only thing I can do as a viewer is vote with my television set and stop watching. And if I can get on my soapbox, I think we all should stop watching shows that exploit real people, no matter how complicit these people are in the activity. I think we should demand more as viewers until we no longer have to flip through 1,000 channels to find a single show where women are treated like they have a brain and nobody’s race or religion is stereotyped so blatantly.