I resent the term guilty pleasure. My girlfriends in particular have a way of dismissing their cruder entertainment indulgences, sheepishly admitting that they whipped through the Fifty Shades books or have seen all of Katherine Heigl’s movies. My feeling is, Hey, whatever gets you through a plane ride. I don’t hear guys apologizing for obsessing over their fantasy-football lineups or for fussing online about whether Ben Affleck will make a proper Batman.
So I was surprised by the guilt I felt when my 5-year-old daughter caught me watching a rerun of The Real Housewives of Orange County. I’d long since put her to bed and was staring dumbly at a scene of a horrible blond woman in a one-shoulder sateen dress lashing out at another horrible blond woman in a similarly cut jewel-tone dress. “Is this a grown-up show?” my child whispered from the hallway. I fumbled for the pause button, freezing the ridiculous action just before the contents of a wineglass splattered on the rival’s sun-freckled silicone cleavage.
Some of my embarrassment stemmed from the fact that I had forbidden her to watch an animated series called Horseland, about a group of easily irritated girls at an equestrian school. “I don’t like the way those girls are talking to each other,” I said as my daughter looked at me in outrage. “That is not what friendship looks or sounds like.” This from a woman who has written close to half a million words recapping Real Housewives for EW.com.
I was in a church once when a guest speaker delivered a powerful message about the way we spend our time. We should always ask ourselves three questions: Does this benefit me? Does this benefit my family? Does this benefit my community? With those questions in mind, I made some changes in my pop culture diet. I stopped watching Law & Order: SVU. I’d been treating the show like a reliable kind of Ambien, but why end the day with a scene of a grossly mutilated nameless woman? And while I believe all the reviews praising the Hugh Jackman movie Prisoners, I’m not willing to subject myself to a fictional story of kidnapped children and the suffering parents desperate to find them.
Unsurprisingly, I also came to the conclusion that life is too short for The Real Housewives of New Jersey. It’s not escapist fun to watch a family implode, brawling in front of their horrified children in foyers nobody can afford. Same goes for Atlanta. With so few portraits of black women on TV, I tuned out after Sheree and Marlo had to be held back from each other in a fight. I dropped Orange County for less high-and-mighty reasons: The women are boring and mean.
But I can’t quit you, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (the new season premieres Nov. 4). That show is like a Danielle Steel novel wrapped in a pinot-grigio-soaked bachelorette-party sash. (I’ll never quit you, either, Ramona Singer.) I come for the promise of clearly rehearsed lines like “I know you’re the best chess player of all time, but surprise, I just checkmated you, bitch!” and stay for the views of Yolanda’s magnificent Malibu lemon grove. The stakes are low — did Lisa insult Adrienne’s new shoe line? Why didn’t Kim return Yolanda’s call about doing a cleanse together? — but the melodrama is high.
Is that show good for my family or my community? Of course not. But I reserve the right to one guilt-free blast of cheap pop pleasure.