Local media is all abuzz about Southern Charm. I don’t have cable, but I’ve seen clips. If someone doesn’t have a merchandise or book deal coming out of this show, I will be very surprised. That’s just how these things work. Reality TV is just QVC* preceded by a predictable, stereotype-laden plot line. If a star didn’t start rich and famous, he or she will get there, for a little while at least.
I won’t deny it can be stupidly exciting to see your hometown’s sites on television. Back when I was at College of Charleston (CofC), I remember Scarlett: The Sequel to Gone With the Wind mini-series debuting on television. Joanna Whalley played Scarlett, Timothy Dalton played Rhett. More importantly (sorry Whalley and Dalton), Randolph Hall played a hospital. ‘Too cool–CofC on TV! Other locally filmed productions that decade included Prince of Tides and Rich in Love. But note all of these were books first, and the movies were made when the main reality show on television was COPS and The Real World:<<Insert City Here>>.
A puzzling aspect of American culture is this television obsession with the wealthy behaving badly, whether they are real-life people or fictional characters. Soap operas go back to television’s earliest days and actually were on the radio first. Rich characters who have a career and/or a roof over their head no matter what. They mess with each other’s heads and ruin each other’s love lives, perhaps out of malice, perhaps out of sheer boredom. Evening soaps a la Aaron Spelling were big in the 1980s and 1990s. Hello catfights. Fast forward to today, reality shows feature real people playing a caricature of themselves in ridiculous scenarios. By episode two, somebody (or everybody) has a catchphrase that makes the show a drinking game.***
Yes, rich people have problems. Alcoholism, drug abuse, runaway heiresses, daughters in love with the wrong guy, inconvenient pregnancies, adultery, sons who don’t want the family business, sons who like the lifestyle but lack the instincts, mental illness, and dysfunctional relationships. I could mean Downton Abbey**, Brideshead Revisited, Dynasty just as easily the British Royal Family, the Kennedys, or the Bushes. If everyone has problems, what makes rich people’s more interesting? A lot to lose with each misstep? ‘Always pulling through like a cat with nine lives? What is the appeal?
Watching rich people on television may be funny, but it doesn’t make the rest of us rich, intellectually or otherwise. We might get entertained, but the stars get the last laugh. Rarely did they need the money–so who’s the joke really on here?
Seeing someone come from out of town and make a “Southsploitation” reality show doesn’t warm my heart. What it does shows me is how some people want to see us, and how that will effect what viewers who hadn’t given Charleston a second thought will think about us after watching. West Virginia didn’t universally love Buck Wild, Louisiana doesn’t universally love Duck Dynasty. It’s funny how reality television is filmed in color, but its scenarios couldn’t be more black and white. And that’s not reality.
As a Lowcountry native and a writer, it’s my job to tell you what is worth checking out. Look for a blogpost list coming soon. I also have a sister blog at SeaIslandsdining.wordpress.com.
*= a home shopping network
**=I do watch Downton Abbey. I also watched the class-clash films made in the last 30 years based on Forster’s, Austen’s, and Wharton’s books.
***=to be fair, just about every TV show starts following a formula, and therefore, can be made into a drinking game.