Add up one social climber, two ex-pats, one "ugly American," plus two posh birds and what does one get? Another Bravo TV "reality" show: Ladies of London.
I have a confession to make: I am a pretty regular watcher of Real Housewives of New York, so I thought this British twist might be interesting and fun, especially as an Anglophile and American patriot all wrapped into one adorable bundle. Thus, when I watched a few episodes, I ended up learning less about cultural differences, learning instead that self-absorption and materialism are not unique to Americans, despite the convenient stereotypes.
In fact, posh socialite and Royal gal-pal Caroline Stanbury is among the worst of the lot. With her exaggerated make-up, phony tan and snarky mouth (clearly her best quality), she brings a tone of expected British haughtiness, with a healthy dose of an American-like obsession with material items. This isn't to say that the Brits aren't interested in conspicuous consumption, because I'm sure they are, however, the attention given to Stanbury's lavish collection of designer clothes, Hermes bags and all the bling-bling even the Queen couldn't afford makes me think that either the show is pandering to an American audience unaware of British sensibilities (ya think?) or that Stanbury has an ironically middle-class obsession with how much things cost. Aren't the posh classes supposed to be more subtle and not flash their wares about?
On the other hand, I sort of like the second Brit, Annabelle Neilson, former model and muse of the late great Alexander McQueen. Funnily enough, she self-identifies as his muse, which makes me wonder a bit. Isn't "muse" a gift title that other people call you, rather than what you would call yourself? I'll have to check with Debrett's on that. Despite that little faux pas, I appreciate Annabelle's way. Sure, she's a bit of a toff, but she's consistent--she snubs people equally. And at least one can see a certain standard that she lives by, despite her lack of subtlety in conveying that to the others, and in particular to the Americans. I would think that losing a dear friend to suicide is enough of a shock to bring anyone back to earth, and to her credit, Annabelle doesn't seem interested in engaging in petty battles...yet.
One of the Americans, Caprice (who apparently only needs one name), is sticky soft and entirely self-obsessed. She has hired a "gestational carrier" (I swear, I'm not making this ***t up) to have her baby for her, but wait! The so-called "miracle" of modern science has allowed little Caprice, who sells lingerie and swimwear, to have as Juliet said, a "real baby in her stomach." Caprice is all oohs and ahhs and sweetness, that is, unless she's smirking over getting better press than the Duchess of Cambridge--that's Kate to you and me. As a Catholic viewer, I think that Caprice troubles me the most, as she seems so cavalier about using artificial means of conception, yet showing no care for her other children who are currently frozen in a test tube somewhere.
Another American, social-climber and attention-whore Noelle Reno, seems to have a penchant for multi-millionaires. Her first notable boyfriend was from the Mellon family, and now, she's hooked up with Scot Young, who unfortunately has his vast fortune locked up in a messy divorce. The ever-pouting Noelle can thus always find an excuse for why her life is so crappy right now. It's always Scot's fault. Easy-peasy, right?
Marissa Hermer, on the other hand, seems to have it great. Her husband is a successful restauranteur and club owner, they've got a smooth as cream life, and now, she's becoming a British citizen. I wondered at that a bit, but on the other hand, with things in the States as they are, perhaps Marissa is making a good move and plus, she can still retain a love for her country of origin, especially in these troubled times.
That just leaves loud, honking, crass, obnoxious Juliet Angus, who seems to have a problem with Annabelle for being "all fancy and polite." Seriously? OK, she has cute kids. Enough on Juliet.
Watching this show has been interesting, to say the least. I was initially taken by the cultural differences between British and American society, and I found it amusing to watch these very American women try to make it in reserved, posh British society. I appreciated the notion that one doesn't make a scene, unlike on RHONY, where there's a scene every ten minutes (especially when Aviva is around). Naturally, as this is a show, that standard of British reserve gets chucked out straight away, usually involving Juliet. I guess that's how people want to be entertained, by watching grown women snatch at each other like seventh graders.
Maybe that's why I started to like Annabelle in episode three, because she chose to leave a party rather than to make a scene about something she saw as inappropriate. Could this doyenne of the fashion world be growing up? Has the devastation of personal loss had a humbling effect on our Annabelle? Let's hope so.
By the time the fourth episode ended, I found that none of these women really has a grip on anything corresponding to the real world or real concerns or real people. Granted, shows like this are something like the Busby Berkeley lavish, escapist musicals of the 1930's. In times of financial woes, people like to see the rich and snobby annoying each other, fighting each other, sabotaging each other. It's sort of like socialized dysfunction, where everyone gets a fair shot at indulging petty drama and arguing over conjured up spats.
In the end, however, so what? These women in many ways are rather common, in that they work, they have a personal life and they pretty much go about their days. None of these women are going to change the world or offer anything particularly deep to the international conversation. Sure, they wear pretty dresses and have lovely homes, but where's the challenge in that? I can't learn from them because their experience is too mundane or based on pure self. So will I watch again?
Probably. After all, when you've had a crappy day and there's too much on your mind, sometimes you need a bit of shallow escapism, if only for an hour. It's harmless fun, I suppose, and the British accents are nice. A show like this would never take the place of EWTN or any other serious media outlet, but hey...you gotta relax a little, have a laugh!
God bless America.
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Culture is all around us, in the city, the country, everywhere. We see it from the old world and the new, and as Catholics, we have a rich tradition of developing Western culture throughout our history.