Reality TV

#RealityTV Realness: Looking to Cast “Crazy” Folks (But Let’s STOP Using That Word)

“Reality TV is definitely not for the faint of heart,” Emily Simpson recently remarked. In case her name is unfamiliar to you, Simpson was a cast mate on Real Housewives of Orange County this past season, her inaugural one which had a level of inevitable hazing for the newbie.

As an attorney, part time party planner, and a mother, Simpson thought she was well-equipped for any battle ground. However, she quickly discovered that even she, “a tough cookie” needed to be stronger, to fight back, stand her ground and adamantly state what she was opposed to from her cast mates.

Her general tendency is to be more laid back, but she found her voice amongst the taunts, outbursts, gossip and chatter from the other ladies during filming – especially when Kelly Dodd insulted her husband Shane by calling him a “little geek”, “a twerp” and “a nerd.”

Emily fought back, perhaps too hard, saying the words (to Kelly Dodd) that we all need to consider carefully before uttering: “I will kill you.” But stress – and the duress brought on by filming a show which requires you to hang out with volatile personalities who are virtual strangers full of unpleasant surprises – can get the best of you.

That’s why I personally wouldn’t sign release forms. Television would be a magnification of my worse traits. I have a hard enough time listening to my own voice when I’m on a podcast.

Other Housewives franchises and reality shows across the many networks, especially 90 Day Fiance on TLC, are cast with the most eclectic, explosive, dramatic, controversial and polarizing individuals. This is not to say that other people aren’t cast as foils to their antitheses, or because they’re enormously endearing.

Nevertheless, “Crazy” is the most overused (albeit at times, seemingly suitable) label for reality folks. Some of the Real Housewives of New Jersey cast have had difficulty handling the brashness and blunt manner of Margaret Josephs. The answer about whether reactions to her remarks are “crazy” may be subjective. However, it would be wrong to use such a harsh term when discussing exclusively what’s shown on television.

Is Caroline on Bravo’s Below Deck “crazy” on the show? One could definitely assert that she seems neurotic, filled with anxiety and understandably on edge around judgmental cast mates, but again, based solely on the footage (and discounting social media tirades), “crazy” wouldn’t be a fair depiction.

Is it ever a fair one? Caroline is dealing with a mother who has dementia, Emily is dealing with the stress of the unexpected, a terse relationship with her mother, while also grappling with the heavy decision about having another child (following an emotional fertility journey and multiple miscarriages).

Women in their 50s on other franchises have hormones entirely out of whack as menopause looms large. Then there is an audience unwilling to hold back or mince harsh words on all social media platforms.

Maybe we should all own up to the crazy label and say “Yes, I own my temporary insanity”, but I think the word “crazy” is tossed around too liberally. I suffer from Generalized Anxiety and I’m currently dealing with real life stresses that could affect any woman my age as their parents get older.

Do I handle stress well? Not always (or to quote Dorinda Medley from Real Housewives of New York, “not well, bitch!”)

Have I had my “crazy” moments? Oh yes, definitely. I once left a harsh voicemail message asking an individual to knock off their baffling shenanigans. I had my Alec Baldwin moment when the individual (not a friend or even an acquaintance) published the voicemail on a website. I chose not to listen to it (I’ve mentioned hating the sound of my own voice), but I will cop to sounding like I was at my wit’s end – I was.

I’m not bothered that the individual (again, a stranger) went on to call me a nut, unstable…with regard to my momentary lapse in judgement. This person doesn’t actually know me and how I’m open about my anxiety, how I went through the worst period when my twins were born shockingly and detrimentally prematurely. I felt no shame about going on Lexapro when their traumatic birth was followed by months of insomnia.

Emily Simpson certainly never intended to actually kill Kelly Dodd when she screamed “I’ll kill you.”

The normal, everyday man or woman (and let’s be real about how men easily get passes when it comes to “bad behavior,” and are less prone to be labeled “crazy” than women are… “strong,” “stubborn,” “hot headed,” “annoyed” and worse, justified in their annoyance – yet rarely “crazy”) needs to pause and think before reacting.

That is what would happen in an ideal reality, but reality TV is set up with the cards stacked against its stars purposely and things moving quickly as directed by producers.

When on reality TV, you are to spend lots of time – including overseas getaways – with people who are not your “real life friends.” You are advised to swallow your pride in order to film, and producers ask deliberate questions, knowing the answers are sure to get you in trouble.

In your most tense-filled moment, you are asked “Siggy, what do you think of the things Margaret said?” You may cry, you may yell out an expletive. You feel wronged and who is to say feelings aren’t justified! Are you crazy? NO.

You are in an ill-suited environment for you. You are desperately in need of a new one, surrounded by people you view as kind, like-minded, who share your sense of humor and propriety.

Should you decide to return to the show – which is my hope for Emily Simpson of RHOC – you now know how to do things differently and what you will never repeat. And your hope is to give viewers and reviewers new adjectives. “Crazy” is not only a cop-out, but a disservice – especially to women who have been dismissed simply as just that for thousands of years.

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