Bravo TV, Reality TV

#SouthernCharm: Shep Rose & The Wendy Williams Mantra

“I’m a woman and I’m allowed to change my mind.” It’s a quote often uttered by popular talk show host Wendy Williams and one I find myself using this season of Bravo’s Southern Charm. I interviewed Shep Rose at the beginning of last season for Huffington Post Contributor platform and I may have (mis)interpreted his confidence for arrogance. I see a kinder, gentler Shep this season, especially with regard to his treatment of one-time-underdog Kathryn Dennis, who is currently having a stellar redemptive season.

I read the Vulture recap analyzing the Chelsea and Shep dynamic of last season and wondered about it myself in a post. I wondered if Shep was being too grabby and feeling too entitled with Chelsea during a drunken moment. Perhaps I was too hard on Shep because I do know that with reality television, there’s editing, slicing, dicing and “franken-biting” (where parts of two different sentences are joined together). I know that contexts are often unseen.

A Bravo employee hinted to me (after the fact) that I had gotten the wrong take on Shep, that many people had gotten the wrong impression last season.

So Shep, if you’re reading this little blog (which I doubt you are), I apologize if I judged you too harshly. In my Huffington Post articles, I often gave my perspective as contributors do, but I like what I see of you this season. You seem sincere, humbled and determined to treat women, and all people, respectfully. This season, you appear to be a mensch. I’m a woman and I’ve changed my mind.

For old time’s sake, here’s an article with an interview that I conducted with Shep Rose early last season. It was published in my Huffington Post Contributor archive:

Shep Rose….He’s the guy I once dated. Well not literally, but many years ago before I was married, I met my own cultured playboy who seemed fearful of commitment. We quickly went from dating to just friends and I watched and observed his social antics wryly. I teased him about his many many dates and short-lived conquests, his incessant bar hopping, his seemingly unlimited freedom and how others had to maintain a demanding day job and stick to limited alcohol consumption.

Well, my own version of Shep Rose – the actual Shep being a main character on Bravo’s reality show Southern Charm – is not someone I stayed in touch with as my circles inevitably changed. However, the familiarity from this past friendship endears me to the person I see on TV. My own acquaintance was a New Yorker rather than a Charlestonian, but in many ways Shep reminds me of him.

Southern Charm is mostly about entertainment and observing a different way of life for me, but it’s also sort of a walk down memory lane with a major location change. Also, to be fair, many (but not all) of the surrounding characters in my experience were not as wealthy as the Charlestonians. (I personally was living paycheck to paycheck in a low-rent shoebox of a room in an Upper West Side Manhattan apartment). Watching this show is also a way for me to get to know the South and specifically, a part of the country I’ve never visited.

The notion of “Southern Gentlemen” is a puzzling one when you look at the eclectic male characters on Southern Charm – especially Shep. Thomas has a political as well as criminal past and now also has two children with his gorgeous ex-girlfriend Kathryn – who temporarily lost custody.

Craig was on his way to becoming a lawyer and the rest of the cast is harping on what happened to his aspirations (he recently purchased a sewing machine and we see him embroidering a lot). Austen is the new guy and he’s cute. He seems to have snapped up Shep’s prior love interest Chelsea.

As the biggest charmer, Shep doesn’t seem happy about this on the show. Whitney, who was a main character in prior seasons, now seems to sit on the periphery stirring up drama. (He is actually the one who introduced the Southern Charm concept to Bravo.)

The guy to get the most questions from viewers and to get me scratching my own head was Shep because things have taken a drastically different turn for him this season. As a longtime fan of the series, you can imagine how excited I was to have the opportunity to ask Shep a few things viewers wanted to know.

SHW: Fans of the show wonder why you seem to pick on Craig for not being ambitious enough and not having finished on his path to becoming a lawyer. Viewers express how it seems like you’ve never really needed to work-

SR: Not true. I’m certainly not set for life! I have bills to pay and incoming and outgoing cash. My question to those critics and people on Twitter: How does that have anything to do with Craig? I don’t get the correlation. I do get guff about that on the Internet, but what is the connection between my 9 to 5 status and Craig?! I’m tough on him personally. I never mention finances. Craig begs to be ribbed. You don’t even know the half of it. He’s a sweet guy and a nice guy and I really like him. He just begs for it with the things he says and does and we ALL give him a hard time – Cameron and Whitney too. I don’t really have any problems with Craig and my relationship today. There are things you don’t see on TV. If they showed the extent of Craig’s insanity, you’d know he got off so easily. He was very defensive which is one thing I wish he wouldn’t be. I want him to be happy and it just so happens that he recently passed the bar exam. I’m very proud of him. There’s no conflict there and I apologize that there was.

SHW: We saw that you were interested in Chelsea, had hung out with her romantically and then Austen swooped in. The podcast Watch What Crappens just brought up that you said something in the first season about being “over-educated and under-motivated.” Could that be why you’re not meeting women with long term potential for you?

SR: No. it’s in MY mind. I’m not your Ozzie and Harriet person and that’s all I have to go by. I’m not that “Hi Honey, I’m home” conventional man and it’s something I grapple with. I think I need to find someone who is unconventional as well. I love this city and there are drop dead gorgeous women here. I’ve been in love before and I’m a big proponent of it, but the world of relationships is changing Things are different than they were even 15 years ago in this regard. You can be ready for a serious relationship but still not meet somebody. I’m certainly not going to force anything. I know what it feels like when you should get married and I’m not going to sell myself short.

SHW: So that actually brings me to the question of whether or not you think Patricia is telling Landon and Thomas to settle for one another?

SR: Um, I don’t know. They both can tell you all about themselves…a lot! Maybe that’s good. They can sit at home and be enamored with one another…I do think there were unrealistic attempts…to force them together. Ultimately, I don’t think it would work. I don’t know who would be perfect for Landon, but I think Thomas is too alpha and there would be a butting of heads down the road.

SHW: Did you really want to go after Chelsea – even a bit after Austen first started seeing her and we didn’t know if it was anything beyond a first date – or was that Cameron’s prodding?

SR: I’ve known Chelsea for a while. I know a handful of guys that have dated her so when we kind of made out before I went off to my friend’s wedding, I decided to explore potentially seeing her. I didn’t reach out enough when I was on the trip. I know what to do to hold someone’s attention but I just didn’t do it. It kind of bothered me that I was the last one to know about Austen and her. I mean, you see that we were all out and I was whispering in her ear. He saw that and didn’t say anything. I’m a free love guy so I certainly didn’t tell him to back off. Had I known initially, I would have said ‘if she likes you then I don’t want to stand in her and your way.’

SHW: So that actually brings me to the question of whether or not you think Patricia is telling Landon and Thomas to settle for one another?

SR: Um, I don’t know. They both can tell you all about themselves…a lot! Maybe that’s good. They can sit at home and be enamored with one another…I do think there were unrealistic attempts…to force them together. Ultimately, I don’t think it would work. I don’t know who would be perfect for Landon, but I think Thomas is too alpha and there would be a butting of heads down the road.

SHW: Did you really want to go after Chelsea – even a bit after Austen first started seeing her and we didn’t know if it was anything beyond a first date – or was that Cameron’s prodding?

SR: I’ve known Chelsea for a while. I know a handful of guys that have dated her so when we kind of made out before I went off to my friend’s wedding, I decided to explore potentially seeing her. I didn’t reach out enough when I was on the trip. I know what to do to hold someone’s attention but I just didn’t do it. It kind of bothered me that I was the last one to know about Austen and her. I mean, you see that we were all out and I was whispering in her ear. He saw that and didn’t say anything. I’m a free love guy so I certainly didn’t tell him to back off. Had I known initially, I would have said ‘if she likes you then I don’t want to stand in her and your way.’

SHW: Going into this season, were you at all nervous due to the political environment? There were some reactions to Thomas and Kathryn’s (pro Trump) Twitter posts.

SR: Oh my god! The opinions expressed there were not my own. Everything is out there so you can find out exactly what I think about the political situation. People who will agree with me will agree with me, and others, I can’t change their mind anyway! It’s just crazy today. That’s what I think.

SW: Do you see Kathryn regularly? I know she was going through very hard times. How is she doing these days?

SR: I don’t know. I sent her a message about someone wanting to find a dress store in Monk’s Corner, but didn’t hear back. I have no problem with her and when we see each other, it’s hugs and we kind of go into the corner and talk. But she keeps to herself. I am concerned about her well being as always and if she reached out, I’d be happy to talk to her. I think she’s doing fine, but I couldn’t fully answer that right now.

(Shep’s headshot courtesy of Bravo)

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Bravo TV, Psychology, public figures, Reality TV

#SouthernCharm: Bashing Ashley Isn’t My Thing

There’s something I’ve been wanting to address for a while about Southern Charm. Yes, Ashley Jacobs is the villain of the season and she’s done some godawful things that have been captured on camera, but when it comes to her dramatic weight loss, her past escapades, or the rumors about her being an escort, I’m not going overboard in the discussions.

I feel that Ashley has approached Kathryn Dennis all wrong and I feel indignant about her scathing commentary on Kathryn as a mom, but I’m not going to respond by dredging up every salaciously “slutty” (please note, I use quotation marks) photo from her college years, or mocking her boob transformation. I understand the notion of “people who put themselves on reality TV are fair game,” but I feel these tactics are not only somewhat ludicrous and overboard, but also…besides the point. I can drag Ashley for telling Kathryn she’s nothing but an egg donor, but I wouldn’t feel good about myself ragging on the appearance of her hair texture in response, or hopping on her Instagram page to suggest she eats a hamburger.

Some of the “Trashley” posts seem a bit too much to me, targeting someone who – in my opinion – appears to be suffering physically and psychologically from doing this stressful show (she wasn’t paid either). And look, I’ve certainly lambasted reality stars in the past (I didn’t even pause after one reality star called me a “pussy” three times in a phone call and felt anything was deserved after that) and I’m not telling YOU not to do it. You all have free will and are afforded free speech, but I personally am trying to keep my commentary about Ashley linked to what we see on television and will call her out for rantings about others when cameras aren’t rolling.

I feel terrible for Luzanne Otte, a private woman who got dragged into the Ashley and Thomas story and I wrote about that, but I tried not to go too much further in saying anything disparaging beyond what was exhibited. I also did write a post about how the cast suspects some random Twitter accounts belong to Ashley as that’s been a major topic of discussion on social media prompting the hashtag #HiAshley. I try to address things that are happening in real time, but without getting carried too far away.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, in a few episodes, Ashley will make the offhanded remark to Shep Rose “Would you date me?” (Meaning: because things are rocky with TRav, are there hypothetical scenarios and options so she won’t have to leave the Charleston area.) This is not something that is said in earnest necessarily, but it’s a comment that is sure to lead to tons of Ashley bashing on social media. There’s no way this is an incorrect prediction. I can see that the stress is already taking a toll on this woman. Is she desperate? Perhaps. Misguided? Possibly. Evil? I’m not so sure.

I think Ashley may one day have the hindsight to say she behaved badly on television. I think that we see her clinging to this relationship with Thomas Ravenel for one reason of another. Whether it’s money or fame, as people have concluded, I sense she is incredibly stressed out. Her alarming weight loss signals to me that she’s trying to maintain control over a situation that she feels, frustratingly, she has little control of.

I can’t help feeling some sympathy as I rage-watch her on TV and sometimes want to slap her for what she’s said to KD. This is the reason why I won’t tweet out the gifs and caricatures mocking her, or resort to name calling on Twitter. Something about it doesn’t sit right with me intuitively, but as a reality TV anthropologist, I’ll snark and weigh in on what’s said on the show.

I’ll feel a lot better about writing this post if/when we see a reflective Ashley, one who looks upon this past season and her time with TRav and realizes where she went wrong, when she spoke out of turn, and who she hurt while trying to protect herself.

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Bravo TV, Reality TV, Uncategorized

#SouthernCharm: Breaking Down the ‘Blind Gossip’

Someone who is way better at updating her website than I am, as well as more impressively diligent about frequent postings and keeping current with numerous reality shows is Tamara Tattles. Personally, I’m just starting out with this website, ShirasGotTheScoop, and trying to manage other jobs and endeavors (including a gaggle of offspring) simultaneously, but I’d like to post as often as I can. In that regard, I look up to Tamara who is admirably a #SuperBlogger – #Goals. I’m in awe of friends who post multiple times daily and I’ll admit that I’m not sure of my aspirations for this site yet as I fret about other work. What I can tell you is that sometimes, the savvier website- keepers inspire me greatly to weigh in… So tonight, I’m going to delve into Tamara Tattles’ most recent post.

Tamara has authored a blind item that I shall attempt to interpret as one would explore Talmudic text (my Jewish day school contemporaries may or may not crack a smile at that. They may or may not eschew the reference entirely, deeming it despicably sacrilegious). There will be lots of commentary and speculation on my part, and I’ll make sure to pepper my postulations with allegedlies – in order to be as fair as one can possibly be here.

Tamara Tattles’ site, which I urge you to check out, is TamaraTattles.com, and she currently also has her blind item on the website BlindGossip.com. Before I weigh in and break it all down as if it is a tractate of Gemara, here’s the full item:

On a certain reality show, there is one evil b* that is worse than anything we have ever seen. EVER. She has literally hooked her way on to the show by way of another aberrant creature we recently got rid of.

In an odd turn of events, I totally warned the male in this story about the female in this story very, very, early on when she was trying to sell stories to the sites that pay for the dirt.  He was polite, but didn’t really believe me so I just bowed out to watch nature take its course.

Now I am finding out that she has been constantly digging up the dirt on her “beloved.” She has gone through his phone, she has gone through his computer, and she has a lot of information to share. She has attacked a woman relentlessly who politely declined to play the role she is currently playing. She’s psychotic.

Here just a few things she has on her equally despicable “mark”.

◦ Very early on, his sisters tried to pay him to send this female back to where she came from and try to get the female who declined “the opportunity” to reconsider. That was never a possibility but the sisters didn’t have the full story.

◦ She was particularly incensed about his will. She was not happy with the beneficiaries.

◦ Some sort of lesbian sex tape with toys. I presume he was on camera but my source was not clear about that.

◦ She was also pissed about him asking people via email about her call girl reputation. She was not working and living with her mother at the time they were introduced.

There is a lot more. He is terrified. He’s tried on multiple occasions to break up with her but she is threatening to sell stories. Oddly, that is the very thing I warned him about months and months ago. At least I tried, and honestly, knowing what I know now, that I didn’t know then, I’m hoping these two drag each other to death. Neither one of them need to be breathing our air unless it is behind bars. At least we know that neither of them will be on out TV again unless it’s on the news about their court cases.

See You Next Tuesday has a significant meaning for this blind. Because she will be speaking unsupervised next Tuesday. And she’s a loose cannon. Expect bizarre social media posts from him on Tuesday as well and more from me as soon as I get the tea.

So here’s the deal…and be prepared for potential **spoilers** in this post. It has been rumored that Ashley Jacobs, Thomas Ravenel’s girlfriend and the Southern Charm “villain” of the season, is not just a Cali girl but a call girl!!!!

I’m not sure that I’m “buying it” personally, but in the episodes ahead, you may very well see one of the other ladies in the cast bring it up to the group.

At this stage, rumors are just rumors, and of course, there has been smoke —but is there fire? That question could very likely be the cliff-hanger of the current season. If Thomas Ravenel and Ashley Jacobs are kaput post reunion (meaning: not slated to return next season), we’ll be left with a lot that is unanswered. The reunion is being filmed tomorrow – hence the reference above to “Tuesday.”

I’m sorry to disappoint readers, but I am doubtful we’ll get our answers to the “call girl” question. Thomas’s contract actually expires after the reunion, and we do not know (and frankly, it seems DOUBTFUL) if it will be renewed for another season.

The friend who introduced Ashley to the show is said to be Landon Clements (a cast member from last season). Rumor has it (and again, keep in mind the above disclaimer about rumors merely being rumors) that after Ashley went through Thomas’s emails, she concluded that a former Ravenel girlfriend of just one week, Luzanne Otte, was to blame for the cast’s dislike of her.

It has also been alleged that Landon assisted in planting these particular seeds of doubt in her friend Ashley’s mind.

In the next few episodes of Southern Charm, you will see Ashley and Thomas’s relationship deteriorate as Ashley is plagued by insecurities. Thomas does little to reassure her (or to be nice at all, in my opinion).

It seems he “checked out” earlier on when his new squeeze attacked Kathryn, who impressively maintained her composure amidst the volatility.

From what one can decipher in the item, Tamra Tattles tried to warn Thomas that Ashley might have found allies in a group of curmudgeons running a revenge-slanted blog.

Twitter users have noted that said blog has been the only outlet to praise Thomas amidst multiple sexual assault allegations. It has also been pointed out that the site unabashedly slut-shamed the daughter of a Ravenel sexual assault victim, deliberately posting one sexy photo after another of her (she’s a model and realtor) between article paragraphs. The intention is beyond transparent.

Before the sexual assault allegations garnered media attention, Ashley Jacobs allegedly went on a tear: She blamed TRav’s ex Luzanne Otte (the ONE WEEK “relationship” gal who ended things with Thomas after witnessing absurd and temperamental behavior) for animosity she felt from cast mates.

Sources claim Ashley fed the aforementioned blog many of the stories they ended up running. This was much to the dismay of privacy-craving Luzanne Otte, a woman who would never go on realty TV and who would really rather that folks not even know her name. Unfortunately, she was forced to go public in order to clear it.

You will see in the episodes ahead how Ashley’s relationship with Thomas Ravenel unravels. I was informed that Ashley even asked Shep Rose if he would date her – should things not pan out with Thomas.

What else would she possibly do in Charleston otherwise?

You’ll get the sense that she would really like a reason to stay.

Tamara alludes to the fact that Thomas’s family members had suggested Ashley go back to Santa Barbara and that might have been the best move, but the harder things have gotten, the stronger Ashley has fought to stand her ground and stay.

There are implications in the above blind item that Ashley has some secrets she’s keeping about Thomas (the “lesbian sex tape”, whatever that entails, may be a part of it…or it might not be). There is so much more to Thomas (risqué sexcapades? More information about sexual assaults? Other TRav troubles? The manner in which Ashley and TRav truly met?) that Ashley seems to know. She may be lording all of that knowledge over him, essentially blackmailing him to stay in the relationship and allow her to remain in his home.

Again, all of the above is ALLEGED, but pay special attention to the dynamics between Thomas and Ashley in the coming episodes.

If I’m interpreting things correctly, Tamara Tattles tried to forewarn Thomas about the mess that lay ahead…whatever it is exactly.

It seems quite clear that the issued warning went unheeded. The blind item implies that Thomas may be desperate to break up with Ashley.

However, for once, the powerful, affluent, former politician and alpha male of the notorious “All boys club” (a monster of Haymaker Productions’ making) is powerless.

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Bravo TV, Reality TV

#SouthernCharm: Poised for a Feminist Evolution Amidst #MeToo?

My past articles on Bravo television shows have introduced me to fans as well as foes. During my years contributing to Huffington Post (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/sweiss-904) and covering reality TV, I was afforded some perks for a period. However, I was also subjected to lambasting and outright harassment from fans. While this may be hard to believe, there are show enthusiasts who react extremely to matters of reality TV. They go for the jugular and intensely personal when launching an attack on those who craft the columns. So I’ve been hesitant about conducting a deep-dive into Bravo’s Southern Charm and elaborating on what has been brought to my attention from behind the scenes. I also take allegations that have not been 100 percent confirmed with the requisite grain of salt. That said, it’s been apparent to me that a show initially pitched to be centered around Southern Gentlemen (the name listed in the show’s “bible”) has faced growing pains in the #MeToo era.

“He hates me and I know he hates HER too,” one cast member of the franchise, which also now includes Southern Charm New Orleans and Southern Charm Savannah, lamented to me.

It was approximately a year ago and she was making reference to behind-the-scenes angst. I deliberately use the vaguest of terms here because, while I don’t want to discredit the account of another woman, I also was not there. Based on what I was told though, the contentions among select female cast members and their close off-camera confidants was that a particular individual – one calling the shots from behind the cameras – came across as sexist, patting the good ole boys on their backs for their player ways while acting scornful of certain female cast members. The man in question has been described in the most general terms, including: “He has a mean streak,” or the more benign “He can be unpleasant. He can be tough to deal with”, to the overt “He’s an asshole” (the latter expressed to me by one cast member’s close confidant). Because he’s someone in control on set, it’s been tricky avoiding him, although that cast member has related to the confidant that “avoidance” is precisely her tactic of choice.

The cast member who I personally spoke with accidentally overheard him tearing into the other female Charmer by phone. While her knowledge of his regard for that Charmer could be debated, she acutely felt his disdain for her. Furthermore, she took issue with his desire to portray her in a way that made her truly uncomfortable as a feminist, manipulating the reality of events for the sake of “reality” television.

Again, I will state the following disclaimer here: Perception of one’s regard is not always actuality and I received no response after emailing the man in question for an interview.

Because these sentiments fall under the umbrella of “allegations”, I won’t share a name and no, it is not the bemused looking, deer-in-the-headlights-glazed Whitney Sudler-Smith who is both a cast member and producer. Whitney seems to possess an aloof Southern politeness and has been looking wistful in the most recent episodes, as if he’s uncertain he wants to be privy to the meddling into personal lives that unfolds on camera. A source confirms to me that Whitney feels conflicted about being on the show because at heart, he’s a behind the scenes man. His aspirations lie in production rather than being a TV star. His screen time has decreased visibly from Season 1 to the present.

As I watch Whitney squirm, there’s symbolism there for me regarding the Charleston franchise. Here’s a show that launched with the premise of an “all boys club.” As we see, the plan was always to have supporting characters, the women who fawn over these boys…plus the few who give the guys guff (“Wendies” to the Peter Pans) and say it’s time they grow up. The latter (Cameran Eubanks in particular) was always a step in the right direction while the former was problematic. In 4 short years however, a seismic cultural shift took place and here we are amidst the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements of 2018. While feminist writers and the more astute critical observers turned Southern Charm over analytically, grappling with discussion points in 2014, they became more vocal in 2017 when an episode brought the phrase “rape culture” to one progressive recapper’s popular column: http://www.vulture.com/2017/06/southern-charm-recap-season-4-episode-11.html.

Brian Moylan of Vulture questioned the aggressive behavior of Shep Rose towards a new female Charmer named Chelsea. It remains debatable whether the recapper (as well as his readers and select viewers) came down too harshly on Shep. Perhaps, again, editing was mainly to blame. When I brought up the episode in question to a network employee several months ago, his terse and defensive response was: “You got some bad information, Shira.”

The employee’s implication was that Moylan had sized up the situation incorrectly in his analysis.  Furthermore, he seemed to be cautioning me, I should not be weighing in on a recapper’s analysis in my own Huffington Post column (although at that point, it was too late: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/boys-will-be-boys-and-so-we-have-relationshep-bravo_us_5a10d636e4b0e6450602ebb0) and perpetuating myths. Regardless, the editing certainly welcomed opinions and observations. If those sentiments were entirely unwarranted, show editors should be fired rather than writers blamed for their scrutiny of what aired.

This season, I have softened my judgement of Shep without discrediting Moylan’s recap or negating what Chelsea may have expressed. I just feel that now, at the start of Season 5, he is showing a more sensitive, compassionate and considerate side. Perhaps it is remorse, regret…repentance (?) for the debatable debacle of last season. Or maybe he is a more “woke” individual today…That said, the key word for last season’s conundrum is “editing” and the questions are: Can we trust our perception of what went down on camera? How much of what transpired wasn’t included and was anything “left on the cutting room floor”?

In the case above, it also became an issue of potentially not believing a woman’s account of feeling violated. We never want to discredit a woman’s feelings in this regard, so the issue of what was shown versus what wasn’t (potentially) only complicated matters.

This type of thing always opens up the floodgates for heated argument. Bravo and Southern Charm’s production company Haymaker can be angry at me for exploring things and feeling perplexed, but ultimately, they’ve left a lot open to audience and journalistic interpretation. It should be known that I remain riveted to the show. I find the drama compelling. But yes, an integral aspect of what keeps me rooted to Southern Charm is waiting for the women to flip the script.

That brings us again to the current season of the “OG” Southern Charm (Charleston). The overall feel during Season 5 is different right off the bat. Only two episodes have aired and the women have used the phrase “girl power”. They are banding together and supporting one another. Naomie wants JD to know that any poor treatment, disrespect and disregard for his wife’s feelings is completely intolerable. Chelsea underscores Naomie’s sentiment emphatically. Kathryn is finally surrounded by the feminist allies that have eluded her in previous seasons. In the aughts of the franchise, tut-tutting about her single mom status and turbulent romantic life (no thanks to the much older, complicated and controversial playboy Thomas Ravenel, who excels in getting away with shit while making Kathryn – the mother of his babies – out to be the crazy one) was her all-too-familiar backdrop. I always silently rooted for Kathryn, also notably the youngest cast mate. To have your missteps highlighted on a show focused on Southern propriety, while you are essentially coming of age, is no easy feat. The one ray of sunshine for her (and me) has been the constant of Craig, a male cast mate and friend who has remained faithfully in her corner since the beginning.

Now his ex Naomie and their friend Chelsea are exuding supportive sentiments. In an era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, I can’t help but wonder if this wave will rise higher and higher until we achieve a feminist crescendo. I wonder if a certain member of production who was so enamored by Whitney’s original pitch for Southern Gentlemen, is now realizing how we (the viewers) need to hear more from the women. I wonder if he senses how much we desire Kathryn to have a voice and feel emboldened in a way she hasn’t in the past. I wonder if he knows how much we’d like the “boys’ club” to get a rude awakening to the changes being made around here. Here being this nation in the modern day.

There is the juxtaposition of the prim and proper, good ole fashioned, traditional South (with its plantations that some cast members have no shame referencing and alleged Nigerobilia in a parlor room) with the current American political climate. Both republicans and democrats alike account for #MeToo and more generally, the landscape of modern feminism. Regardless of party affiliation, it is impossible to ignore how the U.S. is changing in this way. For years, it’s been a curious fact to me that a cable station watched predominantly by women and gay men hosts Southern Charm. Today, I’d like to think that the Hospitality so notable in that geographical tip of our nation, compels producers to honor Bravo’s demographic.

This will sound trite, but it’s also true: We’ll have to stay tuned and see.

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Bravo TV, Uncategorized

‘The Elephant in the Pahhhluhhr’: The Controversy & Intrigue Surrounding #SouthernCharm

(An earlier version of this ran on Huffington Post, June 13th, 2017. The following article is a revised and updated version.)

BRAVO TV, NBCUniversal

When Southern Charm began airing on Bravo in March of 2014, it took a while for viewership to make an impact for the network. By season 2 however, a rapt audience had tuned in to the drama that played out between privileged Southerners while a disapproving matriarch tutted about improprieties and a former Real World star begged the “Southern Gents” to settle down. The show, now approaching its 5th season, is currently popular enough for Bravo to have introduced a spinoff that just aired (Relationshep, about cast member Shep Rose, a ladies’ man looking for long term love – allegedly). The newer Southern Charm Savannah is another offshoot of the original. It premiered on May 8th, 2017 and Season 2 is filming now.

THE ELEPHANT

It is no surprise that shows about privileged white people in the South have garnered criticism and sparked wild rumors to make heads roll (a much-debated Page Six blind item referred to one Southern Charm costar’s “negrobilia,” a prized collection of artwork by black slaves. Of course, speculation abounds that the item was planted by a conniving adversary).

Many viewers have overtly stated in the comments sections of articles about the original SC – set in Charleston – that these people don’t seem to do very much for a living, yet have impressive wealth. The implication isn’t something that needs to be stated outright, though of course it is brought up periodically: Some of the cast members descended from plantation owners who kept slaves.

One female costar from a “prominent family” actually has an ancestor who was an outspoken slavery proponent and advocate. Despite her family name garnering respect in the South, her lack of riches as compared to the wealth of her cast mates, and her unconventionally rebellious ways, perpetually elicit scorn from the above-pictured matriarch. (Photo Source: Reality Tea)
WOKE?
Brought into question about the franchise is the question of: Just how “woke” are these individuals? If you’re not a Millennial or someone who keeps up with the Urban Dictionary, “Woke” is a political term of black origin referring to awareness of social and racial justice issues. The hashtag #StayWoke is a popular one. So where does Southern Charm fall on the Woke Scale?

Sexism and double standards for women have also been brought up by critics in connection with the franchise and thoughts on this vary today. Here we are prior to the start of Southern Charm’s Season 5 (and Southern Charm Savannah’s Season 2): Viewers hone in on specific words used, things left unsaid, issues that are ignored and political sentiments tweeted out by cast members (including a barrage of tweets by cast mate Thomas Ravenel, including one directed at Bravo honcho Andy Cohen that has since been deleted). A contingent has expressed feeling offended by certain cast members’ actions, yet manage to return and tune in each  season…despite protest. This attests to what we observe time and again with Bravo shows and those airing on other cable networks: the compelling nature of material that provokes ire.

A SHOW ABOUT PETER PAN PLAYBOYS

Both Southern Charm and its Savannah offshoot have struck viewers as exuding an “all boys club” vibe. While it is impossible to pin that on production, some insiders (who requested anonymity) have speculated that Haymaker executives (both founders who sit at the company’s helm are male)  http://www.haymakercontent.com/ – who originally packaged the show as Southern Gentlemen – have a “boys will be boys” mentality,

According to writer Amy Feinstein of Inquistr.com:  “Southern Gentlemen turned into Southern Charm when Bravo said that the show needed some women in the cast and not just as accessories and dates for the ‘gentlemen.’ So Cameran Eubanks, Jenna King, and eventually, Kathryn Calhoun Dennis were added in to round out the cast.”

bible thomas SC

The “Bible” for Southern Gentlemen. From Amy Feinstein of Inquistr.com: “Initially, Southern Charm executive producers Whitney Sudler-Smith and Bryan Kestner wanted to do a show set in Charleston that would highlight the life of an upper-crust Peter Pan in the Holy City. They put together a promotional video for a show that would have been called Southern Gentlemen. In the Southern Gentlemen video, Thomas Ravenel and Shep Rose talk about their life before Southern Charm.”

Feinstein is referring to the first season of the original Southern Charm in her quote above. However, viewers had a lot to say about the most recent seasons of that show and its Savannah offshoot.
SLUT SHAMING
On Southern Charm Savannah, Ashley Borders was essentially slut-shamed for golfing in her one-piece bathing suit. While cast mate Louis Oswald played too, his participation was minimized and given little credence by cast mates. Producers often get thrown under the bus for what we see on camera, but how much should we really be blaming on them versus the cast members they spotlight?
The answer to that may be subjective and personal as well as dependent on how real you consider reality TV to be. Despite Season One (of Southern Charm Savannah) airing as recently as 2017, we have a long way to go when it comes to the “blame game” and expectations for women versus men. Additionally, this is maximized by the old fashioned concept of Southern propriety and the notions attached.

While it would be nice for Haymaker and Bravo to bring Ashley back for her “redemption season”, the rumor (based on those who recently spotted the cast filming and captured photos) is that she will not be returning as a full time cast member.

KEEPING UP WITH KATHRYN 

The Twittersphere has often been abuzz with speculation about how Kathryn Calhoun Dennis, the ginger-haired vixen of the original Southern Charm, has been scrutinized for her “bad behavior” (a subjective term) much more so than cast mates Thomas Ravenel and Shep Rose. Neither gent has been depicted as an angel (Shep’s drinking and impulse control were issues brought up last season), but there’s the contention that the “playboys” get away with a mere slap on the wrist. The idea of having children out of wedlock is also likely seen as the most shocking of offenses for a Southern gal, but we have to wonder if matriarch Patricia Altschul remembers that Thomas Ravenel, who she is visibly fond of, fathered Kathryn’s children.

A PROFESSOR TAKES A SOCIOLOGICAL AND ANTHROPOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE

Ned Rinalducci, Ph.D. is a professor living in Savannah and teaching there at Armstrong State University. As a Political Sociologist, he also researches and examines religious and ethnic political movements and cultural identity. He writes on Islam, religious politics, ethnic politics, and ethnic nationalism. Every summer he teaches a pop culture course that focuses on reality television and last year, he assigned his class a show that was filmed in their own city, Southern Charm Savannah.

He explains: “Even before I started watching Southern Charm Savannah, I gave assignments in a summer pop culture class where we examine race, class and gender through reality TV. What we note is that it’s always done in a stereotypical way to really drive the narrative they’re trying to deliver. A large portion of Savannah is actually African American so Savannah viewers said: ‘this isn’t about Savannah. This is about rich, entitled white guys.’”

“The majority of the population here is not represented by this show. There definitely are circles where the social hierarchies are stressed, but most people living here are not a part of that. It is very real though – I have been in Savannah for 18 years and I’ll never be a ‘Savannian’ because I wasn’t born here and my family is not from Savannah. Southern Charm does what so many reality TV shows do: There are story arcs and narratives about characters and the shows exaggerate things like gender stereotypes (we see that with the original Southern Charm, the greater expectations upon women to be proper), social class and race. On some level, this makes people connect to the characters and it’s disconcerting – It’s reality television, but it’s not real.”

“Last summer, I had my students really examine how race, class and gender were depicted on Southern Charm Savannah. They looked at signs of Southern culture and discussed whether it seemed authentic. My wife, who is a true Southerner, saw part of an episode where Catherine hosted a bridge party in the hopes of embracing an old tradition. She said to me ‘Nobody plays bridge anymore!’ I thought that was funny because my own mom, a Northerner, actually plays bridge!”

A PERSPECTIVE ON SOUTHERN CHARM FROM A BLACK, GAY AMERICAN MALE

Troy McEady of the podcasts Emotionally Broken Psychos (he has co-hosted with Molly McAleer) and EBP’s The Smush Room (which he alone hosts) admits that being a black, gay American male does not prevent him from watching Southern Charm and Southern Charm Savannah. McEady feels that bigotry stares you in the face with Savannah, whereas on the Charleston show there’s an “underlying sentiment.”

He elaborates: “Kathryn comes from a long bloodline of people that owned huge plantations in the South. We’ve been watching Charleston long enough that we’re almost used to it – as gross as that is to say. It’s not overt, but it’s still uncomfortable. With Savannah, they used it in a sort of ‘cutesy’ way last season. Catherine (not to be confused with Kathryn of Charleston) talks about how it’s uncouth to discuss where money comes from, but we know where that money comes from – owners of large plantations. It’s a weird thing to lightly dance around – because it’s embarrassing.”

One Savannah character from last season (who is likely also not returning — based upon cast trip photos that recently surfaced) used the Yiddish “S word” to joke around with Daniel. McEady observes: “In that case, it was social awkwardness and social unawareness when it comes to race. This is also a character who needs to be more self-aware. The statements came across as boldly racist. However, it was almost less offensive coming from him because he seemed not to possess the appropriate thought processes.”

McEady adds: “I’m hoping that things turns around with Southern Charm Savannah. It feels like those characters were uninteresting for the most part. The things Bravo used as filler (in Season One) were there because there wasn’t much to show. I’m not surprised that there’s an upcoming Season 2 because Bravo decided to give it another chance, but I doubt there will be a Season 3 unless there are major changes. Personally, now I’m invested so I’ve got to watch regardless. Unless they shake up the cast in some way, these people are uninteresting – with the exception of Ashley…and perhaps Daniel. While watching, I actually had to remind myself what was happening in terms of story lines. There didn’t seem to be too much there.”

THE “SWEET SPOT”
When it comes to that question of being “woke,” McEady has some thoughts on the entire franchise:“Bravo has found this sweet spot with Southern Charm – or what they think of as a sweet spot – to address the racism and sexism. ‘Let’s make it not seem so inappropriate that Thomas comes from a family of slave owners by putting cutesy music behind it.’ Patricia, the matriarch, comes across as a sexist woman. She dismisses what the men do and how they treat women while requiring women to be prim and proper. I really don’t think any of them are terrible people but it seems some (particularly the younger cast members across both Southern Charms) have been sheltered and are clueless.”
BRAVO HAS CONSERVATIVE VIEWERS TOO, OF COURSE
Fortunately for Bravo, there are many conservative viewers who are not harping on political correctness and are less sensitive about issues of concern to liberals (AKA “Snowflakes,” a beautiful phenomenon of nature that is supposed to be an insult?). Southern Charm Savannah‘s viewership was significantly smaller than the original, yet it still managed to rise steadily from week to week and it may be in part to those who are unfazed by things that “trigger” others.
LET’S ALL BREAK BREAD AT THE DINNER TABLE
“We live in a political climate where everybody has a voice,” says McEady, “You can relate to something and learn something about a black person without being a black person… Everybody has sat at a dinner table where someone of an earlier generation said something that resulted in flying tableware. There is a lot of weight added to things that people say today. It’s very heavy and it is scary to speak your mind – You just have to use discretion.”
And perhaps, that is where the viewers come in as well, the many “voices” weighing in via social media. Southern Charm is akin to that awkward Thanksgiving dinner where we all sit down hoping we can effectively see one another’s  perspectives. It is the reason why many of us keep coming back to the table. The right amount of controversy sparks discussion while an excess turns people away. Haymaker knows just how to walk this tightrope so we stay tuned in.
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