I Got Into Vanderpump Rules and Then I Got Angry

I quickly found myself wishing there was a place where I could get paid to scream, cry, and be as purportedly debased in my animalistic rage as I wanted to be.

I Got Into Vanderpump Rules and Then I Got Angry
The Vanderpump Rules promo photo for season 7. Photo:Tommy Garcia/Bravo

Like most people who are unaware of their stupidity, ignorance, and small-mindedness right before they experience an eye-opening pleasure, I was once staunchly averse to the charms of reality television.

It was one of my longest-running hang-ups, a vestige of my pretentious, teen cinephile adolescence that reality television wasn’t worth my time because it wasn’t real art. But I recently came to a place in my life where it felt like reality television was exactly what I needed: something easy and stimulating, a piece of media that could work my brain for me like a puppet. I’d been listening to friends chatter about Vanderpump Rules and, specifically, #Scandoval, for months. They explained it was a show about “waiters and waitresses at a restaurant”—which did not sound super intriguing. Exactly how was a show about obscure customer service workers going to stimulate me enough to let my mind go on autopilot? I’d worked in customer service before…what made these people so special?

But in October, I pressed play on Season 1 Episode 1 of Vanderpump Rules and, in a little over a month, I’d ravenously consumed the entire 10 seasons. Everyone was right and, in a way, so was I: It gave me the kind of serotonin rush that couldn’t be matched by standard narrative television, an undoubtedly basal gratification that massaged my monkey brain. Regardless of whether or not it was making me stupider, it was exactly what I needed. And it continued to be—until I realized that I needed it in a way I’d never expected to.

The ‘Vanderpump Rules’ girls may be fueling stereotypical, misogynist fodder, but they are also very much allowed and encouraged to speak their minds, air their emotions, and just be fucking crazy.

The show follows the inner lives and dueling egos of the once-lowly servers at SUR, Real Housewife Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant in West Hollywood. I gawked, awed, and felt horrified at the many interweaving layers of (mostly) real drama as these characters lied, cheated on, manipulated, abused, and otherwise horrifically mistreated one another over the course of 10 years. And I quickly became acutely aware of my complicity in their (willing, sure) exploitation while watching the season-ending “Reunion” episodes, where Bravo head honcho Andy Cohen moderates (often nauseating) televised therapy sessions. Still, I never once looked away

But then, at a certain point, I noticed something different in how I perceived the show. My shock and delighted horror eventually gave way to something I wasn’t expecting: respect, admiration, and, most crucially, jealousy, for the women of the show–but not in the way you might think. Actually, definitely not in the way you might think. I found myself growing actively, exponentially jealous of their every publicized outburst, catfight, and meltdown–the types of hyper-emotional situations I hadn’t allowed myself to indulge in since I was a bratty child.

Women are the most readily exploited on the Bravo network. Their catty, overblown fights, histrionic outbursts, and exposed familial pain fuel season after season of series like Below Deck and Real Housewives. (Bethenny Frankel is speaking out and attempting to call for the unionization of reality TV actors for this very reason.) These eruptions are regularly coerced out of players who might otherwise not be quite so hair-trigger in real life, as producers are keen to keep alcohol on hand to liven up the drama. But regardless of the level of exploitation and coercion that a show like Vanderpump Rules unavoidably peddles in, I started to see these outbursts as personally cathartic. I began living through their tantrums, of which there seems to be a dauntless supply.

Here are these women, being propped up and goaded into public displays of humiliation and mania, yet given an outlet that, ethics be damned, demands their hysteria. Women are stereotyped as being at the whims of their own wildly fluctuating emotions. It’s expected of us, yes, yet we are simultaneously expected to keep our emotions in check if we want to mitigate such innate prejudices. I realized that the Vanderpump Rules girls may be fueling such stereotypical, misogynist fodder, but they are also very much allowed and encouraged to speak their minds, air their emotions, and just be fucking crazy.

I never get angry and I never act out. I never get into fights, only reasoned disagreements. My friends come to me when they want a logical answer to a hysterical problem or a reminder to stay cool-headed even in emotionally demanding situations. I’m an emotional person, but I evade anger. Maybe I’m guilty of letting things go when I shouldn’t, but I don’t feel that such an exhausting emotion is deserving of anything other than being deeply, truly wronged. And I think that, generally, I’ve done a good job surrounding myself with friends who treat me with respect. But one of my greatest fears is, quite plainly, embarrassment; saying something in a heated moment that I don’t mean or that I regret; making a fool of myself in front of others; being gawked at with unspoken thoughts of “At least I’m not her.” I found myself thinking those words a lot throughout my first watch of Vanderpump Rules until I found myself wishing that I was “her.”

Maybe the show is akin to a carnival freak show, but I desperately want what they have. I no longer look at women like Stassi Schroeder and Katie Maloney (who, admittedly, I do not frequently align with in behavior) with a mixture of bewilderment and terror. I wish I could be so crazy, but I no longer even see it as crazy–I also just want a space where I’m paid to scream and cry and be as purportedly debased in my animalistic rage as I want to be; where some people might laugh at me, but others might celebrate me. I want my rage to not only be seen as normal but welcomed. (Maybe even profitable.) I’ll probably never be on a reality TV show, but maybe one day when I really need it, I will be able to let go of my shame and give in to those less tasteful emotions that nevertheless make me human. For now, I’ll continue to enjoy living vicariously through the women of Vanderpump Rules.

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