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When Housewives Start Getting Real, Maybe We Should Stop Watching

Kelly-bensimon Last night's finale of the three-part Real Housewives of New York reunion again addressed the mental stability (or lack thereof) of castmember Kelly Killoren Bensimon. Bensimon spurred many a Twitter "OMGWTF" with her erratic, emotional behavior throughout this season of RHoNY, culminating in a full-on meltdown during a weekend getaway with other castmates, where she accused fellow Housewife Alex McCord of being a "vampire", claimed Housewife Bethenny Frankel was trying to kill her, and verbally spouted a lengthy barrage of incoherent thoughts that even confused Lost fans. I don't know about you guys, but that type of incident generally harshes the buzz of a beachfront vacay.

I not-so-guiltily watch most shows Bravo produces, including all the incantations of the "Real Housewives" franchise. I consider the Housewives shows, in particular, to be raucous camp largely deserving of snark and open derision. But Bensimon's breakdown crosses over into discomfort for some viewers, including myself. Bravo wants us to Watch What Happens, but should we when what happens is someone's life imploding?

Please don't think I think I'm qualified to diagnose Bensimon with anything other than a really bad day . Only mental health professionals can and should do so, and, honestly, she might just be inarticulate or unintelligent. However, as someone who at times struggles with my own mental health, it is  painful to see someone who, at the very least, is in need of emotional support and assistance go without it. Bensimon's behavior was so bizarre I felt like I was watching a robot slowly short circuit. At what point do RHoNY producers decide that a situation is unsafe or inappropriate to film and consequently air? While I respect the idea of not breaking the fourth wall, let's not fool ourselves into thinking that Bravo is concerned with the ethics of cinema verite. They clearly have no problem manipulating situations in other ways to suit their narrative. I think a producer absolutely should have stepped in during Bensimon's breakdown, diffused the situation, and brought in a medical professional, much like they would if a castmember got physically hurt during filming. In fact, given Bensimon's history of violence, the idea that she could be a danger to others isn't too far of a stretch. Furthermore, I question the ethics behind continuing to film and air footage of a person who may be too mentally ill to consent to doing so. For me, Bravo is treading dangerously close to exploitation.

On the other hand, perhaps this just comes with the territory when one agrees to document their lives as content for popular consumption. Undoubtedly, those featured on Bravo essentially sign their lives away. And Bensimon has continued to publicly deny the allegations about her mental health and is still (apparently) consenting to continued filming. People with mental illness, even those who don't acknowledge their illness, aren't freaks to be hidden away. Mental health issues are a fact of life that millions of people deal with on a daily basis. The depiction of mental health issues in a non-dramatized medium such as reality television might actually raise awareness of the realities of life with mental illness; it might be the most-real aspect of Bravo's artificially-constructive "reality". During Bensimon's breakdown, fellow castmates McCord, Frankel, and Sonja Morgan, who were in the throes of a heated argument with Bensimon, recognized that her behavior was irrational and immediately changed their attitude towards her from combative to caring. Don't crucify me for saying that RHoNY might have some social value, but it wasn't a terrible portrayal of a compassionate response to an emotionally volatile situation.

Ultimately, I decide what Bravo decides to film and air, and I don't define what's exploitative and what's fair game. I can only control what I tune into, and there's no shortage of mindless drivel that maintains a relatively reasonable standard of explotation (because I've no doubt most reality television contracts serve only to excuse production companies from any type of legal culpability). If Kelly Bensimon truly needs mental help, I don't want to watch her continue to go without it. If she's just that kooky, I have enough irrational people with weird boob jobs in my life that I don't need to attempt to decipher the behavior of yet another's in my leisure time. There are just too many clinically sane, yet delightfully batshit crazy pageant moms, Guidos, and aspiring chefs, begging for cultural relevance, for me to continue to feel icky watching a woman dissolve before my eyes.


. . . . .
Kelli's wavering between Team Sonja and Team Bethenny.






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Comments

Sarah Lena

YES, YES, AND YES.

I was SO RELIEVED when it came to light last night that Bravo producers sent her home after that night and that earlier in the 3-part series, Andy repeatedly slammed Kelly down with a "Bravo producers never forced you to go", which she repeatedly denied and argued with.

(I just recently learned that Andy is a VP at Bravo. WHO KNEW?)(Other than everyone else.)

But yes, they should SERIOUSLY reconsider letting Kelly on next season because 1) she's now a liability on the show (did you see where she's repeatedly called shenanigans on Twitter and posted several YouTube videos about bullying?) and 2) she's just downright uncomfortable to watch.

Sorry for the rant. But you and TwoBusy are all I have to discuss these things with. :)

Sarah Lena

YES, YES, AND YES.

I was SO RELIEVED when it came to light last night that Bravo producers sent her home after that night and that earlier in the 3-part series, Andy repeatedly slammed Kelly down with a "Bravo producers never forced you to go", which she repeatedly denied and argued with.

(I just recently learned that Andy is a VP at Bravo. WHO KNEW?)(Other than everyone else.)

But yes, they should SERIOUSLY reconsider letting Kelly on next season because 1) she's now a liability on the show (did you see where she's repeatedly called shenanigans on Twitter and posted several YouTube videos about bullying?) and 2) she's just downright uncomfortable to watch.

Sorry for the rant. But you and TwoBusy are all I have to discuss these things with. :)

Melinda

I have a concern whenever it looks like a show is putting ratings before the mental health of one of their cast members. It seems to me that by parading her out to be watched and very possibly laughed at is the opposite of making people aware of how truly damaging and painful mental illness can be for a person and their loved ones. How is it any different than an old fashioned freak show where people come to point fingers at those who are different? Just seems wrong. And this isn't the only reality show out there that does this by any means IMO.

KBO

Okay, I totally wanted to delve into this in the post but chose not to. Do we apply the same questions/ethics to Danielle? I mean, she's pretty clearly pathological, and the producers are basically centering the entire narrative of the show around that. But for some reason, I'm not as driven to quit watching. I feel like she's such a famewhore it's not exploitation. Thoughts?

Sarah Lena

Danielle I find more irritating/exhausting than Kelly, probably because I've dealt with someone who is more Danielle than Kelly. So while Danielle just makes me not want to watch the show (ALTHOUGH I LOVE THE HAM GAME), Kelly makes me genuinely concerned for her children.

cagey (Kelli Oliver George)

Truthfully, I was just relieved that finally everyone else was seeing that Kelly was a loose cannon.

The news reports coming out early on Kelly's "breakthrough" said the producers escorted her back home, Bravo should have aired that earlier - they did themselves a disservice by not acknowledging product involvement and ultimately, made themselves look very irresponsible.

It is difficult to have much sympathy for folks who AGREE to the terms of a reality show. This is not a new genre and Kelly even had the chance to witness the 1st season without actual particpation. Sorry, no sympathy here.




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