I first heard about this show from the emcee at the Pecha Kucha All-Stars, predictably, the host was disgusted. And for good reason, these women ARE disgusting. But they are so much more. They are us. Hence the popularity of reality TV.
That these women are not somehow different than us is a truism. Yet, to me it is much more. Housewives exists on the opposite side of the spectrum that created the DTES. It is as necessary that they exist as the junkie and the prostitute. Having contempt for them is like having contempt for poor people. Just as the Stanley Cup Riots were the ultimate expression of the disenfranchisement of youth raised on late capitalism, the Housewives are a product of our standard of living.
That children aren't prominent in Vancouver's edition is also a indicator that we've collectively digested a boatload of Lotos. As Howard Rotberg writes, regarding Exploring Vancouverism, "I saw a self-absorption and a narcissism that focused more on our latest position on somebody’s list of most 'livable' cities, than on ways to help disadvantaged poor people or even moderate income young families who are shut out of the housing market, in this, the most expensive city for housing in Canada."
"The Lotos Eaters” by Tennyson, is, for me, the central metaphor of Vancouver’s culture. Citizens of Canada, the United States and beyond, who literally or figuratively have tired of their “roaming”, have come to the shores of Lotos Land, with the freely available drug of the lotus leaves, the beauty and tranquility of the beaches, and a harvest of lumber, minerals or the modern day commodity of note; real estate.
A quick Google search finds headlines like this one from the Canadian Press; "Real Housewives of Vancouver show off surreal world of wealth and melodrama".
Unfortunately they don't call it surreality TV. Anyone who's experienced Shaughnessy or the British Properties is familiar with the sort of flippant wealth that permeates huge portions of this city. Well for every action there's a reaction, and that reaction is the DTES. Is it any wonder then, that these women look not unlike the prostitutes that populate the corners of East Hastings. And are they any different? I mean they are surely addicted to their lavish lifestyle, and now they're whoring themselves to the public.
If anything these women deserve our sympathy, not our scorn. They appear bludgeoned by their own excess. Tired. It's like the Monty Python skit where the son lambastes his working class playwright father, "Look what you've done to mother. She's worn out with meeting film stars, attending premiers, and giving gala luncheons." Not surprising is that one of their husbands was connected by the media to gang activity, specifically "the 1994 gangland killings of two men, (resulting in) a sensational trial in which a juror, Gillian Guess, had an affair with another one of the accused. Another co-accused, gang leader Bindy Johal, was later murdered."
After all, if the DTES is kept in a constant state of addiction then someone is making money. This is a city of frontiers: East versus West, rich vs. poor, sea vs. sky, man vs. nature. That the Housewives exist is a testament to our collective psyche, which is manifest in how we plan our cities. The riots showed us something similar. The politics of boredom and the legacy of Lotos. Or as the Situationist International put it in the '50s, “A warning to those who build ruins: after the town planners will come the last troglodytes of the slums and the ghettos. They will know how to build. The privileged ones from the dormitory towns will only know how to destroy.”
And so we exist as a consequence of this tension. The push and pull of commerce and the never-ending boosterism of British Columbia. Balancing on the edge of the Pacific, sealed off from the rest of Canada. We are forced to craft new identities. And I'm sorry, but this includes the Real Housewives of Vancouver.