The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Face Off Over Jewish Stars
When oversensitivity meets entitlement, there’s a reality-show lesson about the struggles of misfits
Gwyneth Paltrow is getting divorced.
This is obviously an enormous piece of information to process, and I haven’t figured out exactly how I feel about it yet. So, I’m going to focus instead on some equally privileged but vastly more imperfect humans: the battered and bruised Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Do you know them? First of all, there’s the divine Lisa Vanderpump, whom everyone hates all of a sudden for reasons that remain ludicrously unclear to me, as her only crime appears to be having a functioning sense of humor, which is precisely what makes everyone else in America like her so much. Whatever it is, the others are determined to make her pay for being so consistently charming, sane, and delightful. But then there’s Carlton Gebbia, the extremely tan new addition to the cast, who practices an extremely secretive form of Wicca, and by secretive I mean she is loath to explain any aspect of it to anyone in a coherent way. It involves crystals, I think. And vibrations and a love of animals and the iconography of all world religions, but especially Catholicism since that’s the kind most frequently found in posh antique stores. Oh, and also glass balls like the kind my grandma used to buy at craft fairs to put in her garden. All in all, it sounds pretty harmless, like a slightly less crunchy version of the kinds of things that America’s newest sweetheart Shailene Woodley (of Divergent fame) likes to proselytize for on talk shows, like eating clay and suntanning her vagina.
But all of this apparently doesn’t sit well with co-star Kyle Richards, former child actress and current mom and professional caftan wearer, who doesn’t even have the prettiest hair in Beverly Hills anymore since the arrival of Joyce Giraud von Ohoven (that’s a real name!). From the beginning, Kyle rubbed Carlton the wrong way. This was due to her penchant for talking about other people behind their backs, her tendency to compulsively interrupt any conversation that doesn’t have herself as the main subject, and most of all, what Carlton perceived as Kyle’s sarcastic questions about Carlton’s religion.
After watching the entire season, I have to concede that Carlton has a point here. While many of the other housewives questioned her about her unusual-not-that-unusual beliefs with genuine curiosity, or at least equanimity, Kyle’s were all of the “what do you mean you don’t celebrate Christmas or believe in Jesus?” variety to a Jewish person: less about obtaining information than pointing out to everybody that “Hey! Carlton’s weird!” Which is especially problematic—and especially good as fodder for The Tattler!—since Kyle, of course, is a Jewish person, having converted upon marrying her husband, realtor Mauricio Umansky.
Which, in fact, leads us to one of the seismic rifts of the season, one that was rehashed again and again, and that, when the final episode of the three-part (!!!) reunion airs Monday night, will certainly be no closer to resolution: Carlton got a new tattoo of a pentagram. Kyle, joking, or facetiously, or because she couldn’t see the whole thing because she was halfway across the room but saw a camera and needed to say something in order to hurl herself in front of it, said: “Oh my God, is that a Jewish star?” Carlton snorted, rolled her eyes, and sneered, “Really?” and later, at dinner, Kyle called her anti-Semitic. (Cue Andy Cohen rattling a sheet of tin backstage to make the sound of a thunderbolt.)
It’s a classic Housewives maneuver: Get offended by something stupid so the person who did the offending can escalate it to something even stupider. As anybody watching at home can tell you: Carlton doesn’t hate Jews, she just hates Kyle. And I think I know why: Kyle, no matter how loudly she espouses her daughter’s bat mitzvah or her love of the Star of David—which everyone loudly agrees is a “beautiful,” “spiritual,” “meaningful” symbol—has no idea what it’s like to be an oddball, to know you don’t quite fit in, to be in the minority. Kyle went from being a semi-practicing Catholic to a semi-practicing Jew. In Beverly Hills. Unlike some of us, who grew up Jewish in, shall we say, less Semite-concentrated parts of the country (or even the city), Kyle has never had to parse people’s questions, to laugh uneasily at their jokes, to pretend you don’t notice that literally the only thing this other person is thinking about is how you’re different from them. It’s not that Kyle is a bigot, as Carlton angrily accused her of being at the Reunion Part 2 (there are as many parts of a Beverly Hills reunion as there are Godfather movies; chew on that); it’s that she’s never had to be on the receiving end of one. She doesn’t understand offense because, truthfully, she’s probably never really, truly been offended.
Which is convenient, because Carlton has enough offense for everyone; she’s on track to be the first Wiccan head of the ADL, and best of luck to her. The rest of us can just sit back and watch our chosen proxies (that’s what the Housewives are, after all, like Jon Stewart said about men and sports teams) struggle not to suffocate in the tornado of bullshit that occurs when oversensitivity meets entitlement. Just stop being so mean to poor Lisa. She’s suffered enough.
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Prof. Xu Xin’s Institute of Jewish and Israel Studies at Nanjing University seeks to establish Chinese scholarship on Jews