The Tao of Housewives

November 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

As you may know, I indulge in Andy Cohen’s extremely addictive “The Real Housewives Of” franchise on Bravo.* I avoid Orange Country, Miami and D.C. (or as I like to think of them: “Spray Tans”, “Huh?” and “Bor-ING!”), and am fading fast on New York. (Though I did meet The Countess at pilates once. She was nice.)  I can not, however, miss an episode of New Jersey, Beverly Hills and Atlanta. The wine rooms! The fillers! The fights!! Oh, my.

The situations and characters may seem beyond vulgar and truly vapid, but a closer look at each jewel of an episode reveals a formula that not only brings in viewers, but also reiterates certain themes that may contain a Deeper Meaning. If I were a college student at say Brown or somewhere of its ilk, I am confident that I could find one hell of a paper in this show. And I would call it  “The Tao of Housewives”**,  since really, the whole endeavor is a modern day dramatization of Taoism in its simplest  — yet most sparkly — form.

Defining “Tao”

Let us begin with an abridged Wikipedia definition of  “Tao”:

“…a philisophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao (道), which is the mechanism of everything that exists. The word “Tao” …is usually translated as “way”, “path” or “principle”…Taoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation and humility…Harmony with the Universe, or the source thereof (Tao), is the intended result of many Taoist rules and practices…”

Read that again. And then, if you are a TRHO viewer, read it with the Housewives in mind and pretend you are a liberal arts college student. See where I am going with this??

For those of you who have never seen an episode, bless your hearts, let me break it down for you:

Harmony with the Universe

In any given city, a Housewife’s Universe is her Social Circle. All relentlessly proclaim to want “No Drama!” in the circle. They want to get along and have good, supportive relationships with their friends***, but events as manufactured by Bravo very often make this challenging for our girls. Which is too bad, because all they really want is Harmony  — No Drama!! –in their Universe. A very Taoist ambition.

How to Violate the Three Jewels of the Tao


Alas, there it is. Always.

Drama usually ensues because one or more of the Housewives have lost their way, by lacking compassion, moderation or humility, or some combination thereof. The Three Jewels and therefore, Harmony, are most at risk when a Housewife is faced with some odd social challenge that highlights to the others how far off the path she has fallen — or has yet to reach. (It is a journey, you see.) I will discuss them individually, but I am sure you can see how we can have multiple Jewel Violations in any given scenario.

Compassion or “Why aren’t you supporting me!?”

Housewives lack compassion when they refuse to support (a popular word with the Housewives) another housewife, especially by not attending Their Event****. They also fall into this trap when they fail to know the basic facts about another housewife’s situation because they are totally out of the loop, or just totally out of it. Like the law, ignorance is not a defense in the TRHO Universe. (See especially: New York, New Jersey and even Beverly Hills; all seasons.)

Moderation and “That was going too far”

Aside from financial foibles, lavish lifestyles and possible public drunkenness, Housewives lack moderation when they can not help themselves and say or do something that Crosses the Line. This can involve saying something unkind about another housewife’s children, how she keeps her home, how creepy her husband is, or how stupid Their Event is at said Event. Calling the gossip magazines is also a major offense to moderation. Each season, some Housewife appears to be deliberately running from moderation. I think they call this “The B**** Edit”. (See all seasons, any city. They pick one Housewife and  go to town. All she has in the form of defense is the contractual blog and the Reunion to try to explain what on earth happened.)

Humility, a.k.a. “You did it — just own it!!”

This is a funny one in the TROH Universe. Some Housewives are very “honest” about themselves and their horrid behavior, and are more than happy to apologize to another Housewife in an empty restaurant at some random time of day. Often, it is all ok for a little while, until it isn’t. Regardless, there are others who fall into the “Deny! Deny! Deny!” category when they have clearly been naughty. (This is often shown in black and white flashback footage during an uncomfortable Sit Down, just to prove the point.) Needless to say, since we’ve all seen it,  this tactic does not play well with viewers. Or the other Housewives. Often times the Housewife who does not express humility during the Sit Down later decides to “Own It”. In TRHO Universe, “Owning It” or “Just Being Who I Am” are not necessarily  humble acts. It really just depends, like so much in life. (See especially New York and New Jersey, seasons 2+)


Ultimately, Taoists hope to reach the state of Nirvana. According to Wikipedia, “the word literally means “blowing out”—referring in the Buddhist context, to the blowing out of the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion.”

Hmmm. Can the Housewives ever reach this state? Are they even meant to? Are we? I don’t know.

I do know this, though: There are times when I see the cast members on these shows behaving like real human beings. (I swear!!) Truly comforting someone when they are going through something nasty, being genuinely sad about a relationship that has gone supernova, or just having fun with each other in this silly ride they’ve all taken. It is very rare, but if you look for it, you will see it.  And how could the camera not capture some of these moments: these ladies are not actresses, and falling out of character is just about the most “real” thing they inadvertently do on the show. That, and provide me with a rather endless flow of entertainment.  I am not saying “watch it”, but I won’t think less of you if you do…


* I also watch PBS and a LOT of documentaries…and I read The New Yorker. So I think that evens things out.

** No disrespect to Taoism. It all just fits in my mind somehow.

*** Friends means “Castmates” in this context. Maybe they knew each other before the show, but there is no way any of these women started out or remain friends as you and I would define it.

**** “Events” are what you and I might know of as parties and other celebrations. Housewife Events frequently have a “Step and Repeat” that appears to be a backdrop covered in sponsor names that attendees have their photos taken in front of. Like prom, but with logos.  I have had one “Step and Repeat” in my life. It was for work and I have no desire to do it again. I suppose I am just not Housewife Material.


Again, I am not recommending that you to watch it, but, if you want to, episodes are available on iTunes and at

(Photo: Some Cozy Night)

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