Conflict, chaos, and verbal catfights are a necessary part of any drama -- real or otherwise. From the fairytale Cinderella, to the novel Vanity Fair, to Sex and the City, the girl-on-girl, woman-on-woman conflict is part of what keeps us tuned in.
With the rise of reality TV, we got a front seat and voyeuristic thrill out of knowing, "I'm watching a seedy fight that actually took place." It was something akin to sneaking a look at homemade porn.
The problem is that reality TV has gotten too much like porn, but instead of all sex and no plot, it's all girl fight and no plot.
The worst offenders are MTV's The Hills and Bravo's The Real Housewives series. It's a maniacal game of round robin where each player confronts ever other player in turn... when that round's done, the process starts again. It's sport fighting with no way to win.
On both The Hills and The Real Housewives, the women's lives are subsidiary to the fighting. Careers, pregnancies, children, and especially men are just the backdrop to the main event.
Traditionally, good drama has been built around weighty clashes, particularly with two women vying for the same man. But an ingredient that made the fight worth watching is the depth of passion in the relationships. On The Hills, spacey Audrena and a barely interested Kristen fighting over the incoherent "Justin Bobby" doesn't cut it. It might work as satire, but unfortunately it's not.
On The Real Housewives, the men seem like mashed potatoes and the women don't seem nearly as interested in them as in the girl fight -- a phenom that also happened on The Bachelor last season. The girl fight between Ali and Vienna stole the show. Any romance with Jake was just a sloshy afterthought.
Since the men are mostly meaningless on these shows, all the Freudian types out there are searching for some good old-fashioned hot, homoerotic undertones to all the reality girl fighting. Well, call in the search party. This reality TV crop is about the unsexiest group of fighting broads out there.
Shrill sniping over petty insults is anti-passion and therefore oh-so unsexy. On The Real Housewives of New York, Bethenny calls Kelly a "No" person instead of a "Yes" person... Kelly calls Bethenny a "cook" instead of a "chef"... Bethenny sends Alex to tell Jill she's done with her... the problem is they are never done. The forced, continuous, interaction between all these women in an inbred fishbowl adds a never-ending quality to the girl fight. Pettiness has become immortal.
On Live with Regis and Kelly, Jerry Seinfeld captured it perfectly when he said The Real Housewives was anti-women. He highlighted the fact that it amps the worst qualities women are known for in the same way that ultimate fighting exaggerates the worst qualities we associate with men.
It's worrisome that this attitude of living for the fight is trickling into women's subconscious. A life led for one trivial fight after another is a shallow, anticlimactic, and ultimately unsexy one. For those searching for true drama, this isn't it.