A feminist outpost in the desert.
After participating in a KNPR panel on feminism in Las Vegas on Friday, how could I resist taking a peek at TLC’s new reality show Sin City Rules, which follows five so-called power women in Las Vegas? It follows a familiar format, minted by Bravo’s “Real Housewives” brand: Throw a handful of women with big personalities together and watch as the bomb tick-tick-ticks down to an explosion.
As the Las Vegas Review Journal review says:
For all its talk of girl power and celebrating strong, independent, self-made women, “Sin City Rules” (10 p.m. Sunday, TLC) devotes much of its premiere episode to verbal grenades and catty cutaways. … [W]hat sticks with you is the bubbling cauldron of negativity.
Indeed. I found the premiere episode by turns Mean Girl squirm-inducing and I’m Too Sexy laugh-out-loud ridiculous.
When Billionaire Mafia Enterprises’ Lana Fuchs sashays through the foyer of the Four Seasons with her “Lantourage,” dressed in a full-length coat trimmed in fur and gold-rimmed, mirrored sunglasses, I knew something ridiculous was about to happen. Seconds later we hear her say this gem, “I love my life so much. When I die, I’m coming back as me.” Clock it: A new reality show star/villain is born.
Joining Fuchs for this hot mess are entertainment reporter Alicia Jacobs (aka the woman the rest of the cast loves to hate), mob hitman Tom Hanley’s daughter, Amy (aka professional pot-stirrer), Rain Cosmetics owner Lori Montoya (she’s a twin!), and professional poker player Jennifer Harman. (Ironically, while she may play games professionally Harmon was the most real and refreshingly non-game-playing of the cast.)
As a journalist who has lived in Las Vegas for 13 years, I can honestly say the only one of the bunch I even vaguely recognized was Harman. For all their talk about knowing all the right people, being power players, and having big names… I’d never heard of any of them before watching the show last night. I guess I’m not one of the “right people!”
All that aside, when it got down to it, the first episode of Sin City Rules did little to illuminate real life in Las Vegas, nor showcase women who owned their own power. We see little of them outside of traditional patriarchal and sexist standards — “hot” women who sit around preening and pampering themselves thanks to status that is bought (all or in part) by marriage or family wealth. We don’t see moments of wisdom, wit, or true insight. With the exception of a scene where Montoya is directing a fashion shoot for her product line, we don’t see these women in their roles as (presumably successful) professionals. In fact, we really don’t even see these women interacting with their spouses/families (although the next episode teased that Harman often chooses her children and livelihood over her husband/marriage).
What we do see are scenes where people are rude or mean to each other (sometimes for no apparent reason), that perpetuate the kind of stereotypes about women that usually yield phrases like “cat fight,” “catty,” “bitchy,” and “crazy.” Cause, you know them bitches be crazy, right?
And while I am a bit offended that my adopted home town is depicted as a cesspool of degrading female archetypes, what bothers me more is that it’s really just another drop in the bucket of so much reality TV fare that sells women out. When Jacobs looks into the camera and says, without a hint of irony, “I never regret spending time on my hair and makeup. Ever.” I not only cringed, I felt like this is what truly hurts America.
People on twitter seemed to agree, with comments like these:
@DertySecksy: This show makes me dislike Vegas. And I go every other month. #SinCityRules
@LizNnz: I’ve never heard of any of these women who supposedly “run” Las Vegas in this reality show #IHateaRealityTV #SINcityRules
@phounsc: #SinCityRules is an aquarium of collagen and lip injections. #whydowewatchtheseshows @ncambridge
@bunkowskii: The more reality tv I watch the more I realize how UGLY the rich people of this country are… #SinCityRules #unfortunate #ewww
But for every comment of derision and disgust there were people cheering for their new favorite reality character in Fuchs. And with every comment about her being a bitch, she pushed back:
@LANAFUCHS: Why do people think calling me a b*tch is an insult? On the contrary, I worked hard to earn the title of The B*tch!!! #ijs #sincityrules
As much as I’d like to cheer on Fuchs’ reclaiming of the b-word, I just can’t swallow her faux-feminism. Sure, being called a bitch when you are a strong woman is a little like someone pointing at the kid wearing glasses and calling them four-eyes. Been there. It’s juvenile. And it’s not even a clever burn. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been called a bitch… Well, I could probably buy that mini cooper I covet. So, sure, being called a bitch is stupid. And there are even times that I own being a bitch, because as Tina Fey said, bitches get stuff done. Bitch is the new black. But coming from Fuchs… I’m just not buying it as a moment of female empowerment. In this context, it feels more like a brand that only holds up in a structure of rigid female gender roles in which women only think they have power and that power fades as they age (cue: cosmetic surgery, etc., to continue a facade of youth and societally approved female attractiveness).
What I would love to see is a real show about the realities of living in Las Vegas. Showcase some of the real people who live and work here and who make this place home. Why not follow a dealer, a bartender, or even a high-powered casino exec? Mayor Carolyn Goodman or any of our female legislators/congresswomen? Artists and community leaders? Parents at the playground who worry about how our schools are last in the nation and we have no comprehensive sex-ed programs while our state has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy? At the very least, how about some diversity in casting? Vegas is hardly monotone in race, ethnicity, or gender and sexual identities.
Nah, that’s not flashy enough for Vegas! That’s no fun. It’s too… real.