all kinds of families, jersey style . . .

Families, families, all kinds of families. The children’s book “All Kinds of Families” discusses what makes a family, from the traditional nuclear family, to the so-called extended family (I hate that term. Family is family!), to groups of like objects (buttons are families). The book expands the notion of family for children, letting them know that any of their relationships with people, other animals, or objects can be family. Pretty cool, no? If only the Real Housewives of New Jersey had this book around when they were little.

Let me begin this by admitting I love the Real Housewives. All of them. Bravo TV is my very own strange addiction. Out of all the Housewives shows, New Jersey intrigues me the most. Not because of the table flipping, or the hair pulling–these flamboyant gestures are nothing compared to the absolutely bizarre family dynamics of this show.

For those of you who aren’t fans of the show (what are you, nuts?), here’s a rundown of the primary cast.

Caroline Manzo. Photo by Sylvain Gaboury, from http://www.exposay.com

First of all, there’s Caroline. She’s the Italian-American matriarch of the clan. Her sister-in-law Jacqueline is also on the show. Caroline’s younger sister Dina was a Real Housewife until she tired of the drama after season one.

Teresa (left) and fourth child Audriana; Jacqueline (right) and third child Nicholas

Next up is Teresa (aka the table flipper). Her sister-in-law and biggest competitor, Melissa, is new to the cast. So is Teresa’s semi-estranged cousin, Kathy.

Unsurprisingly, most of the show’s drama stems from pre-existing family struggles.

AND YET–as Caroline says, “Let me tell you something about my family. We are as thick as thieves.”

For the most part, yeah. The drama mainly comes from the Teresa/Melissa/Kathy trifecta. But, all the women on the show make the same claim over and over and over and over.

And over.

Family is first.

And while I love this show, I’m not sure I buy it. I think they want to put family first, but fitting in to traditional familial roles makes sincerity and authenticity difficult, if not impossible.

Melissa (left) and Kathy (right). Photo by Tom Murro via CelebrityMagnet

Take Teresa and Melissa’s relationship. They constantly fight over Joe, Teresa’s brother and Melissa’s husband. I think Caroline’s daughter Lauren sums up the “what-the-fuck”-ness of this situation perfectly, saying something along the lines of, “Teresa needs to realize that because he’s married, Joe is Melissa’s now.” WHAT is up with this talk of people belonging to people? Reminiscent of giving a bride away, yeah? Marriage shouldn’t be a divisive maneuver; marriage should bring people together.

However, Teresa and Melissa struggle with their “roles” as wives. They both default in situations to backing up their husbands and their husbands’ decisions, as if they prize their marital relationship above all else. I’m not against marriage, but I think the idea that marriage is more important than any other relationship is antiquated. Other relationships, familial or not, may be just as important as that between a married couple. Or maybe not. It depends on the couple–but not on this show. Here, marriage wins out over everything, including personal autonomy. It bothers me to see Teresa and her brother’s relationship torn down because of their loyalty to their spouses, further spurred on by the idea that married couples must defer to one another. They’re all guilty contributors to the problem, but since when is family a competition?

I guess the issue breaks down to some Hamlet-esque the-lady-doth-protest-too-much thing. These women constantly go about telling one another that family is their number one priority, and then spend the rest of the episode proving the opposite through their actions. Maybe they aren’t sure what family means, or what it means to them.

Anyway, this is more of a rant than anything else. Thanks to Huguette Clark for inspiring the “roles” discussion with her post yesterday. And to the book “All Kinds of Families.” Maybe the next generation will understand the multifaceted notion of families a bit better than these women.

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