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Real Housework: Branding Emotional Labor in The Real Housewives of New York City

by Ethan Tussey

by Jacquelyn Arcy for IN MEDIA RES

The third season of The Real Housewives of New York City is propelled by an ongoing feud between ex-best-friends and fellow “Housewives” Jill Zarin and Bethenny Frankel. After news of her non-renewed contract with Bravo, Jill sits down with executive producer Andy Cohen to discuss her departure from the show and the demise of her friendship. During the interview, Jill explains that she intentionally engineered the dramatic conflict in order to “make great television” and bolster ratings for the show. Jill admits that she did not expect the rift to endure, faulting Bethenny for treating their friendship as a “business relationship.”  In fact, both Jill and Bethenny used their increased exposure to promote their brands: Bethenny left the Housewives to star in a popular spinoff series, author three best-selling books, and market her Skinnygirl cocktail brand, while Jill promoted her fabric company and branded a new line of women’s shapeware, Skweez Couture.

By jeopardizing her “real” friendship for higher ratings, Jill underscores the significance of affective excess and melodramatic narratives to the franchise. In this television format, the success of the show and the ascendance of Housewives brands depend upon the spectacle of feminine emotions. For the Housewives, the strategic management of emotions requires endless labor, quotidian processes that bind gendered, emotional practices— such as intimacy, care, conflict, jealousy, and desperation— to entrepreneurial success. Blurring the boundaries between affective ties and capitalist exchange, the Housewives bring into focus the tensions between irrational emotional behavior and rational entrepreneurial practices. Can the Housewives effectively brand themselves as prudent businesswomen while publically engaging in superficial disputes? The popularity of Housewife brands signals their success in parlaying reality television fame into commodity capital, however their failing relationships suggest the contingent and unpredictable effects of administered emotional labor. Despite the varied results of branded emotional labor, the Housewives call into question binary distinctions between profit-driven capitalist logic and feminized emotional labor.

Watch What Happens Live Clip

What What Happens Live Clip

from Watch What Happens Live (2012)
Creator: Bravo
Distributor: NBC
Posted by Ethan Tussey