Meteoric rise of Bravo ‘reality’ programming promotes slanted stereotypes

Clara Bartlett

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When my brain feels like dying in the happy, vapid abyss that is reality television, Bravo is the immediate destination of my retreat. But thinking back, I cannot really say when I started watching Bravo, or when it became a facet of popular TV culture.

Today, Bravo, owned by NBC Universal, provides nearly 17 original shows, nearly all of which are reality television programs with an emphasis on housewives, fashion, food and design.

But Bravo was not always a part of mainstream cable entertainment. According to The Encyclopedia of Television, Bravo “[provides] a home for programming considered too risky or too eclectic for mainstream channels.”

In fact, according to Patrick Parsons’ book, “Blue Skies: A History of Cable Television,” Bravo was originally launched as a premium channel available only two days a week, sharing a spot with a soft-core porn channel, “Escapade.”

But in December 2002, when Bravo was bought by NBC, it underwent a huge makeover, ultimately resulting in the launch of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” a reality television show in which five gay men, or “The Fab Five,” make-over a straight male in desperate need of a style intervention in relation to home, wardrobe and personal hygiene. The show was an overnight success.

Since then, Bravo has produced shows including cable cash cows like “The Real Housewives of New York City,” “The Real Housewives of Orange County” and “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” as well as hit shows like “Top Chef,” “Million Dollar Listing,” “The Millionaire Matchmaker,” “Rachel Zoe Project,” “Flipping Out,” “Inside the Actors Studio” and “Make Me A Supermodel.”

But in examining the shows that have made Bravo a cable force to be reckoned with in the world of media networks, I cannot help but realize that Bravo’s success is founded upon the continual presentation and reinforcement of stereotypes.

While I openly admit to a love of reality housewife shows, the impression of women being reinforced is obvious. Following the lives of the super-wealthy American housewives, the viewer receives a very slanted stereotype of women, consisting of an over-concern for appearance, a constant need to spend and shop, and a never-ending desire to cause “drama” over trivial matters and ruffled feathers.

Additionally, shows like “Millionaire Matchmaker” and “Million Dollar Listing” reinforce the hackneyed and stereotypical American ideal that “money is key.”

Especially important to re-visit is the source of Bravo’s turn-around, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” a show that while challenging the status quo of typical American entertainment, also reinforced the stereotype that gay men are innately skilled in matters exclusively related to fashion and style.

So next time you tune into Bravo, remember that despite the label of reality television, you may not be tuning into the real world at all, and stay critical.

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