Sleeve Notes for Vanderpump Rules Third Season Reunion Show, a Preemptive Précis
I was unabashedly hooked on the third season of the Bravo reality show Vanderpump Rules, which began its television life two years back as a spin-off of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I came across this season’s first episode late in 2014 while channel-surfing, and found myself unable to look away. The blurb on the Slice TV website says each week the program offers “yet another explosive wave of shocking betrayals, bold confrontations, and petty grudges,” which sound like reason enough to keep tuned in, but my own fascination and nascent fandom, I’m starting to realize, has less to do with salacious voyeurism and more to do with the pop poetry of their pervasively empty interactions. When Stassi claims she’s been betrayed by Katie, or when Jax recounts his own largely fictional version of some gossip that’s transpired earlier, I find myself at a loss to understand what exactly it is that these people are in fact talking about. Frankly, I don’t think I have ever known what any of them means, or means to say, most of the time. They’re usually talking about talking about nothing. Nothing. But their seemingly shallow and vacuous speech, embedded in what feels like a relentless carrier-wave of romantic pop-culture clichés, is also often tangibly bursting with strange verbal textures, inadvertently startling lines, weird resonances. They seem constantly to be saying nothing, but also to be articulating some emergent poetic language sui generis, to be touching on some shared and common fabric of language as such.
And so I aimed to make a sort of poetry, as a listener and as a committed viewer, out of segments of what they’ve said about each other. The reunion show, part one of which was broadcast this week in Canada – a week behind the States – and part two of which is still pending, saw the actors arranged in an amphitheatrical semi-circle in a room at SUR, as participant-spectators, both viewers and viewed. (Several of them, notably Stassi and Kristen, made careful note that they had “seen the show” – watched themselves on the show – in the interim between filming last summer-fall and this reunion.) The reunion is designed to elicit some degree of critical reflection from members of the group, but really the intention is to aggravate the controversies and to stir up old trouble. It struck me that, in the slippery double displacements of subject and object being staged at this reunion – they comment on themselves commenting on what they say and have said about each other – there were peculiar echoes of the populist aspects of Shakespearean meta-theatre, as well as repositioning of the agonistic choric odes of Euripides or Aeschylus, maybe along the lines of Anne Carson’s skewed anachronies.
My own small project also tries to mimic the Pentametron bot on Twitter: each voice could be rendered in something like an iambic pentameter monostich, an aphoristic reduction of what they might have said, and sort of did, or didn’t. The resulting text would be an aggregate of linked non sequiturs, a sort of compilation. There are no subjects, however, beyond the accretion itself: nothing but sound bytes of fanfiction-mediated personae, their un-voices. Because the poem is assembled from what must be public, fair-use artifacts (along with a hodge-podge of nods to various famous sonnets, to Irving Layton, to Gilligan’s Island and to David Peoples’s Blade Runner script), I think the piece needs to be published as a blog entry, with all the attendant narcissism of self-publication (which, maybe, fits with the source material). And maybe I’m being pretentious trying to explain myself like this. Because really, who am I to talk?