Bravo Academia: What I Should Have Asked Andy Cohen

I am, what sociologists of culture call, a cultural omnivore. I consume high and low art whether it be books, TV, movies, music, etc. Sometimes my DVR looks like a teenage girl (Pretty Little Liars, Teen Mom) and other times a middle-aged woman (Real Housewives, The Sisterhood). I love reading serious non-fiction as much as I love a good mystery series. And, let's face it, I love analyzing pop culture phenomenons. So for so many different reasons, Andy Cohen and all associated with him is right up my alley. His talk show, Watch What Happens Live (WWHL), obviously has a series pass. So last week when I went to a book event for him (The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year) I wondered what I would say to him.

Here's what went down, "I am probably going to teach a class on reality TV at Brown University and I will likely assign parts of your books [including his Most Talkative: Stories from the Frontlines of Pop Culture here]."

Andy: Really?!

Me: I am way cooler than Camille Paglia.

Andy: But I love Camille Paglia! But you might be cooler.

Wait, did I say "way cooler?!" I'm pretty sure that automatically nullifies the statement.

You were supposed to stand across the table from Andy while getting your book signed and to get a photo, but I said to him, "I'm postpartum and need to hide my body." He kindly let me stand like this. Andy Cohen clearly understands the importance of a good angle.


The JCC photo backdrop is poifect here. Evelyn Cohen would approve, I think.

While I won't be doing the reality TV course next academic year (instead doing classes on beauty pageants and sports), I do think it will happen soon. So, who knows people, I might be a guest on WWHL yet. If Camille Paglia can do it...

In any case, the event itself was only meh. It was the fastest event to ever sell out at the Newton JCC. The 300+ audience was full of fans who wanted to see and hear Andy for a bit, and then be sure they got their Instagram images and book swag. Instead, we sat through an awkward interview for 40 minutes that Andy had to cut off himself. Given that most people in the audience had at least one advanced degree, I expected better questions than, "Will you ever do a Real Housewives of Boston?!" [If you really know your Bravo stuff you know they won't be adding any other cities, which is why we got shows like "Ladies of London"] I cringed when a girl asked how she could "be" Andy Cohen, given she is a Communications major at Boston University, same as Andy. Boston, we could have done better!

Here are some of the more serious questions I would have asked Andy, especially based on The Andy Cohen Diaries:

1) You are very good friends with Anderson Cooper (aka "Coops"). As someone who is outspoken (pun intended) about being out, how do you feel about the fact he waited so long to publicly come out? Did you have conversations about this with him?

2) What does it mean that you encourage people to watch TV, but have also written two books. Do you think the two are mutually exclusive (like doing one activity takes away from the other)? Which do you actually prioritize? [I was pleasantly surprised in the Diaries that he writes about what he reads and has a sophisticated reading shelf.]

3) Do you see the written word, like Twitter and Instagram posts, as substitutable for reading books? I noticed you walked out with two phones, but no book? Do you care if people read the print or electronic versions of your books?

4) You write about, and spoke about, your ex-boyfriend in a very laudatory way. Care to spill the tea on why the relationship didn't work out?

I loved the moments in the book when he did go deeper, like talking about the rise of "docu-series," etc. I know Andy is smart and quick and I challenge him to say more beyond just creating 15 minutes of fame for a bunch of women with (his words) too much filler.

Hopefully at some point we can continue the conversation. In the meantime, I need to catch up on Bravo's new scripted show, Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce.


The Extreme Guide to (Sometimes Sad) Parenting

It's no secret that I love a good Bravo show. So when the previews started-- and I even got a press release about Extreme Guide to Parenting-- I knew it was must see TV for me on multiple levels. index

The six episodes recently finished and it's clear to me why the docu-series featuring nine families (three were so "out there" they got a full hour, and the rest were combined with two into a one-hour show) got so much press ahead of time, but not as much when the episodes aired.

It's because, somewhat shockingly, they weren't quite as out there as you might think. Sure, I didn't agree with everything said or proselytized-- and some of the families clearly need some professional help-- but three things saved the show from being a Toddlers & Tiaras, or even a Showbiz/Sports Kids Moms & Dads (earlier Bravo series that were clearly forerunners of this one).

1) Parents weren't simply presented as caricatures. The primary parent spoke about their own childhoods, often quite movingly, and it was clear how their own experiences often directly informed the decisions they make now. In short, CONTEXT was provided.

2) In almost every family one of the parents (or another close family member) tried to provide an alternative perspective. In fact, in all but one of the families a serious concession was shown being made . The one exception was in the attachment parenting family, where the family would have exposed their toddler to chicken pox instead of vaccinate, but the mom became pregnant instead (full disclosure I found this family the least likeable partly for this reason). Showing people's willingness not just to listen to other ideas, but also engage with them, was interesting-- if not a ratings coup.

3) What I also found interesting was that while these nine families tend to be extreme in their beliefs, they likely resonated with others on some level because there is a grain of truth in each of their perspectives. Is it sometimes necessary to "push" kids? Sure, we live in a culture where a story like this gets written about education, or this about men who can't give up their childhood sports dreams (full disclosure, I'm quoted here). Would it be great to show kids we shouldn't have too much stuff? Of course. Would it be great to spend even more time with your kids? Definitely. Do we want our kids to be tough but also passionate and well-rounded? Sounds great. Do we want our kids to be mentally healthy without the use of drugs, if possible? Obviously. And should we teach kids to be positive about their bodies and not ashamed? For sure [Though I will confess that nothing in the show shocked me because I have basically seen or head it all before as either a parent or researcher-- with one exception. I have NEVER seen someone collect menstrual blood, call it uterine lining, and use it to water plants. Gross!]

We all make decisions about how to balance all these forces, and more, in our lives as parents. Parenting, and life, is tough. My heart actually broke for the "indigo" child mom who is clearly trying so hard to do her best by her son (and because I had just read and reviewed The Price of Silence by Liza Long about childhood mental illness I wanted to send her a copy!). Instead of snapshots the episodes showed things over time (although the time frame wasn't always super clear) and while the editing was sometimes pointed, it still allowed people to speak for themselves a bit more. These families might not change your mind, but they will make you think and that's about all we can ask for these days in such a media saturated world.

I'll be interested to see if a second season is ordered, and if the formula changes at all. In the meantime, back to my Real Housewives viewing...