Inever wrote the essay about my sort of-ex that I had intended to, one that started out drawing the ironic comparison between his flawed communication style and inconsistent articulation of his desires with the fascination he had (which he then shared with me) in the flawed communication style and inconsistent articulation of desire, of the women on the Real Housewives of New York. It was intended to be a poisoned lollipop of a personal essay, a mode I generally avoid, vacillating between the mild transgressions of someone who didn’t know what they wanted, the person who got strung along, and the perhaps unusual pop culture artifact that functioned as the bridge between them. But that essay and its banal details — the improprities of a fuckboi are seldom all that interesting — would have been its own green screen backed, ill-lit framed confessional. It would have been both something truthful and attention seeking, not so much inauthentic as necessarily theatrical, and, had it been published, another invitation to flog oneself publicly. It could have all been a grandiosely told lie, but that would not really have mattered; the only thing that did matter was the impulse to narrativize something like heartbreak into something that was consumable.
There’s little else to do with one’s feelings these days. You feel them and then what? If there’s no one to perform them for, did they ever really happen? The question of whether a performance is still a performance if there’s no one there to watch isn’t new, but the ways in which it’s been inverted (if there’s nothing to watch, did anyone perform?) does feel strikingly of a recent moment, a recent condition.
For a brief moment, as it was both truly brief and momentary, The Real Housewives of New York returned to its quasi-anthropological (or at least by Bravo standards)/Lauren Greenfield-esque roots. In the premiere episode of its 13th season, the reality TV show paused to show us a reality that was beyond the grip of producers and could not be manicured or performed or contrived in the way that many of us reductively understand how reality TV functions. It was just about time and space for a second: the relentless streets of New York on March 1, 2020, everyone going about their lives, walking around, talking, the beautiful symphony of chaos that’s come to be associated with the city. The little card on the bottom left taunted as a piece of painful dramatic irony for the viewers, and in a few seconds, the show cut to October, five months later, New York now a ghost town. We’re still not so far removed from that, even if the city is trying to revive itself and approximate an impossible normalcy. But the juxtaposition between the starkness of a New York alive and kicking and the Chantal Akerman-esque emptiness is still close enough to feel, the transition, the feeling of time and space themselves, still tangible. (And didn’t the pandemic feel horribly contrived in its own way, as if produced by a vindictive god to get the most dramatic reaction shots?)