We all knew it was coming. A medium as rife with ethnic stereotypes as reality television was bound to, one day, find a few spunky young Jewish women and present them to the world as JAPs. Well, that day has come. Bravo recently debuted their new reality show “Princesses: Long Island” which is about, in the network’s words, “six young women from Long Island who return to their pampered lifestyles in the comfort of their parents’ estates and at the expense of their fathers’ bank accounts.” This week on the Sisterhood we will be exploring the new show and what it does and doesn’t say about Jewish women today.
I know I could try to be thoughtful and noble and argue why we should hate reality TV, especially the glossy, melodramatic, and often ethnic stereotype-fueled drama that Bravo is especially good at producing. But I might as well admit at the start of this post on Princesses: Long Island that I devour Bravo reality TV shows. I was watching Real Housewives of New Jersey even before Teresa Giudice famously pushed over a table onto her castmates. I can quote Reza and Asa from Shahs of Sunset verbatim. Watching Patti Stanger shred my love life choices is second on my bucket list only to sharing cosmopolitans with Andy Cohen.
And it is because for years I have enjoyed Bravo’s reality TV show that I feel I’d be hypocritical to suddenly attack “Princesses: Long Island” for the obvious fact that it’s about my people, really my people. While multiple Bravo reality TV shows feature a variety of Jewish characters (Mike on “Shahs of Sunset,” Jill Zarin, formerly of “Real Housewives of New York”, and Stanger herself), “Princesses: Long Island” features an entirely Jewish, female cast, and it’s hardly by coincidence. The Jewish star facade on a Long Island synagogue is front-and-center in the opening credits.
And even more specifically, the show is about Jewish American Princesses (JAPs). Sure, they never actually use the word “JAP” (because the ADL would have a stroke) but the princess title is embraced from the doodles of crowns in the opening to, well, the title. Also, there’s the constant self-professions by each of the six ladies that they are princesses or daddy’s girls, each leading a pampered life waiting for their Jewish “Wall Street, doctor-lawyer kind of a guy” to sweep them of their high-heeled, pedicured feet.
And as someone who grew up in Westchester, a slightly northern version of Long Island (I like to think it’s better, but deep down I know it isn’t that different), the show hits close to home. I grew up in a town with a fair number of girls who resembled the ladies of “Princesses: Long Island.” Sure, those chicks are exaggerated caricatures of the JAP edited for maximum drama and stereotyping, but their materialism, their sense of entitlement, their Louis Vuitton bags are as familiar to me as the old oak tree of my family’s front lawn: another part of the scenery of my upbringing.
And it is because I grew up seeing both the reality and the ugliness of the Jewish princess culture that I am loathe to jump on Bravo’s back for its portrayal of Jewish women. Some commentators are up in arms, and rightfully so. Heck, there’s even a boycott with close to 5,000 likes. I wish I could rally more ire for this show and be more outraged, but I can only shrug and watch with the same curiosity I approach other reality shows.
In the same way the princesses of Westchester (who were hardly exclusively Jewish) felt so different from me, so do Casey, Chanel, Erica, Joey, Ashlee, and Amanda. (In case you were wondering, I just rattled off the whole cast by heart and 9 times out of 10 I forget my social security number, so yeah…).
And that’s why I can enjoy it , or as much as possible. From a purely entertainment perspective, the drama seems more contrived than other reality TV shows, though I might be seeing the strings because I know the setting a little better. I don’t know if anyone runs into a Hampton’s mansion screaming “I’ve got Manischewitz” so excitedly unless they themselves are already three sheets to the wind. The mix of Jewish cultural and religious markers with the Long Island club scene in general seems forced and fake. Again, I am probably biased.
Another issue is that too much of the show centers on high school boyfriend feud that happened ten years ago. That’s right, a major plot point happened a decade ago. Also, each of the late twenty-something girls is freaking out about being single. Seeing that the average age for marriage of a non-Orthodox Jewish is 31, this crisis of singleness seems outdated and unrealistic. In a post-”Sex and the City” television culture, husband-hunting as a driving storyline for a show about twenty-somethings seems antiquated.
My worries about the show’s entertainment quality are coupled with a few concerns of a Jewish woman who has proudly defined herself against the JAP stereotype. Sure, I am concerned that these women won’t be seen as sources of catty, delicious reality TV entertainment and as the end all and be all models of Jewish women. I would much rather people think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Nora Ephron rather than Chanel of Great Neck when we talk of Jewish womanhood.
However, then I think of “The Jersey Shore” and the rise of guidos and guidettes. Even when I thought little of the cast, I never thought of it as an overall reflection of Italian-Americans, and anyone who thought six twenty-somethings on MTV spoke for an entire ethnic group was probably already going to be unfairly judgmental and somewhat racist.
In the end, getting myself in a lather over this series seems as bigger waste of time than one of Chanel’s freak-outs over being single.