I remember the early promos for Jersey Shore highlighting the cast and their excessive amount of hair products. The press made fun of their accents, hair styles, and fist-pumping ways. When the show went to air, people scoffed at their excessive drinking, inappropriate behavior, and lack of sexual discretion, especially on the part of the male cast members. Some thought the show would be a gigantic bust. It was much too ridiculous after all. But it was like a fiery train wreck. We couldn't look away. Saturday Night Live welcomed "Snooki" to Weekend Update with Seth Meyers. You know you've hit it big when SNL uses you for material. All of a sudden, members of the Jersey Shore cast were making over $100,000 an episode. I don't know if that makes things more or less ridiculous. Regardless, the show was a hit. All that partying paid. As the new Bravo show Southern Charm comes to air at 10:00 p.m. tonight in Charleston, the city it uses as its backdrop, I can't help but wonder if it is simply a gussied up version of Jersey Shore, with the bottom line being a buck.
The cast of Southern Charm certainly has less hair product than that of Jersey Shore, but one could assume they have similar aspirations: fame and financial gain. The real question may be if they are trying to accomplish it in a different way, or if this show will become synonymous with so many other bad behavior reality shows out there.
I didn't come to know about Southern Charm via a television commercial or an online advertisement, but rather through the concerns of Charleston residents, people who have grown up on the beautiful streets of the downtown historic district. They have seen the trailer for this show and have heard the complaints of their fellow Charleston residents as filming has gone late into the night and been filled with scandalous content. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said recently, "I haven't seen any promos or any info about Southern Charm," though a reliable source has informed me his office has gotten a call from at least one local complaining about lewd acts being filmed in public in the Holy City.
About two years in the making, Southern Charm was the brain child of LA film maker Whitney Sudler-Smith, who had the idea of showcasing the city of Charleston and the lives of the Charleston elite. The show follows the lives of Sudler-Smith, Thomas Ravenel, Shepard Rose, Craig Conover, Cameran Eubanks, and Jenna King. Sudler-Smith notes in the trailer the existence of a small ruling minority of very established families in Charleston, however cast member Thomas Ravenel is the only Charleston native. Similarly, only one of the original Jersey Shore cast members was a New Jersey native. The rest hailed from other parts of New England.
I moved to Charleston a little over ten years ago. I learned quickly as someone who wasn't born here that I would always be "from off," and I had no problem with that. I learned that there was a grand history in this city, and I have tried to honor and respect that history and those long standing Charleston families, many who have made me feel very welcome here. Most Charlestonians I know love their city and their history. So why would so many be up in arms over a show that claims it wants to highlight those things? Perhaps it is because those residents think of gorgeous plantations, the natural beauty of the marsh, historic downtown buildings, cotillions, shrimp and grits, and southern manners when they think of their city, and the show seems to shine a light instead on common scandal and debauchery. It has been dressed up in seersucker suits, but doesn't seem to be anything we haven't seen on Real Housewives, Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, or in many ways, Jersey Shore. Southern Charm works to define the rules of southern gentility, but then seems to work overtime in breaking those rules.
A crew gets a shot of downtown Charleston while filming Southern Charm. © 2013 Wade Spees
Sudler-Smith has tried to reassure residents, saying "We will not make fun of the city at all," instead claiming "Because we live there, we're actually proud of Charleston". It is hard to make a call before the show actually airs, but with all the negative local press, one wonders if the reverse will be true...if Charleston will be proud of the cast. It remains to be seen.
It would be a delightful experiment to see if people would watch a show about the wonderfully rich history of Charleston without all the go-to elements of drinking, foul language, sexual scandal, and bad behavior the networks often call for in an attempt for easy ratings. Some people might say that a reality show without those elements would never work, but The Biggest Loser, Storage Wars, and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition are examples of just a few who seem to have excelled without binge drinking or a pregnancy scandal. Even in terms of city or lifestyle reality shows, I can remember a time when the original New York cast of The Real World focused less on drinking and hook-ups, and more on learning about different people and backgrounds. Quite a few people tuned in for that show as well.
Society has indeed changed since that first season of the Real World New York, and many of us have seen our shock at appalling behavior turn into ratings success for a questionable television show or two. That fact brings the viewers' role into play. It may be hard not to make a viewing decision based strictly on the promotional material already at hand. But if you must, please watch the first episode of Southern Charm and make your own decision about the quality of content. If you are offended, unimpressed, or, as a Charleston resident, a bit embarrassed, I implore you to look away from the train wreck. Let's make a choice not to reward bad behavior, especially in our own backyard.
Here's to wishing the content of Southern Charm was a little more humorous and entertaining and a little less filled with scandal. Perhaps we'll just have to leave that to Conan...
sources: Bravo Network, The Star-Ledger, The Post and Courier
Audra Gibson is a Christian, photographer, surfer, and a lover of music and teriyaki steak bites. She doesn't like to be cold, and she's a bit of a cheese snob, but that's not her fault (she was raised in a gourmet cheese shop). Traveling Ink was her little brain child and she's very happy that you're here. She'd be oh so happy to recommend her favorite restaurant in town, take pictures of your family, or organize a night (or weekend) of fun for you.Website: www.audragibson.com