What allows reality TV to exist so plentifully, and to be so successfully engineered, is perhaps our human tendency to experience the same event different ways. Liquoring up scared, fame-hungry young people gets you most of the way there, but it’s the producer-prodded endless parsing of what historian Daniel J. Boorstin termed “pseudo-events” that fill the hours and hours of cable programming we so happily consume: fights over who is a drunk, fights over who said who is a drunk, fights over what actually happened when everyone was drunk, and so on. (Mr. Boorstin also gave us a handy phrasing for the contemporary definition of a celebrity: “a person who is known for his well-knownness.”)
To test these theories, on Monday, The Observer embraced a full evening’s schedule of pseudo-events featuring celebrities and took a Rashomonic approach to the premiere of the fifth season of the wildly, bafflingly successful reality show, The Real Housewives of New York City. We sent three correspondents with varying degrees of RHONY knowledge to three premiere parties hosted by Housewives, and asked them to write honestly of their experiences.
What we learned: Despite perhaps being unwelcome, ex-Housewife Jill Zarin made the rounds. A couple of the Housewives will really miss their extra-large Diet Cokes (thanks a lot, Mayor Bloomberg). If you hang around with a Housewife long enough, you might run into someone actually famous (Liza Minnelli!?). And the show, when viewed with the celebrity cast members present, is even more uncomfortably hyperreal.
Thus we present: the Occasional Viewer’s Story, the Fanboy’s Story, and the Party Crasher’s Story.
Menace to Society
Becoming a socialite is a grueling slog even in the best of circumstances. And I’m not in the best of circumstances. I don’t really know anyone or have any money, and while I’ve gotten plenty of ink over the years, it’s not the kind on the society pages (it’s on my shoulders, calves, upper arms, forearms…).
But nobody does it alone. Cinderella had a Fairy Godmother and a bunch of little birds. I had an editor, a stylist and a photographer lending occasional advice, but it wasn’t enough. I needed a publicist. And I knew of only one man for the job: R. Couri Hay.
“You know, I don’t even think she did charity work before the show,” Real Housewives of New York star Sonja Morgan whispered to The New York Observer last night during Harboring Hearts first annual Spring Gala. Ms. Morgan was complaining about one of her fellow co-stars. “I asked her ex-husband, and he was like, ‘She never did charity work.’”
Ms. Morgan wanted us to know that she, on the other hand, was fully devoted to her causes, including New Yorkers for Children, the ASPCA, and a new project with her daughters involving her former house-turned-French American museum, the Blérancourt.
And, after all, weren’t we all gathered at the Rubin Museum of Art (with its amazing exhibit of Tibetan comic books in the basement) that evening to toast two young women–Michelle Javian and Yuki Kotani–for their charity? Harboring Hearts places heart patients and their families in “home-like environments” while they are in New York receiving treatment. The charity also provides a network of support and a community of resources for those suffering from the physically and financially draining experience of heart transplant surgery.
Yesterday evening, The New York Observer wove around the horrific obstacle course that is trying to find a cab in Times Square in order to jet up 14 East 82nd St. The partially-remodeled space, owned by Russian real estate mogul and artist Janna Bullock had been turned into a three-floored gallery for Ms. Bullock’s premiere exhibition, “Allegories and Experiences.”
Over bites of fried sage and copious amounts of vodka, we mingled with some of New York’s artistic jet-setters, surrounding the two hosts of the evening, Ms. Bullock and Jay McInerney.
As Seen in SCENE
If you haven’t met Priyantha De Silva, there’s still a good chance you’ve encountered him, perhaps when he was pretending to be someone else: cherubic cocktail chaser, uncredited Academy Award-winning producer, conspicuous Condé Nast editor, philandering philanthropist, ICM agent or the creator of the Kardashians. Some say that if you put your ear to a martini, you can almost hear his overdone debonair voice: “What do you mean I’m not on the list? Don’t you know who I am?” Priyantha De Silva was that really, really sweaty guy of Sri Lankan descent who successfully crowbarred his way into progressively higher social circles, ultimately crashing down into of Manhattan’s most closely guarded venues: Rikers Island.
(Cassandra Seidenfeld, R. Couri Hay, and Wendy Diamond)
“Have you ever met the Mad Russian?” Animal Fair founder and dog lover Wendy Diamond asked The Observer at dinner last night. We had been covertly smoking outside on the lush patio of publicist R. Couri Hay‘s Upper West Side apartment after watching “Hindu Priest” Robin Cofer christen Mr. Hay’s dog, Webster Westbrook Alexander Hay, by rubbing behind the long-haired Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s ears and whispering something in his ear.
Webster was being named after Mr. Hay’s good friend, Roger Webster, who died last year. Earlier in the evening, Mr. Hay had lead a group sing-along to classics like “No Business Like Show Business.”
We had not heard of the Mad Russian, but it seemed like that kind of night.
Menace to Society
I’m not exactly what you’d call a social person. I can count the number of close friends I have on one hand, and that includes close relatives and the person I am currently dating. Which leaves three more spaces, in case anyone wants to be my buddy.
My mother once told me that I avoided joining large playgroups because I had a fear of “disappearing” into them. Apparently I was a very metaphysical child, noticing at an early age that girls who hung out together inevitably developed a sort of hive-mind mentality—dressing the same, talking the same, laughing (at me) the same.
In my recent bid to increase my social standing and ingratiate myself into a group of fancy ladies, I have resolved to hit the charity circuit. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
(Photos via Patrick McMullan)
Posing on the red carpet is an art, and most of the rich and fabulous have already mastered select “looks” that they know accentuate their best features.
Because these stances are done hundreds of times per year, its tough to teach old dogs new tricks. Or to put it another way, you can’t teach socialites how to react to having old dogs shoved at them as props. (Because let’s be honest, there’s very few ways to look elegant when holding someone else’s baby or pet on the red carpet.)