I’ve been thinking a great deal about divisiveness these days because, really, how can you not? We’ve probably never existed in a society in which people were fully tolerant of the views held by those who believed the emphatic opposite, but I think I managed for a while to convince myself that we did. Call it what you will – naiveté, stupidity, a New York mentality – but even the willfully blind have to eventually wake up and realize that the lines we’ve drawn are really deep now, the sentiments really complicated. It might be impossible at this point to convince people to believe in something they don’t already believe.
If you happen to be that one lone human being who has not recently engaged in a bit of existential terror due to the separations that now define us, I want to know where you are currently hiding so I can get you the money I’m raising on my brand new GoFundMe page. I imagine you must be residing in some sort of bunker and you do not have a television and you have never heard of this little thing called “social media” and all of your closest friends are livestock who rarely roar with laughter, not even when they hear from some sheep down the street that an advisor to the President went on national television where everyone could see her and used the term “alternative facts” instead of the words “bold fucking lies.” Part of me truly envies the person out there who is completely uninterested in the chasms defining this moment in history. More of me wonders how such a bland mindset can exist and, to that end, the funds I raise will net you a laptop that only grants access to two websites. Yes, you will be able to wile away the houses in your bunker by reading everything on Breitbart and The Huffington Post. Immerse yourself in total journalistic bias, my agoraphobic friend, and then decide what it is that you believe and whether or not continuing to remain in that bunker makes sense. And if you have some extra room, a shower with decent water pressure, and a nice selection of canned goods, perhaps I can join you when the frogs inevitably come tumbling down from the sky.
But even if you spend your days attempting to ignore the rising flames of political and social chaos, chances are – unless you’re that one guy who only speaks to cattle – you still watch television, a venue where chaos reigns. Take The Bachelor. On this season’s installment, a bazillion women are ready to gouge out the eyes of whichever woman some guy named Nick decides to feel up first. To be clear, these “contestants” met Nick less than a week ago and they are already declaring to the heavens that he would make the perfect husband. They’ve also convinced themselves that they can tell far more about a person by his ability to do a mid-air split in a bouncy house than by the way he deals with – oh, I don’t know – bills that come in when he doesn’t have the money to pay them. Bouncy houses aren’t metaphors for real life, people. Neither is rappelling off a tall building or diving Botox-first into the ocean. It’s not just The Bachelor, though, that’s a breeding ground for dysfunction and conflict. Look at our Vanderpump Rules gang and you will see conflicts as far as the bile can be spewed.
CONFLICT #1: LALA VS. EVERYBODY
Okay, here’s my take on the Lala situation: the girl played her hand all wrong. I would actually support someone leaving this show because she began to wonder about the long-term effects of coexisting on television with monsters. I would applaud a woman who reached her “Eureka!” moment and threw down her microphone and walked away from the sort of contrived scenarios that can only breed mold and hatred. But I cannot care about or root for Lala, a girl who went on TV and told ridiculous lies and then got annoyed when people didn’t believe those lies. I can’t wish the best for someone who croaked out clichés like, “There’s no shame in my game,” and then lied about what the game was and who the players were before going ahead and swallowing the dice because she’s just really used to swallowing things. Lala is a “TWERKIN’ FOR A BIRKIN” tee come to life and I will not miss her in the least when she finally crawls away.
CONFLICT #2: KATIE VS. SCHWARTZ
Much of this season appears to revolve around the upcoming marriage of people who don’t really seem to want to be married to one another. Listen, every relationship has its problems, but I’m actually worried about the union between two people when one of them is legitimately terrified of the other one. I’m not a religious girl, but I pray for Schwartz biweekly.
CONFLICT #3: KRISTEN VS. THE VOICES IN HER HEAD.
She’s been relatively sane this season, but I have to worry about a woman in her thirties who swears she’s in a great relationship and has finally won back the friends who forgave her for doing minor shit like sleeping with the men they loved and yet she still spends her days stalking the social media of the people she loathes. That stalker tendency is a huge part of who Kristen is and what that means is that her crazy may be lying latent, but that crazy will always be present.
CONFLICT #4: JAMES VS. THE CHURNING RUMBLE OF NAUSEA IN MY TUMMY
He wins. He also causes it.
CONFLICT #5: SANDOVAL VS. HIS ABILITY TO KNOW BETTER.
He got rid of Kristen once and for all. Besides his blubbering on a Miami side street, he never backslid in that area. He snagged the only girl on this show I don’t regularly want to clobber with my heaviest shoe. But he is still on this show, even though the exposure hasn’t appeared to buoy his music career in any sort of major way, and he’s still choosing to be friends with Jax, a man who will gladly sell him out instantly just to achieve some short-term goal. Then there’s the hair. I do not understand Sandoval’s hair. I don’t understand why it’s so limp and I definitely can’t figure out why it’s so lanky. Me trying to understand Sandoval’s hair is perhaps the most epic battle currently being fought and I want to bring about an ending to this conflict by sneaking up beside him as he slumbers. I will then pull a gigantic pair of scissors out of my purse and, should he wake up when I grab a huge hunk of that terribleness, I shall stroke his forehead gently and convince him that he’s dreaming.
CONFLICT #6: ARIANA VS. STASSI
This one is actually the only conflict that’s sort of interesting because two people who aren’t total morons are waging it. Both Ariana and Stassi are articulate and both have a sense of humor. And I actually understand why Stassi finds it blatantly disloyal for Ariana to even deign to have any sort of relationship with Lala after Lala called Katie fat and disgusting so many times. But let’s also be honest here and admit that probably the only reason Ariana and Katie became friendly in the first place is because they both work on the same reality show and the love their boyfriends have for one another is strong enough to move the moon and the stars. (Zero judgment on that from me. I, too, find Schwartz adorable – and if someone figures out how to shove some gonads inside of his body, I might even one day concede that he’s perfect.) But Ariana doesn’t owe Katie a whole hell of a lot and she owes Stassi even less than that and perhaps Stassi will realize one day that she needs to stop trying to control how everyone stuck in her orbit behaves. I’m actually looking forward to Ariana laughing in Stassi’s face for the remainder of the season – and I hope she does it before she brushes her teeth.
And now we’re halfway through the season – Dear Lord, is that all? – and, like all the political battles currently abounding, I can’t really see any of these conflicts getting resolved. Most people are not willing to change an entire mindset, especially when they find it terribly inconvenient to have to admit that they were wrong. Still, though no resolutions loom, we must continue to march ever forward, not only down the avenues of major cities, but also through the cul-de-sacs of Vanderland, a place I strongly urge you to pass through without ordering any food because I’m worried that food was prepared in an RV that now haunts me even in my waking hours.
Speaking of the setting of a waking nightmare, tonight we begin at Sur. I’d been under the impression that Scheana had lost all that weight from working out or removing gluten from her life, but I think the real story is that the girl can’t eat because now she has twelve ulcers and each one of them was a gift from Stassi and Kristen. Seems they’ve been sending her some cruel texts about how she’d better kick in money for Katie’s bridal shower, money Scheana doesn’t remember agreeing to spend. Looks like Stassi and Kristen now require a fee to pretend to be Scheana’s friend and my guess is the money they demanded will be in their pockets by season’s end.
At their apartment, Ariana is getting herself ready for Sandoval’s fund-rager. For those of us who don’t make up words and therefore have no idea what any of this is about, a “fund-rager” is a party that helps raise money for a charity. Sandoval is hoping his party will help support a foundation in Haiti and he mentions that he wants the event to go really well while he’s hanging upside down in a doorway. He eventually hops down because it’s time to get his hair braided and while a stylist I hope is making a fortune for sticking his fingers into that monstrosity, Sandoval and Ariana discuss their upcoming week of debauchery that begins with a party Stassi and Kristen were somehow invited to and ends with Jax's roast, an event that had to have been suggested by the production team because I don’t know if even Jax is stupid enough to conceptualize an event where everyone holds a microphone and then tells him to his face how much he sucks.
While Sandoval gets cornrows, Katie and Schwartz head over to the paint store. Seems Katie failed miserably in her initial choices of pink swatches that she presented to Lisa and she’s back to make it all okay by choosing something like Tulip Pink instead of Ballerina Pink. The selection of paint is a truly complicated process, and the stress of the moment begins to creep inside both of them. They’re already sort of annoyed at one another and both are hung way over and they are stuck together in this small store and soon they are going to be married so it’s really no wonder that the screaming starts eventually. My take is that Katie had a right to be annoyed that Schwartz wouldn’t help her carry the shower gifts in from the car, but I’m not sure the best response was to send him a litany of nasty texts. That said, I sort of hope those texts will be included in their vows because this wedding needs something to make it interesting and the dishtowel invitations didn’t quite do it for me. Proving these two communicate as well as a drunk mute doing interpretive dance, Katie deals with her fury by driving away from the store and leaving Schwartz on the street before eventually swinging back to pick him up. Um, can someone please call a local shelter and see if they have a bed for Schwartz?
Sandoval’s fun-rager is about to start and nothing says fun like James Kennedy’s presence. Yes, he oozed up from some damp sidewalk somewhere on the side of town where there are no bedroom doors and now he’s at the party with his Mensa girlfriend, Raquel. Katie and Schwartz are also there, the buried details of their latest brawl just another hazy memory. Into the room that’s filled with barely contained resentment comes Scheana and she approaches James to say how surprised she is to see him with his girlfriend – you know, considering. "Considering what?" he foolishly asks a person who was probably double-dog-dared by the friends who hate her to approach these two in public so she could help bring about the ruin of their lives. (Who says charity events aren't fun?) Anyway, Scheana’s not very subtle line of questioning is meant to let this Raquel chick know that James – a man I still cannot fathom gets any ass – did in fact get with Ellie while James was committed to Raquel. "Ellie says she has a picture of you in her bed from March," Scheana announces, to which James responds by explaining, "She's saying that because she's a DJ groupie." Wait – is a DJ Groupie actually a thing? Raquel doesn't believe any of these stories and she also doesn’t see the flares or emergency exits and the reason for that is because she's an idiot, the kind of person who doesn't realize that what she should do in this situation is point at James and then laugh the instant he announces that he's off "to do his residency."
Lisa shows up and promptly donates $500 to Sandoval’s charity, but there's really no time to focus on philanthropy. It’s far more essential to concentrate on the way Scheana runs over to Stassi and Kristen to proudly report what she just did to try to destroy James’ life and how she would have succeeded had his girlfriend not been dumb as a box of rocks. But her hero’s welcome is pissed upon the instant she tells them that she'd like to discuss the nasty barrage of texts they sent her way, you know, because it was a Tuesday and because they just really hate her. If Scheana’s expecting any sort of apology here, she's barking up a tree she mistakenly believes kind people live in.
You’d think Scheana would be the one having the worst time at that party, but it might be Jax who would rather be anywhere else. He goes to pay for something with his credit card in front of Brittany and her mother and his card is very publicly declined. "Why does shit like this always happen?" he asks. Now, I realize his was a rhetorical question on some level, but I’m just gonna go ahead and respond that breast surgery and drugs both cost a lot of money and the result is that one is often not left with a ton of extra cash and it might therefore be tough to impress the woman who bizarrely still wants to be your mother-in-law.
On the other side of the room, Stassi, Brittany, and Schwartz throw back Jagermeister shots so enormous that I'd be dead on the floor just by smelling that shit, but all of these people need to momentarily escape the knowledge of who they are or who they're going home with later, so I’m more impressed that they didn’t break out an IV and pour the alcohol into their bodies that way. This is restraint, people! At some point, Lisa saunters over to Sandoval and Ariana to announce that Lala is missing in action yet again – has anyone checked every private plane in Los Angeles or a store that sells kneepads? – before asking Ariana how she's getting along with Stassi because Lisa is an executive producer of this show, dammit, and she will keep those flames of conflict sizzling even if she has to rustle up the kindling herself. "I don't like her very much," Ariana says bluntly and she goes on to explain that Stassi tries to tell other people how to live their lives. And you know what? There’s legitimately no way to look at this situation and come away not fully agreeing with Ariana.
Also: Jax is wearing Brittany’s camisole.
Because she will do anything to avoid having to make eye contact with Kristen and Stassi including scaling the sides of buildings or calling Elon Musk and asking him to please send a flying Tesla to the roof of the premises immediately, Lisa scans the room and briefly sits down with Katie and Schwartz. Hearing about yet another fight they had and the details about the way they speak to each other and how Katie suffers from “agitation,” Lisa tells them directly that it’s time to work out their shit. Over in another part of the bar, Scheana seeks out her one real friend. She tells Ariana that Shay has been out making music a lot lately and he’s been keeping some odd hours and his time away is worrying her. She can't tell the others, she explains, because they'll just end up throwing it in her face at a time they deem convenient. "If they don't love you, they're not your real friends," Ariana patiently explains at the very same moment Stassi toasts herself in the darkest corner of the room.
The next evening, James appears at some hotel I've never heard of because he’s ready to redefine what it means to play a record. I'd discuss more of the grandiose things he says about himself, but it's very hard to translate stupid.
Back at Sur, Lala still hasn't made an appearance. Katie is there, though. She’s in the back telling Scheana that everything is great again in her relationship and Scheana finally suggests that since they only fight when they're hammered, maybe they should consider not registering for a funnel. Once she’s got that recommendation out of the way, Scheana tells Katie that she's received nasty texts from Kristen about the money for the shower. Now, etiquette dictates that you don’t really complain to the bride about how much her wedding is costing you. The polite thing to do is create a papier-mâché version of the bride’s head and then smash it with a mallet in the privacy of your own voodoo room. What I’m trying to say is that Scheana probably shouldn’t have told Katie any of that, but I have zero issue with her bringing up the idiocy surrounding Kristen’s second round of asinine texts. The crux of those texts were complaints that Scheana was talking to Ariana, a girl Kristen still hates in spite of the fact that she swears she is currently the single happiest girl in all the land. (Seriously, there was a contest held at a local asylum and she won!) Upon hearing that Kristen – a girl Katie once cut from her own life – is being spoken of poorly, Katie turns away and mumbles, "Good talk." Let me just say this: perhaps there's way more to Katie than what has been captured on television. Perhaps she's hilariously funny and so fucking interesting that you wish there were ten of her. Maybe she's actually the queen of scintillating conversations – but let’s be honest and agree that not a single one of those qualities has ever made it on the air. I don’t get the tiptoeing around Katie or the quiet worship of her. I find her surly and judgmental and, while I don’t care too much about Scheana, I hope that girl gnaws her way loose and one day becomes friends with people known for their decency instead of a collective psychosis.
Since this is an episode filled with parties, it’s now time to celebrate Jax’s birthday! He heads out to dinner with Brittany and her mom and his goal here is to prepare Brittany's mother for his upcoming roast by letting her know that he's done some terrible things throughout the course of his life and that his good friends will probably bring every single one of those things up…in jest...while onstage...with cameras pointed at them...while they all wear microphones. Why someone like Jax would even agree to be the subject of a roast is beyond me, but I guess nobody’s ever declared the guy a brain surgeon. Wait – has anyone officially declared him a homosapien?
Also: Jax cheated on his ACTs because he was worried he wouldn't get a modeling scholarship to Stanford if his scores were low.
This entire group is taking the roast very seriously. Sandoval meets up with Scheana and Shay so they can all work on crafting whatever insults they’ll hurl at the event and part of Scheana’s speech includes bringing up how Jax slept with Kristen. Sandoval wants to make sure to mention the two tit jobs Jax has commissioned so far this year. And now that they’re done talking about one friend, they all move on to a new subject and bandy about the theory that Katie has a drinking problem and whether or not they should mention their concerns to a girl who defines herself as constantly agitated. Scheana, woman – are you mad? Just imagine the texts you’ll get in the dead of night from Kristen after you confront Katie about a minor thing like being an alcoholic! Someone please check to see if Schwartz’s shelter has an extra bed.
As for the alleged alcoholic in question, her newest plan to combat the rage everyone complains about – the one that sets in after she mainlines tequila – is not to stop drinking, but instead procure for herself a medical marijuana card. She hopes the weed will quell her anger more quickly than therapy, so she shows up with Stassi, a girl who never ever gets enraged. In between choosing weed that she hopes will make her less awful a person, Katie informs Stassi about what Scheana said the other night about the money needed for the shower and Stassi decides right here and now that this comment absolutely proves that Scheana was raised by feral creatures in the wilderness. Oh, and that slight anger Stassi used to feel towards Scheana? That anger has ballooned into rage. Really, Stassi? You're enraged? What the fuck else is new?
Across town, Kristen is taking her role as roastmaster very seriously. She is, after all, the premiere voice in comedy, but nobody in the room is laughing when Brittany gets a text telling her that someone will be bringing up the Brittany/Kristen box-munching rumor – the one Jax started. Since her mother will be there later and might end up feeling embarrassed when she hears tales about her daughter's clitoris, Brittany asks Kristen to explain the rumor to her now. "That's not cool," Brittany's mother responds. "I don't want any rumors brought up about my daughter." Brittany’s mom has seen this show, right? Does she not realize the entire series is basically a heavily edited and televised rumor about her daughter? And at this point, can she really pretend to be surprised that her kid is cohabiting with a sleezeball? That last question was not rhetorical.
And now it's time for the roast and the same ten people who always show up on this series show up once again. Jax is already sweating something fierce when Kristen gets up to playfully rib him. She's not working too hard, though; she's saving her best shit for her introduction of Ariana. See, since Kristen is soooo over Sandoval, she decides to illustrate her staggering personal growth by reminding everyone that she used to be with him before Ariana stole him away. That’s right, she seems to be thinking. Suck it, Ariana! And by the way, everyone hates you! But here's the thing about Kristen: she'll crumble in about four seconds if anyone says anything vaguely cruel or truthful back to her and the look she gives Ariana after Ariana wipes the floor with Kristen’s damaged psyche is going to be my new screensaver.
Ariana launches into tales about Jax shoplifting and knocking up a stranger in Vegas. Katie's up next and she basically announces that Jax is a douchebag who tried to demolish her relationship. Scheana gets onstage and proclaims that Jax has slept with a lot of women and has their names tattooed across his body to prove it. Shay rises from his seat and tells Jax he’s fat. The problem here is that nothing anyone is saying is really a joke. What we're listening to is a catalogue of Jax’s revolting actions and decisions followed by a bad-dum-pum hit of some drums. And then Sandoval gets up and the guy appears to have committed to white suits because if he can’t be the star of a bartending video, he will singlehandedly bring about a remake of Saturday Night Fever. Anyway, he brings up the rumor about Brittany and Kristen hooking up and then it's Brittany’s turn. This is one lucky girl. She gets to go home with a cheating-kleptomaniac-tattoo-happy-sociopath! Brittany, honey? Let me just be clear here: if it turns out that you're the one living inside that bunker and talking only to cattle, I'm going to suggest you stay there because it means you got out! You walked away from a perspiring douchebag who just had his second boob job! You have won and I celebrate you and I shall even hand over the money I raised so you can buy yourself a brand new hymen and make it like Jax (and Kristen) never existed. And that, my friends, is my version of charity.
When Schwartz gets up to roast his dear idiot friend, his entire speech is about how Jax used to hook up with men back when he lived in Miami. Jax denies every bit of the story and I'm very sad to inform him that he is failing miserably as a sociopath. A legitimate sociopath lies with way more flair. Trust me.
But now Jax has to climb out of his makeshift throne and sit down with Brittany’s mother so he can swear that he never sucked dick in exchange for free rent. (And he thought the conversation about why he didn't attend church was tough!) What’s odd here is that Brittany’s mother should have a lot of concerns. Every person in that room told long and detailed tales of Jax cheating on every girl he's ever met. They spoke of the times he went to jail. Brittany is now hauling around a pair of enormous tits she probably never needed. And with all this abject horror now out in the open, it’s rather baffling to realize that what Brittany’s mother is most horrified about are the stories of homosexuality. Motherfuck, it’s hard to say this, but I agree with Jax when he acknowledges just how screwed up a mentality that is to have. It’s just been revealed that he’s a liar and a cheat and he has a hard time walking into any room and not stealing something! How is it even possible that Brittany’s mother is hung up on the notion that he used to make out with men? All she should really ask here is whether or not he cheated on those guys, too.
And now yet another conflict exists on this show and this one’s between Jax and some mom from Kentucky. This one could get ugly and suddenly that bunker doesn’t seem like the very worst place to be, especially if “canned goods” happens to include Pringles.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle. Also be sure to check out her website at nellkalter.com Her Twitter is @nell_kalter