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As long as housing is at the forefront of the middle-class psyche, it will continue to hijack the political and economic debate. If The Block represents earnest, middle-class striving, then The Real Housewives of Melbourne is its diametric opposite, revealing what happens when ambition reaches a dead end. The outsized egos, clingy gowns and low-stakes self-mythologising would not be out of place at the Logies. These women are physically demonstrative specimens.
Simple hand gestures look like pantomime. My favourite housewife-cum-barrister, Gina Liano, looks like an amped-up Sophia Loren, and is surely deserving of a commemorative stamp. Real Housewives is not a show about housing renovation, yet real estate and postcode pride are just as important as the scripted bitchiness. It depicts wealth by deploying recognisable, visible signifiers. Bottles of Dom Perignon are uncorked at 11 am.
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They go to launches for liposuction machines. It is not a show that prizes subtlety. In one of many memorable exchanges, Jackie, resident psychic and wife of silverchair drummer Ben Gillies, is called a cashed-up bogan by Andrea, the wife of a renowned Toorak plastic surgeon.
Money is mentioned explicitly and often: the women fight over restaurant bills, extol the virtues of designer ski gear, and casually drop dollar figures during conversation. The opulence is always gratuitous, and the disdain for an average income is exaggerated. These women float above the exigencies of a job, so any income they derive is incidental. This is not a Melbourne show, many sniffed. But as I kept watching, my stance towards these women softened.
Society may deem it impolite to talk about money, but is it better to wilfully ignore money and class completely?
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Neither approach can claim the moral high ground. Few reality TV shows are as self-conscious about wealth, and fewer still are so desperate to cleave a distinction between the nebulous middle and moneyed classes. In this respect it is vastly different to The Block , which ignores such divisions altogether.
A sense of entitlement can be a handy thing to have in a professional context, but I suspect it has clouded my perceptions of what someone like me, in my financial situation, could ever hope to achieve. By forgoing homeownership and a lifetime of mortgage repayments, had I also sacrificed my financial security in the future? They are implicitly sanctioned by the state, embedded in our politics and reiterated by our culture. If you work hard, you deserve a nice house, no matter the cost. This ethos is not a sign of an egalitarian society, but of a meritocratic one: an ideal that uncritically rewards differences in skill and effort without recognising why those differences exist in the first place, or any concern for what the implications for society might be.
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