“Artists of any kind-and that includes pop stars-are almost never as interesting as their art,” Ben Brantley writes in the New York Times , and ain’t that the truth. It’s why, I’ve always suspected, so many beautiful pop songs have disappointingly cliched lyrics-the musical talent is there, but not much emotional intelligence accompanies it. As Greta Garbo apparently knew, dignity is a fragile commodity, easily shredded with a careless word or gesture. The surest way to hang onto it to keep your mouth shut and keep to yourself. We tend to credit those who keep their silence with a whole lot more intelligence than those who talk a lot. Maybe it’s just a matter of percentages: The quiet tend to measure their words carefully, editing out the false starts, resulting in a higher ratio of cogent observation.
This brings me, somehow, to my recent sadness over Bethenny Frankel’s new show, Bethenny Getting Married?. Not that Frankel didn’t talk-a ton -in her past incarnation on The Real Housewives of New York City , and not that she’s some Garbo figure, but she was a wry, intelligent character who somehow managed to hang onto her dignity despite the fact that, erm, she was on The Real Housewives of New York City . Using humor and ironic distance, she served as the show’s wise anthropologist, translating the bizarre customs of a community of wealthy narcissists and lampooning the conventions of the Real Housewives genre. Those of us addicted to the Real Housewive s despite our better instincts saw ourselves in her. She let us watch with somewhat less disgust in ourselves; we were all Bethenny, a little better than the pigslop we were rolling around in.
And then, on a recent episode of her new show, Bethenny, heavily pregnant and minutes away from the beginning of her wedding ceremony, goes and pees in a bucket on camera . “I hope I don’t get gun shy,” she says as a wedding planner and an assistant lift her gorgeous white dress. ” ‘Cause sometimes I can’t pee in front of people,” she adds, as if this is a problem she deals with frequently.
There are words you can’t unsay and images you can’t unsee. I can’t stop thinking of Bethenny standing before her bucket. The problem with Bethenny Getting Married? is that the heroine has been brought low. Instead of lampooning convention, Frankel-as the star of her own show-now embodies the convention. And the convention of Bethenny Getting Married? appears to be just another undignified reality show, unleavened by a wise-cracking outsider. We don’t need a living Garbo to remind us that even in the modern age there’s still (barely) such a thing as TMI.
Photograph of Bethenny Frankel by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images Entertainment.