Vanderpump Rules and Pride: An Exploitation Love Story

Semíramis
Jun 24 · 4 min read

Not long ago, I wrote about the blurred lines of ‘America’s perfect reality show’, according to Vogue, Vanderpump Rules. I reflected about the boundaries of reality TV, and the show’s self-conscious portrayal.

But I still have a bone to pick with my favorite TV show.

Every time Pride comes around, I become aware that VPR asks the audience to perform very elaborate mental gymnastics to perceive the show as a champion of LGBTQI+ rights.

Lisa Vanderpump very well might be a prominent ally of the LGBTQI+ community, but her show surely isn’t. And there are a few reasons why.

Each Vanderpump Rules season has had episode centered around Pride. Due to SUR’s location at the heart of West Hollywood, the restaurant often takes part in the celebratory events, which have included parties and floats in the Pride parade.

However, Vanderpump Rules’ pride seems is less about the issues of LGBTQI+ people, and more about impossible outfits, theatrical make up, unhinged drinking, and juvenile drama.

Pride episodes include VPR classic moments such as Stassi in a champagne glass, lots of Stassi and Jax’ relationship drama, James’ sporting bite marks, and most recently, Kristen and Hope sneaking into SUR to confront James about his cheating on Raquel.

Only two episodes have had somewhat meaningful stances for Pride, alongside the drama.

On season 5, after the Orlando shooting at gay club Pulse, Lisa Vanderpump and most of her SUR employees rally to show their support in the West Hollywood parade. On season 6, new cast member Billie Lee opens up and talks about her life being a trans woman.

However, Billie Lee’s story falls short in a show that could have done so much more to support a community

As a trans woman, Billie Lee is still the only cast member who openly identifies as part of the LGBTQI+ community.

Despite Vanderpump Rules’ setting at the heart of West Hollywood, in L.A., there hasn’t been any openly gay cast member. Since the beginning of the show, there were rumors about Tom Sandoval and Tom Schwartz being gay, but the show actually portrays both in stable heterosexual relationships.

Maybe there are no gay men in West Hollywood.

Moreover, even though there seems to be no shortage of bisexual women amongst the cast, they are either silenced or exploited for the male gaze. During season 7, Lala and Ariana were outed by Sandoval, in a macho conversation with the guys, complaining/bragging about how they had hooked up in the back of his car.

When in previous seasons, Jax tried to do the same to Brittany and Kirsten, the rumors were squashed to the ground, and all of the story got reduced to a drunken make out session.

In both instances, women sexuality was depicted not as their own, but as something to talk about, and to be enjoyed by men. Their sexual encounters were reduced to a fetishization for the men in the show.

These hook ups were not a part of Ariana or Britanny’s stories, but their partners forced them to be. Either way, none of them were choosing to display an LGBTQ+ identity, and only Ariana has actually embraced hers on camera (albeit upon her forced outing).

To make matters worse, there has been a sort of silencing of the only LGBTQ+ cast member, Billie Lee. Despite the efforts to include her in the show, the main cast members continue to ice her out, thus turning her into peripheral voice. Even if her exclusion has nothing to do with her identity, it nevertheless results in an under-representation of minorities.

Even Billie Lee herlsef has called out VPR’s lack of representation.

Even worse than than the lack of representation is VPR’s continual portrayal of deep-rooted homophobia.

Since the very beggining, Jax has displayed all of the elements of ‘macho’ culture, from his unhidden misogyny to his blunt homophobia. When he was roasted for his birthday on season 5, Brittany’s mom main concern was the possibility that he was in a relationship with a man (and this is a guy who has cheated, stolen, etc…). Up until very recently, their Jax and Brittany’s wedding was to be performed by a homophobic pastor.

VPR’s peak homophobia has been reached in recent seasons, with the addition of James Kennedy to the mix. Not only has the cast tried to out James as gay, due to Logan Noh’s claims that they were in a relationship, but Jax went as far as to create a fake Twitter for Raquel, again outing James as gay.

Rather than addig openly gay cast members, VPR’s seems to be obsessed with force-outing their own. The show seems to thrive on these kind of rumors and drama, even by exploiting the communities they want to support.

Vanderpump Rules wants to take advantage of its setting in West Hollywood, and of Lisa Vanderpump’s activism to attract a LGBTQ+ audience. However, if fails to actually champion the community, and rather chooses to focus on the drama and exploitative portrayal of same-sex relationships.

I wonder what Pride episode will bring us for season 8. Maybe Jax and Brittany’s wedding.

Semíramis

Written by

Intersectional feminist, writer of sorts, mindfulness believer, karate enthusiast…