I love Southern Charm. There, I said it. Reality television shows have the tendency to be either really good or really bad, with the majority falling into the latter category. Much of the objective criticism directed toward bad reality shows is focused on their predictability, their implausibility, or the fact that they follow a rote formula. If I see one more singing or dancing or cooking competition with three typecast judges, I may throw up.
One would think that residents of the Lowcountry would be proud to have a reality television series to call their very own, especially with the medium's unique ability to showcase area restaurants and businesses. Yet the written reaction in local periodicals to Southern Charm, the Bravo network reality show starring former state treasurer Thomas Ravenel, has been surprisingly harsh, if not downright hostile. According to these critics, the show portrays Charleston in a negative light and brings unwanted attention to our city. I beg to differ.
There should be nothing novel, unique, or particularly embarrassing about Southern Charm's central premise. Ravenel or T-Rav, as he is affectionately called on the show, is a 50 year-old bachelor looking for love and redemption as he interacts with his wealthy friends. Among his insular group, there is a fair amount of gossip, back-stabbing, and casual sex, as the same guys and girls seem to like one another or fight with one another at varying times. This is hardly new territory for reality television, much less one starring a bunch of single people in a social environment.
What makes the show refreshing, cutting edge, and a must-see for me is the internal struggle within Ravenel as he entertains his basic urges while not so subconsciously rebelling against what is expected of him as a de facto member of Charleston high-society. He is aware that his political fall from grace has diminished his standing within the blue-blooded social scene, yet rather than conform and seek atonement within that exclusive society, he makes active choices to show his disdain for it.
A frequent scenario in the show occurs when Ravenel is considering the consequences of some potentially detrimental action while conferring with a friend, and the friend counsels him with the admonition, "But what would people think?" T-Rav's always-ready rejoinder is that he doesn't care what people think. This omnipresent credo leads to actions and reactions only somewhat different in scale than those experienced by the fictional character Borat in the farcical comedic movie of the same name.
As much as I enjoy the interplay between the characters on the show and seeing places that I actually recognize, it is this subversive dynamic within Ravenel that makes the show so much fun to watch. The drama is further enhanced by the fact that a former state official is involved in these outlandish situations, upending many of the expectations of how he should behave as a "Southern gentleman." This is precisely why Southern Charm is so entertaining.
With all of that being said, it is easy to see why certain segments of the Charleston community might not like the show. Ravenel's world on the show looks stuffy at times. It is full of people who are self-absorbed, it's not racially diverse, and most of the background characters come off as rich and snobby. In short, it confirms many of the negative stereotypes about segments of our community. However, that should not take away from Southern Charm's entertainment value. For some, criticizing the show for what it depicts is a little like blaming a mirror for the reflection it casts.
Bravo to T-Rav for not letting those naysayers rain on his parade.