This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
The Reel housewives of Salt Lake City have something to say
I’ve never watched a Housewives show from the beginning before, but knew I needed to tune into the premiere of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. The new series truly has everything, as my colleagues wrote all about this week. But I was also intrigued by the show’s proximity to one of my favorite topics: Mormon bloggers.
For whatever reason, many of the top influencers on Instagram, and especially the top mommy bloggers of the early 2010s, are practicing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have attempted to write an article as to why that is dozens of times over the past few years, but I never really got anywhere, mainly because the reasons are opaque, varied, and complicated. But the phenomenon is fascinating.
When Bravo announced the new franchise, many women speculated if some of the top Utah bloggers would be tapped as Housewives, with fashion influencer icon Rachel Parcell being a top choice. However, it seems Bravo purposely selected women who are not church members, are former church members, or consider themselves “Mormon 2.0.” I don’t know why, but my best guess is the producers would have a hard time stirring up their normal dramatic fights if everyone was sober.
Bravo promoted the show hard on social media before the premiere, working with influencers like Kathleen Barnes to post their own recaps of the show. However, the show also got a ton of attention on social media from Mormon influencers. And they were NOT happy about it.
After the show premiered last Wednesday, a chorus of Utah-based Mormon influencers began to post almost in unison about how displeased they were with the show’s portrayal of their religion and state.
The influencers’ responses ranged from angry rants and sharp retorts to being mildly annoyed. The main gripe they all seemed to have was that the show portrayed their culture as fake and materialistic, with one line about the “darkness” brewing underneath Salt Lake City’s perfection seeming to stick in their craw. Many blasted the show as spewing “lies” about their faith or misrepresenting key elements of it.
One interesting post was from Emily Jackson, Rachel Parcell’s sister, who got herself entangled in a rather awkward situation. Emily also partnered with Bravo for the premiere, posting an Instagram Reels video about the show. She even spilled the tea on some of the cast, saying she actually knows one of the cast members pretty well.
However, she soon drew a ton of backlash for her positive review of the show. Other church members blasted her for promoting something they felt misrepresented their faith.
Emily was in a tough spot here. She was contractually obligated to promote the show (presumably in a positive light), no matter what she personally thought about the portrayal of the church or the city where she lives. But when she fulfilled her obligation, she pissed off the portion of her fanbase who are church members. She attempted to smooth things over by clarifying in an Instagram story that she wanted to keep her review light, but that she did disagree with some of the comments about and the portrayal of her faith. I asked Emily to chat with me about this, but she didn’t respond. (Rachel also gave her own review, remaining measured but agreeing with her sister.)
This is the part of the newsletter where we usually deliver our ~hot take~. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of analysis besides loving the drama. I love the window into the Mormon influencer world and viewpoints that we rarely see. Many of these women rarely discuss their religious beliefs in detail, so it’s interesting to see them offer their analysis in such a pointed way.
I think a lot of the criticism is a bit much (the Housewives are always exaggerated and over the top — no one expects all of Salt Lake City to be like this). However, I understand that to many of these women, their faith is something deeply personal, and they are genuinely upset about the way it was discussed on the show. If they want to share that on their Instagram account, they have every right to. And it’s letting us see a new side of them, which, whether you agree with their opinions or not, is definitely interesting.
I think we can all agree on one thing, though. The real winners in all this drama are the execs at Bravo, who must be absolutely loving this.
Remember when celebrities were issuing their heartfelt PSAs about coronavirus safety? We could use that same energy right about now.
The pandemic has started to feel like a hallucination. We’re cycling through periods that are tragically familiar as we’re also entering into new, scary territories. COVID cases are at an all-time high, and Americans are once again stumbling to weigh the potential loss of business against human lives.
That’s why it’s especially jarring that — after the onslaught of celebrity and influencer safety campaigns we got in March — there’s been little to no visibility this time around on social media.
Where is Shawn Mendes in his woo-woo beads telling me to stay safe? Where are all my influencers posing in their cute loungewear assuring me that we’re “all in this together”? Where is our third-wave “Imagine” video???
Of course, their pleas and posts should have less importance than hearing from our local and federal government officials. But celebrity influence is always more impactful than we care to admit. Hate it or love it, a lot of people turn to their favorite famous person to help make sense of their own lives. (The simple theme Stephanie and I keep hammering over and over in these newsletters is that influencers have influence!!!)
It’s why, in early April, I reported on the World Health Organization investing big marketing dollars into social media campaigns, including an AI influencer, intended to encourage people to stop spreading the virus.
Perhaps celebrities, like many of us, are experiencing exhaustion from being vigilant and complying with orders. Perhaps they don’t care much. Perhaps they feel literally or metaphorically immune to the pandemic. Or perhaps — something more pragmatic — no one’s incentivizing or paying them to post about it anymore.
I guess I was so encouraged by how plugged in celebs and influencers seemed around the election season, and I thought they would carry that same energy to the current crisis.
But it is not too late!!! If you are an influencer reading this, [Bernie meme] I am once again asking you to wield your platform for public good and for public health. If you are a fan, I implore you to ask your favorite influencer to share statistics to raise awareness, tips to keep the holiday season safe, and, my god, I’ll even take an interpretive dance from Glee’s Heather Morris. It’s a start.
Until next time,