*/ After news of her non-renewed contract with The Real Housewives of New York City, Jill Zarin sat down with executive producer Andy Cohen to discuss her departure from the show and the demise of her friendship with fellow "Housewife" Bethenny Frankel. During the interview, Jill explains that she intentionally engineered the dramatic conflict in order to “make great television” and upsurge ratings for the show. By jeopardizing her “real” friendship for higher ratings, Jill underscores the significance of affective excess and melodramatic narratives to the franchise. In fact, The Real Housewives format depends upon the spectacle of feminine emotions to effectively brand the series and build a constituency of loyal viewers.
As antagonisms persisted, the Housewives used the increased exposure to promote their brands: Bethenny left the series to star in a popular spinoff show, write three best-selling books, and market her Skinnygirl cocktail brand, while Jill publicized her fabric company and branded a new line of women’s shapeware. Despite these twin efforts, Jill accused Bethenny of extending the rift and treating their friendship as a "business relationship." This phrase is telling; successful self-branding requires that emotional bonds are reframed into modes of capital accumulation. For the Housewives, then, the strategic management of emotions requires endless labor through quotidian processes that bind gendered emotional practices—such as intimacy, care, conflict, jealousy, and desperation—to entrepreneurial success.
Blurring the boundaries between affective ties and capitalist exchange, the Housewives bring into focus the tensions between irrational emotional behavior and rational entrepreneurial practices. Can the Housewives effectively brand themselves as prudent businesswomen while publicly engaging in superficial disputes? The popularity of the Housewives' brands signals their success in parlaying reality television fame into commodity capital, however their failing relationships suggest the contingent and unpredictable effects of administered emotional labor. In this way, the Housewives offer us a compelling glimpse into the commercial use of women's feelings and the cultural technologies that capture and deploy emotions in a profit-driven economy.