The Labor of Intimacy in the Affective Marketplace of The Real Housewives of Atlanta

Curator's Note

Kim Zolciak left The Real Housewives of Atlanta this past season making Nene Leakes the only remaining original cast member. Nene is working on three additional television shows and is one of the most successful crossover Bravolebrities. Longtime viewers have witnessed Nene’s evolution from rowdy and semi-volatile Housewife to rowdy and semi-mama bear Hollywood actress.  

Nene’s brand is invested in affective performance. I use affect as a way of understanding how culture, history, and embodied experiences of race, gender, sexuality, and class inform emotions and intimacy. RHOA is based on the complicated in-and-outs of intimate friendships, which makes it a productive site for investigating how affect is materialized and monetized. Affect is made visible in the relationships between the housewives and in the self-branding exemplified by Nene and Kim. Their relationship makes a rich case study in defining who can feel what when (and requires more treatment than I have space). 

Kim and Nene’s friendship, feud, and resulting mutual antipathy created a significant number of dramatic scenes for RHOA. They each received numerous headlines and interviews to talk about the other. Nene’s and Kim’s individual brands are, at this present moment, unquestionably linked to each other’s. Kim and Nene—and Bravo, too—are capitalizing on the deeply affective bond that is made material in their relationship. This is evidenced in the clip through the expressive close-up shots, Kim’s chirpy trip down memory lane, and Andy Cohen’s manipulative suggestion to Nene that she hug Kim goodbye—assured that her response would be television gold, whether she embraced Kim or not. 

Kim’s performance in the clip is grating. Her attempts at demureness read as artificial and her fast-talking, fast-blinking self looks shady. The uneasiness in Nene’s face is a welcome respite as is her reticence to embrace Kim. Following the taping of RHOA’s season 5 reunion show, Nene and Kim hinted at reconciliation via Twitter, and I was torn. Their make-up coincided too conveniently with the ending of the RHOA season and the newly launched publicity campaigns for their respective spin-offs, I Dream of Nene and Don't be Tardy... But, they made up! They tweeted about crying! I want to celebrate with them. 

And I'm sure I will, exclusively on Bravo.


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