Tonight, Bravo will debut their new series Vanderpump Rules: Jax and Brittany Take Kentucky. The show is the perfect combination of my two favorite things–trashy Bravo shows and the Bluegrass State. But, like most seemingly perfect creations, Jax and Brittany Take Kentucky seems just too good to be true. The possibility of Bravo mishandling some of the sensitive subjects that will inevitably occur is almost a certainty. The network isn’t known for its nuanced approach to the lower class, tolerance and economic inequality–three topics that are important in Kentucky. Now, I’ll still watch, but I’m fearful that the sweeping generalizations of my state will steal my joy. Jax and Brittany is at a crossroads. They can retell the same old stories–eating KFC barefoot and cousins kissing cousins–or they can try something different.
Jax and Brittany is a spin off from Vanderpump Rules, which is a derivative of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Bravo’s family tree of TV shows doesn’t have a lot of forks. (That’s an appropriate use of an incest reference. Take note Bravo.) Brittany Cartwright, a native of Winchester, KY met Jax Taylor in Vegas and soon after, moved out to California to live with the reality star. The dynamics of their relationship has been meticulously documented on Vanderpump Rules. On screen, Jax is a less than desirable boyfriend. He has a history of cheating on his girlfriends. He uses money and spreads rumors to manipulate Brittany. And worst of all, he goes to the bathroom with the door open.
Regardless of all his flaws, Brittany has stayed with Jax all this time. (Or Not, according to this “news” article.) Brittany seems to think that she’s changed Jax. The goal is to get him to propose and coordinate the perfect Kentucky wedding. Here’s how I know Brittany is a true Kentuckian, her dream-wedding venue is the Versailles Road Castle. Literally every Kentucky girl dreams of having their wedding at The Castle. In their adolescent brains, they envision a celebration that is a combination of a quinceaÃ±era and a medieval festival. Brittany never grew out of her castle wedding phase and still dreams of the Ye Olde Wedding aesthetic.
Ostensibly, this is why Jax “takes on” Kentucky, to win over the family and eventually ask for Brittany’s hand. His trip down South provides the network with the opportunity to show an area that has often been ignored. The opportunity also has the potential to be damaging. One trope that Bravo has leaned into is the “traditions” and “heritage” of specific places. The Real Housewives of Atlanta swears that “sip and sees” are a thing. Southern Charm: Savannah was dead set on portraying the city as haunted. The Real Housewives of Potomac differentiated themselves from the others because they are well-versed in etiquette.
These regionalisms may be true to some, but Bravo writes the narrative that these truths are universal throughout the entire region. That’s fine if the idea is that everyone in Kentucky is “welcoming” or “resourceful.” The danger is when all of Kentucky is painted as a place that is suspicious of outsiders or hard-hearted and stubborn. Without having watched an episode of the series, I know there will be a moment when Brittany says, “That’s not how we do things here” or “That’s just how we are.” The distillation the entire state into one specific mindset is infuriating.
The show’s premise is Jax travelling from a Blue State to a Red State and gawking at the natives. The camera will be doing a lot of gawking as well. Bravo relies on images to serve as transitions between scenes as well as exposition for the setting. For The Real Housewives of Orange County, these images are usually crashing waves on the beach, expensive cars accelerating down a well-paved road or nondescript women weighed down by shopping bags. The shots are usually images of wealth. Jax and Brittany take on Kentucky will not tell the same story. There are many options for images for Kentucky. The most overused is the running horses statues in Lexington. The most inflammatory images would be too much footage of poverty, obesity and neglected landscapes. The portrayal of Kentucky needs to be honest. It’s honest and good storytelling to show poverty, obesity and neglected landscapes to tell a Bluegrass story, but those images can’t be the only sights viewers see. Jax and Brittney needs to be careful that they aren’t exploiting the state.
Cultural moments like Channing Tatum’s Dirtbike and Coal Mines video and J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy attempt to show an overlooked perspective of our state, a point of view that shows the Commonwealth as a place with grit, personality and obstacles to overcome. Bravo isn’t the network that will solve Kentucky’s reputation. As a state, we have some heavy issues to work through. It would be less than desirable to hear how backward and ignorant your state is from producers who usually film housewives getting Botox. Vanderpump Rules: Jax and Brittany Take Kentucky has an opportunity. Oddly enough, the show about a couple that fights, sometimes while one is defecating, can be the perfect opportunity to show a Kentucky less often seen.