Southern Charm has been a target of public criticism and anger in Charleston before it even aired a single episode on Bravo. Although a good amount of locals say the show doesn’t matter to them or they refuse to watch, it is easy to find fresh coverage with either a synopsis of a recent episode or an outright bashing of the series and its stars. Plus, local news hasn’t let it go.
What does a good, traditionally “trashy,” reality television show based in Charleston, need to entail? The show’s creators could have found a handful of immature 20-somethings, packed them into a rented house on King Street, and made sure there was a hot tub and open bar, but that would have been a blatant misrepresentation of our city and a disgusting mess. It also wouldn’t have been anything new.
Southern Charm really does have an excellent, underlying premise. What makes it interesting is its lack of stereotypically-handled, “reality” TV controversy. Therein lies the charm.
It features six people who either have Charleston roots or have made the city their home and adopted its culture. All of them seem pretty familiar and it’s easy to envision meeting someone similar in an upscale downtown bar on a Saturday night or at happy hour in a West Ashley dive bar.
In fact, it was in one of those dive bars where I twice happened upon Thomas Ravenel. Both times he was amiable, sat with the regular “working class people,” and was attentive to his young girlfriend, Kathryn Dennis.
As said in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, “Saving face in the light of unpleasant circumstances is the Savannah way.” In reality, that’s the Southern way – we let the incident fade and avoid all opportunities to bring it back into the public eye. Ravenel hasn’t adhered to that tradition and has pissed off a lot of Charlestonians because of it.
He screwed up, admitted it, lost his position with the government, went to jail, and accepted his fate as a person who didn’t live up to their family or state’s expectations. What he didn’t do was lie or haphazardly attempt to salvage his political career. He’s made mistakes since (namely, a 2013 DUI arrest). However, unlike what would’ve been preferred by his fellow Southerners, he hasn’t refused to talk about what he’s done wrong.
Southern Charm could have been a sad attempt to change Ravenel’s image, but it wasn’t. He was himself, he aired all of his dirty laundry, and he didn’t deny a single thing. If an apology was warranted, he obliged.
None of that seems very controversial. Although some of the show’s situations were controversial, they’ve since been put to rest. This experience has not been an embarrassment to the Lowcountry, as similar shows have been to their locations. For instance, there were no alcohol-fueled bar fights. Did Ravenel get offended and threaten to slap Whitney Sudler-Smith? Yes, but there was no fight as they talked their way through it instead. Let’s see that happen on Jersey Shore.
Southern Charm is no work of art, but in the end, it hasn’t been anything more than another reality show that allowed viewers to see how a faction of free-spirited people live their lives. These particular people have a level of financial freedom most don’t, they work through problems with words, take responsibility for their actions, and are seen as representatives of the South…in some manner.
With Southern Charm the controversies lie in what proper Southerners – those who take ownership of the traditional Charleston way – see when they watch. They see drinking, foul language, gossiping, and philandering. Are such things socially acceptable and do they regularly occur? No, especially if you’re going to air it on television. After all, God forbid there be sin in the Holy City.
By Adam Burns, special to HolyCitySinner.com