This past summer, Bravo aired it’s first episode of Princesses: Long Island, a reality show following six, late-twenty-something’s living in Long Island. The six protagonists, Ashlee, Chanel, Erica, Casey, Joey, and Amanda, are spoiled, Jewish, living at home with their parents, and constantly on the lookout for a “nice Jewish boy” to marry (Shaw 2013). In the premiere episode, Ashlee, who is arguably the most spoiled of the bunch, exclaimed, “Everybody has a stereotype of a Long Island Jewish girl... People get so offended! I’m like, ‘Bring it.’ I’m Jewish, I’m American, and I’m a princess” (Mitchell 2013). It became evident as the show progressed that to Ashlee’s dismay, yes, people do get offended, as the show received much criticism for it’s negative portrayals of Jewish Long Islanders. The women take pride in their wealthy, spoiled lifestyles and perpetuate Jewish stereotypes through things like their frequent outbursts of Yiddish one-liners and their references to marrying a rich doctor or lawyer. But, even though Bravo’s Princesses: Long Island relies on Semitic stereotypes and self-centered characters, causing criticism and backlash against the show, it is popular and enjoyed by many because it invites audiences to engage in ironic viewing.
The women of Princesses: Long Island have no shame when it comes to their Jewish heritage. Quite the opposite, actually; in the trailer for the show, we see the protagonists highly playing up their Jewishness. For example, Chanel, who is modern Orthodox, arrives at Shabbat dinner and screams, “Guess what I have… Manischewitz!!”. Another instance occurs when Ashlee claims, “My verklemptness is making me schvitz.” The trailer ends with Erica, the “hot girl” with a drinking problem, saying, “Shabbat Shalom. Go f**k yourself,” (Trailer). These three examples are only a few of the outrageous Jewish exclamations the women make in the minute and a half long trailer for the show. It is examples like these along with the general perpetuation of the Jewish American Princess stereotype in Princesses: Long Island that caused backlash and criticism among viewers.
In the premier episode, Joey, the only Princess who seems to have an income of her own, explains, “the car you drive, the bag on your arm, the guy you date is pretty much who you are in Long Island” (Stein 2013). Joey’s comment emphasizes the narcissism and materialism of the Princesses, which in turn reflects on the cast as both Long Islanders and Jewish women in general. Andrew Romano of The Daily Beast said, “when the Princesses behave in ways that seem to confirm the hoariest stereotypes of their tribe—when they are loud, or pushy, or money-obsessed—they aren’t just reflecting poorly on wealthy women… They’re reflecting poorly on an entire enthoreligious group—a group that was systematically persecuted for centuries, often because of those same stereotypes” (Romano 2013).
Another instance of criticism came from David Israel, a New York congressman. Israel said Princesses, "leads viewers to believe that this is what being Jewish is all about, that if you're Jewish and live on Long Island, you're narcissistic, you are all about money and that a Shabbat dinner is all about drinking and fighting," (Associated Press 2013). Joey’s comment enforces that material items define who you are in the Princess culture, which confirms negative stereotypes viewers may have already believed.
The presentation of Jewishness on Princesses: Long Island enables anti-Semitic stereotypes that have been around for decades, and while there was much criticism around the show, like Romano and Israel’s commentary, the show was successful; it’s premiere episode racked up over 1 million viewers (Kondolojy 2013). Hillary Busis, author of an Entertainment Weekly article about the show’s premier, says, “I want to hunt down and shake the Princesses for baldly reinforcing horrible, outdated stereotypes about our people… And yet. I also can’t stop watching this damn show…” (Busis 2013).
An explanation for the show’s popularity and for the sensation described by Hillary Busis is that it creates a space for viewers to engage in ironic viewing. Susan J. Douglas, author of Jersey Shore: Ironic Viewing, writes, “Irony offers us the following fantasy: the people on the screen may be rich, or spoiled, or beautiful, or allowed to party nonstop, but you, oh superior viewer, get to judge and mock them, and thus are above them” (150). As viewers, we enjoy the mockery that the Princesses make of themselves and their religion because we see ourselves as being above them, and can therefore judge them. Ironic viewing creates an “us versus them” dichotomy, and allows us to consciously separate ourselves from what takes place on screen.
Douglas continues, “… Irony means that you can look like you are absolutely not seduced by the mass media, while then being seduced by the media, while wearing a knowing smirk” (150). Princesses creates a space for viewers to allow ourselves to be sucked in to the show, but only to mock what takes place on screen. Additionally, Princesses: Long Island encourages what Douglas calls the third person effect, meaning that as viewers, we believe we “watch the show ironically and aren’t taken in by it while other, presumably more naïve viewers must take it utterly at face value. Thus viewers can feel superior to the cast members but also to other viewers imagined to be less sophisticated than they” (150). The third person effect relates to Congressman David Israel’s concerns referenced earlier; he claims that the stereotypical portrayals on Princesses leads viewers to believe that that is what being Jewish is about. While I can watch the show and know that, although they claim “it’s a Jewish thing,” Princesses: Long Island is not an accurate depiction of Jewish culture, there are other viewers that may think the on screen portrayal of Judaism is what all Jews are like. However, this is exactly how ironic viewing and the third person effect work; Princesses invites it’s viewers to see themselves as superior to other viewers, even though all other viewers may also be critical of the same stereotypes.
Though Bravo’s Princesses: Long Island relies on Semitic stereotypes and narcissistic cast members, which in turn leads to high amounts of criticism, the show is popular and enjoyable because it offers a space for audiences to partake in ironic viewing. The six Princesses of the show perpetuate multiple Jewish stereotypes, whether it be their self-identification with the Jewish American Princess image or their obsession with finding a husband. However, although audience members know the show is enabling negative images, we still watch, and that is because the show allows for us to engage in ironic viewing. As a viewer, we can watch Princesses and feel that we are above the cast members, because as Douglas says, “however dumb or selfish we were today, at least we weren’t like that” (149). Princesses: Long Island creates an arena where viewers can watch cast members be outlandish and promote horribly offensive stereotypes of Jewish women, but we can watch with a knowing superiority that we are both better than the foolish cast members and even other viewers who may take Princesses at face value. While it may have been offensive, Princesses: Long Island’s first season was a success because it allowed viewers to watch ironically and feel that they were better than the ridiculousness that took place on screen.
Associated Press. "Congressman: 'Princesses' Promotes Jewish Stereotypes." USA Today. Gannett, 21 June 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.<http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/tv/2013/06/21/protest-princesses-long-island/2447323/>.
Busis, Hillary. "Oy Vey, I Can't Stop Watching Bravo's 'Princesses: Long Island'" Entertainment Weekly. N.p., 7 July 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.<http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/07/07/bravo-princesses-long-island/>.
Douglas, Susan J. "Jersey Shore: Ironic Viewing." 148-55. Online.
Kondolojy, Amanda. "Sunday Cable Ratings: 'Game of Thrones' Wins Night 'Keeping Up With the Kardashians', 'Real Housewives of New Jersey', 'Breaking Amish', 'Mad Men' &More." Zap 2 It. N.p., 4 June 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.<http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2013/06/04/sunday-cable-ratings-game-of-thrones-wins-night-keeping-up-with-the-kardashians-real-housewives-of-new-jersey-breaking-amish-mad-men-more/185649/>.
Mitchell, Corrie. "‘Princesses: Long Island' Embraces A Stereotype And Leaves Some Jews Uncomfortable." The Huffington Post. N.p., 22 June 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/22/princesses-long-island-stereotype-leaves- jews-uncomfortable_n_3480004.html>.
Romano, Andrew. "Is Bravo's Jewish Princesses Long Island the Most Offensive TV Show Ever?" The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 22 July 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/22/is-bravo-s-jewish-princesses-long-island-the-most-offensive-tv-show-ever.html>.
Shaw, Markirah. "'Princesses: Long Island' Reality Show Receives Backlash for Stereotyping Jewish-Americans." The Celebrity Cafe. N.p., 23 June 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. <http://thecelebritycafe.com/feature/2013/06/princesses-long-island-reality-show-receives-backlash-stereotyping-jewish-americans>.
Stein, Rachel. "Princesses: Long Island: The Worst Lines of the Premier." Television Without Pity. N.p., 3 June 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. <http://www.televisionwithoutpity.com/telefile/lets-review-shall-we/2013/06/long-island-princesses-bravo-tv-episode-review/>.
“Trailer.” Princesses: Long Island. Bravo. Television.