Amidst the canceling of Karens everywhere, Vanderpump Rules’ Stassi Schroeder, Kristen Doute, Max Boyens and Brett Caprioni were all fired from Bravo’s hit show after racist words and actions from their past came back under public scrutiny. Lisa Vanderpump put out a statement, loosely condemning their actions, but not calling out any employees by name. Andy Cohen said he supported the decision to fire them. And it’s good that as we as a nation are finally reckoning with racism, Bravo is also taking some action. But let’s be honest: Vanderpump Rules has been trash for years, and it’s not just Stassi, Kristen, Max, and Brett who are problematic. Let’s not put a Band-aid over this gaping wound of insensitivity. Instead, they need to just cancel the show. Burn it to the ground, because it cannot be redeemed.
Stassi Schroeder was arguably the biggest star to come out of Vanderpump Rules. Before she lost it all, she had a well-known podcast and subsequent live tour, a NYT bestselling book, and a reported net worth of $2 million. Still, her 2020 cancellation was a long time coming. In 2018, she came under fire for posting a picture in which she described her outfit as “Nazi chic”. After Twitter came for her, she posted a meme that called everyone too sensitive, before eventually backing off. Before that, in November 2017, she lost podcast sponsors for posing the question that the #MeToo movement is a “Male Witch Hunt”. Though, for all the times she’d get herself into hot water off-screen, for the most part, she was able to keep her problematic beliefs from showing up on camera. Maybe that’s a reason she stayed so long after so many repeated offenses.
But there was one episode in season 6 where the mask slipped. Billie Lee, VPR’s first (and only) transgender woman, was filmed appearing as a guest on Stassi’s podcast. In an emotional post on her website, Billie wrote, “My first big scene with Stassi was her podcast interview. I thought that the focus would be about my trans experience. However, it quickly turned into a dramatic meltdown about Stassi being accused of being racist.” In the scene, Billie brought up to Stassi that Ariana had warned her about Stassi’s previous comments about race and #OscarsSoWhite on her podcast. Stassi’s immediate reaction was to call Ariana’s comments “a whole other level of vindictiveness”. Predictably, the scene ended with Stassi crying and Billie having to console her and reassure her, “that’s not my perception of you”.
And then, of course, there was Stassi and Kristen’s attempt to call the police on Faith for a crime she didn’t commit, although they weren’t the only cast members to treat her horribly. Lala Kent, who believes the spirit of Tupac lives inside her, would plant things in her apartment to see if Faith would steal them, according to Stassi in the now-deleted Bitch Bible episode. Faith has also alleged Brittany Cartwright made racists comments towards her, which Brittany vehemently denied. There’s also just the general observation that despite Faith and Lala emerging on the show at the same time, and Lala being pretty outwardly not liked by the rest of the group (Katie hated her for going topless in front of Tom, Brittany didn’t like that she flirted with Jax), it was Faith who ultimately got pushed out. Why?
But the problems continued. As season 8 premiered, Vanderpump Rules ended up in the news once again for all the wrong reasons when newbies Max Boyens and Brett Caprioni were exposed for racist tweets from their past. They both apologized at the time, and Lisa Vanderpump said to Us Weekly, “I do not condone any of the heinous comments made in the past by Max and Brett and I am glad they understand the severity of their offenses and have shown utmost remorse and contrition. I embrace a community of diversity and do not tolerate bigotry of any form within my workplace.” Still, neither Max nor Brett were edited out of Vanderpump Rules that season—or even in the episodes that were released right after the tweets surfaced. Bravo knew that Max and Brett had skeletons of racist tweets in their closets—if not during casting, then shortly after the show started airing—but only chose to act months later. At this season’s reunion, the tweets were brought up, but briefly. Max and Brett apologized again, and everyone moved on.
It’s good, I guess, that Bravo decided to finally take a stance of some sort, after clearly trying to skirt the issue for as long as they possibly could. But only firing four of the cast members feels like that meme of trying to plug a hole by slapping some duct tape over it. Because, actually, the Vanderpump Rules cast have long been problematic and insensitive towards marginalized communities. It’s not limited to these four cast members, and while racism is a big issue among the show’s stars, it is not the only one. Did we all forget that Billie Lee, a trans woman, was bullied so badly that she abruptly stopped filming midway through the season?
Following Stassi and Kristen’s dismissal, Billie Lee spoke out about Jax Taylor, the
Number One Guy In The Group show’s own version of Donald Trump, for transphobic behavior, and now, finally, people are starting to clamor for Jax to be fired as well. Billie Lee wrote on Twitter and in a post on her site that Jax refused to film with her because she is trans. She wrote, “His exact words were, ‘I’m not gonna lose all I have worked hard for something stupid I may say or do to offend her. Are we all supposed to tip toe around her because she’s trans?’”
— Billie Lee (@ItsMeBillieLee) June 10, 2020
And even though he hides behind his friendship with Lance Bass (which looks like it’s on the outs now anyway), Jax has shown he’s really only an ally to the LGBTQ community when faced with immense pressure, from the public and those close to him. I don’t need to rehash the pastor drama with you all, because we watched it, and we saw how Jax was more angry at the fact that he had to actually do something about his pastor than he was at his pastor for posting homophobic remarks.
He’s not the only one, though—Lala also mocked the concept of cis privilege on camera in an episode and literally silenced Billie when she tried to explain how Lala’s actions made her feel as a trans woman, saying, “you’re dismissed”. The whole Girl’s Night debacle in general was a complete mess, and what could have served as a teaching moment about cis privilege devolved into the people who have cis privilege denying it exists.
Throughout all this, the only semblance of a moral compass the show had came in moments that were few and far between that had little to no effect on the people called out. Things like Ariana side-eyeing her cast members when they’d say something problematic, or calling it out in her confessionals, or (in the case with Stassi’s podcasts) bringing up issues that are only shown through brief flashbacks, not direct confrontations. Things like Sandoval challenging Jax’s decision to only fire the pastor days before the wedding on camera and then getting dog piled by the rest of the cast at the roller rink, or Katie objecting to an insensitive prank involving the police and then getting publicly berated by her own husband.
From the small issues like being friends with Scheana and choosing not to ostracize Lala for supposedly dating a married man in season 5, to the big issues like understanding cis privilege and not being cool with an openly homophobic pastor officiating a televised wedding at which multiple LGBTQ people would be present, the show operated on a toxic hive mind that pushed out people who disagreed. Faith was cast out and dragged for being “the other woman” while Jax, the actual cheater, came out unscathed; Billie Lee was bullied off the show; Ariana and Tom got trashed by Jax in season 8 for being “on their high horse”. And everyone involved with the show let this happen.
There’s something to the show being called Vanderpump Rules, too. Its namesake, Lisa Vanderpump, is more vocal about dogs being abused in other countries than she is about Black humans being murdered in the U.S. We all have our causes that we’re passionate about, sure, but in both words and in actions, Lisa makes her priorities clear. For instance, in her most recent statement, the strongest she gets to condemning Stassi, Kristen, Brett and Max’s actions is to say, “I love and adore our employees and I am deeply saddened by some of the lack of judgment that has been displayed” (this is her “freely speak from the heart”).
Lisa has said she “does not tolerate bigotry of any form” within her workplace, but the show is, to an extent, her workplace. She, along with Bravo, allowed Max and Brett to keep their jobs. And even if Lisa truly was “previously unaware” of Stassi and Kristen’s vendetta against Faith, we can presume she knew about Stassi’s racially insensitive comments from season 6, since it was used in a scene, but she did nothing then. She definitely knew about Jax and Brittany’s history with homophobia, since she had to personally intervene days before their wedding, on camera, to get them to finally do something other than hem and haw. But most importantly, her employees from marginalized communities—Faith and Billie Lee—are saying that they were treated poorly by other staff members, and it went unchecked, which is all the evidence we need. Billie Lee even claimed Lisa threatened her when Billie spoke publicly about problems she was facing on the show.
I’ve said it before, but Vanderpump Rules was fun in its beginning seasons when we were watching young people behave badly and really only fucking up their own relationships. But then we gave them a platform, and a ton of money, and now we’re realizing they’re not just terrible to each other—they’re terrible in a deep-seated and decidedly not fun way.
In that scene with Billie Lee, Stassi says of being called a racist, “It’s a really serious thing to say about someone, it’s not just like ‘oh she’s a bitch’, it’s like a really fucked up thing to say about someone.” What’s also serious? Endangering someone’s life, or at the very least their livelihood, because you had a bone to pick with the girl who slept with your friend’s boyfriend and wanted to play armchair detective—but that doesn’t cross Stassi’s mind when she’s worried about being called racist. Similarly, Jax’s alleged comments about not filming with Billie Lee boil down to him not wanting to do so so he doesn’t have to worry about getting caught saying something transphobic on camera. And in those heated discussions about Girl’s Night, the ladies seemed more angry that Billie would publicly insinuate that they were transphobic, rather than being upset with themselves that they did something that a trans person deemed transphobic (which means it’s transphobic). It’s fascinating, because they possess just enough awareness to know that what they are doing can be perceived as wrong by the audience, but not enough to want to actually get to the root of why it is wrong so they can stop doing it.
It’s not just the cast members as individuals—it’s producers who gave Stassi, Kristen, and Jax more screen time; continued to make Max and Brett’s dumb love triangle a cornerstone of season 8 even after their racist tweets came to light; didn’t make moves to diversify the show aside from throwing in one Black and trans person and throwing up their hands when they didn’t last. It’s the editors who were instructed to give Stassi a special hero edit this season. Despite what they claim, Bravo is willing to continue to give problematic people a platform until we, the viewers, raise such hell that they can’t in good faith do it anymore. And by “in good faith” I mean “for their pockets and image”. So for that reason, it’s ultimately on us as viewers, me as a recapper, because we continued to tune in week after week, season after season, even as the show got harder and harder to watch and the cast got harder to support without a whole lot of cognitive dissonance. And maybe before we could try to divorce the cast members on-screen personas from their public opinions, but now, as social movements urge us to think critically about where we spend our money and devote our time, it doesn’t feel right to continue doing these mental gymnastic justifications anymore. Perhaps we all drank a little too much of the Pumptini. Well, I don’t know about you all, but
I’ll take a pinot grigio I’m starting to feel sick.
For obvious reasons, the idiom “a bad apple spoils the bunch” has been making its way around the internet right now (we all like to forget the second half of that phrase, which exists for a reason), but even if apologists want to dismiss these individual bad apples, the fact remains that at least half the apples on this show are bad. That’s a lot! I’m sorry, but Tom and Ariana being well-adjusted people does not a TV show make. Give the decent people a spin-off, maybe, but the whole tree is poisonous, so let’s root it out. Plus, we don’t need the ghosts of these problematic people casting a weird shadow on subsequent seasons (Beau is threatening not to film without Stassi, which like, good luck with that campaign). And, be honest: What are we losing if we get rid of the show anyway? Peter’s pirate mustache? Raquel struggling to blink? Dayna telling a stand-up joke or two? The Maloney-Schwartzes saying “bubba” every other word? We all complained that Vanderpump Rules is a shadow of its former glory, so let’s just let it go. Cancel that shit entirely. It’s not worth saving.
Images: Tommy Garcia/Bravo; ItsMeBillieLee / Twitter