To paraphrase one of the taglines from a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills season: He's finally found his voice, and he's not afraid to use it.
Andy Cohen has spent years as cheerleader-in-chief for the Bravo suite of reality shows, including The Real Housewives. On his nightly talk show, Watch What Happens, he tends not to push back too hard against the network's talent. But there was a break in his chumminess last night, as Cohen paused his show to deliver a monologue about the Real Housewives franchise's treatment of gay men. "You do not own them," Cohen said to the stars of Beverly Hills. "We are not cattle."
The preceding episode of Beverly Hills had featured a party thrown in order to introduce what series star Kyle Richards called "my gays" to other people's gays; these "gays," across all Real Housewives franchises, generally seem to lie somewhere between employees (hairdressers, party planners) and friends, or at least confessors. The gays, even those who get speaking roles, exist on the show in order to observe drama and comment upon it — with sass, if possible.
It's not so much the role that the gay men play on Real Housewives episodes that Cohen objected to; after all, he's been a major supporter of Fashion Queens, a spinoff of The Real Housewives of Atlanta in which two of that franchise's "gay best friends" wryly critique celebrity outfits. But the "my gays" rhetoric seems to have pushed him to comment. Before criticizing the women it's his job to promote, he aired a video cutting together many, many utterances of "my gays." The effect was somewhat startling.
Cohen would seem to take his job as a promoter of the Bravo brand seriously. If there's another talk show host he resembles, it's the earnestly promotional Jimmy Fallon, as far as his unwillingness to allow a guest to look in the wrong goes. His interview with Teresa Giudice, before she reported to federal prison, was remarkable for its soft touch. And in a 2011 incident, Millionaire Matchmaker star Patti Stanger used Cohen's talk show to state her opinions that gay men are incapable of monogamy and that Jewish men are mendacious. Cohen only pushed back very gently, though the network eventually apologized for Stanger's remarks. The TV personality Kristin Cavallari's announcement, on Watch What Happens, that she doesn't believe in vaccinating her children, similarly met little resistance.
It's striking, then, that Cohen has taken the opportunity to criticize Bravo stars, even as he ended his speech with affection. The "my gays" party was, indeed, unfortunate, but not more unfortunate than the show's treatment of gays throughout its run; the difference is that having a coterie of gay men you don't allow to speak is implicitly dismissive of gay people, while referring to them as your property is explicit. Another difference is that, with the recent publication of his memoir The Andy Cohen Diaries, Cohen has become bigger than Bravo. Most nights, he's the most famous person on his show. For years a conduit to more viewer face-time with the Housewives, Cohen has grown to be seen as a personality, and a thinker, in his own right. One wonders what cause he'll take up next.