It’s time to discuss Jersey Belle, whether with fascination or indignation (as my sister texted me, “Busy so had to record it. Can’t wait to be mad!“).
I watched the premier with a Mountain Brook Mom who has the bonafides: kids in the MB school system, member of a garden club, a dance club, and the Birmingham Country Club (full disclosure: she did not grow up in the Tiny Kingdom but moved there after marrying a MB native – so deduct authenticity points as you will).
Why would we even watch? There is something riveting about seeing a version of your surroundings reflected back to you. Is it even possible to capture a sense of place on television? While we recognized the landmarks, we also spotted the inconsistencies immediately (ex., the house for the bridal tea? obviously a new home in a new neighborhood, not an established Birmingham house. We expect a Jefferson County Historical Commission marker at the door, not seams in new sod).
For those who haven’t bothered to waste time on reality TV – and I congratulate you – the premise of the show is a girl from Jersey who married a good ol’ boy and is adjusting to living in the heart of Dixie. She is raising her children among our native customs of monograms, ma’ams and yessirs. What is a Jersey mom to do?
There is a legitimate issue of assimilation here. Haven’t you been duly warned of someone, perhaps in a hushed tone, “She’s not southern, you know…” which is code for brusque, direct, and most likely too loud. Now that you know she’s not southern, you know not to be shocked or offended by her because, after all, she wasn’t raised to know any better. Didn’t you mentally add “Bless her heart” just now?
Somehow it seems rude to mention actual names, so let’s just discuss characters.
Jersey Girl is a publicist by trade. Obviously, selling your own private life is the biggest “get” of a publicist’s career. Although the show’s intro specifically mentions Mountain Brook, Jersey girl actually lives in Cahaba Heights. Her kids do not attend MB schools. As we all know, this is not living in Mountain Brook at all. While her office is in Mountain Brook, this is no different than all the folks who work downtown and then scatter to the suburbs at sundown. While this difference may seem academic to anyone not from Around Here, the significance cannot be overstated. (Social experiment: Meet someone from Birmingham area and they will ask you from what part of Birmingham. Meet someone from Mountain Brook and the next question is, “What street?”).
Unhappy Divorcee has three children and feels socially ostracized after her divorce (“lives in the smallest house on Dexter and RENTS!” sniffs my friend). I fear she has chosen the wrong venue for endearing herself to the neighborhood. My advice? Move to Hoover and nobody will be in your business, much less judging it. Why would anybody try so hard to fit in inside one small community when the rest of the world is wide open? It’s like choosing to stay in middle school hell when you could move away to college and live off campus.
Photographer Bride is part of the overall Jersey Belle dilemma, in that there are few occasions more revealing of social graces than a wedding and all the celebrations leading up to it. Credit Jersey Girl for having the nerve to point out that Photographer Bride is on her THIRD marriage. This, in my opinion, is a fatal error in the authenticity of the social tests of the show. Maybe we’ll allow for a starter marriage, but a full bridal tea for wedding number three? A registry for more crystal and linens? That’s getting into tacky territory. Don’t blame us if we are less than enthusiastic about buying a piece from yet another china pattern. I mean, on baby #3 it is understood that the appropriate shower is for diapers & wipes only.
True Belle is straight out of central casting. Even her house is the quintessential linen/gray/subway tile with potted orchids that is so of-the-moment right now. She is shocked by Jersey Belle but too gracious (mortified?) to let on. Her husband is a little more dapper than the typical southern gent, including all our ubiquitous Brooks Bros. wearing, Mont Blanc toting bankers. I hope True Belle and her husband have children as they wish, and if so I demand a follow-up episode showing how they and their house look after three consecutive nights of colic and a stomach flu that goes through all members of the household.
All this said, it’s a relief that Jersey Belle doesn’t portend a hair-pulling, Jerry Springer reveal in the works. Admittedly, it’s hard to assimilate in any tightly knit group, and southerners do have specific expectations about How It’s Done. What we call manners, some might call eccentricities, and every group has its code. We’ve seen reality TV around here before with Two-a-Days and it didn’t end so well for the Hoover High School coach. Let’s hope things go better for the women of Jersey Belle.
First episode references that must be addressed:
Cannolli? These aren’t so foreign. Even Whole Foods and Publix sell them.
Latkes – Come on, there is a strong Jewish community in Birmingham and no excuse for the kids not to have tried these. Go to Max’s Delicatessen in the Colonnade or plan to attend the Jewish Food Festival at Temple Emmanu-El this fall.
Monograms – A few monograms are a home wardrobe essential, but Jersey Girl is onto the fact that we have gotten out of hand with the initials. When I see a monogram on someone’s SUV rear window I have to wonder if she went through every available font on her towels and had to find a new surface to mark. Who doesn’t have a friend with a Baby Lock machine?