Selling Burnout with Anne Helen Petersenwith Anne Helen Petersen
Culture writer Anne Helen Petersen, author of the new book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, comes on the show to talk about how the real estate agents of the reality show Selling Sunset embody toxic ideas around work, passion, and career success. Along the way, Anne and Wailin discuss Christine’s outfits, how they can’t tell Brett and Jason apart, that $40 million listing, and more!
- Anne Helen Petersen on Twitter - 0:39
- Anne's newsletter, Culture Study - 0:43
- The original BuzzFeed News piece, "How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation" - 0:47
- Anne's book, Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation - 0:52
- Selling Sunset - 1:53
- Wailin mentioned Selling Sunset in our episode "Apps Without Code" - 2:00
- A BuzzFeed News profile of reality show producer Adam DiVello - 3:23
- Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County - 3:25
- The Hills - 3:28
- Oppenheim Group - 3:42
- Jason Oppenheim on Instagram | Brett Oppenheim on Instagram - 5:36
- Mary Fitzgerald on Instagram - 7:04
- Heather Rae Young on Instagram - 8:51
- Amanza Smith on Instagram - 10:51
- "How does the commission work on Selling Sunset?" - 12:55
- Chrishell Stause on Instagram - 14:40
- Davina Potratz on Instagram - 16:14
- "Welcome to Airspace: How Silicon Valley helps spread the same sterile aesthetic across the world" (The Verge) - 24:02
- "Hollywood Hills stunner from 'Selling Sunset' sells for $35.5 million" (Los Angeles Times) - 25:22
- Christine Quinn on Instagram - 26:13
- A roundup of Christine’s outfits - 27:28
- Errol Morris films on the Criterion Channel - 32:41
The Full Transcript:
[00:00:00] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:00:01] Welcome to Rework, a podcast by Basecamp about the better way to work and run your business. I’m Shaun Hildner.
Wailin: [00:00:06] I’m Wailin Wong, and I’m not here to make friends.
Shaun: [00:00:09] Wailin, what are you doing?
Wailin: [00:00:11] Oh, I was pretending like I’m on a reality show to get you in the right frame of mind for this episode.
Shaun: [00:00:17] I’m sure you know this. I’m not a big fan of reality television.
Wailin: [00:00:24] Oh, I know. I know.
Shaun: [00:00:27] So do you want to tell everyone what this show is about?
Wailin: [00:00:30] Well, let’s start by introducing you to our guest.
Anne: [00:00:38] My name is Anne Helen Peterson and I am culture writer, and I write a newsletter called Culture Study. A couple years ago, I wrote an article about millennial burnout for BuzzFeed and then turned it into a book which is out now. It’s called, Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.
Shaun: [00:00:56] I actually remember you sent Anne’s BuzzFeed article to me when it came out.
Wailin: [00:01:00] Yeah, because we’ve been talking about how you had been putting off some boring adult errands. It was like sharpening your knives or something. And I diagnosed you with millennial burnout. And you might remember this is also while I was in denial about being a millennial.
Shaun: [00:01:14] hat lasted for a really long time. Your denial, I mean. My millennial burnout is ongoing.
Wailin: [00:01:21] Well, it turns out 1981, I believe is the starting year for being a millennial and I’m 1981. So I am an old millennial, which is also Anne Helen Peterson’s birth year.
Shaun: [00:01:33] Oh, fantastic. So who is Anne Helen Peterson?
Wailin: [00:01:36] She is one of my favorite writers / cultural commentators. And her book was on my mind, because it addresses topics that we talk about a lot on this show. You know, like the dangers of overwork and pursuing growth at all costs. And then I saw her tweet that she was watching a reality show on Netflix called Selling Sunset, a show that I also watched and super enjoyed. I think I mentioned it a couple episodes ago. So—
Shaun: [00:02:00] I’m sure I blocked that.
Wailin: [00:02:03] I feel like I explained it to you in great detail. And to you it just sound like wah wah wah [mimicking the parents on Peanuts cartoons].
Shaun: [00:02:08] I usually just shut the mic off and walk out of the room for a second.
Wailin: [00:02:14] So I emailed her and asked if she wanted to come on Rework to talk about all the ways millennial burnout manifests itself on Selling Sunset. You know, in reality show world we love to talk about villains, but you know who the real villain is?
Shaun: [00:02:31] Who’s that Wailin?
Wailin: [00:02:32] Capitalism.
Shaun: [00:02:37] And this… our final transformation! Rework is now socialist propaganda.
Wailin: [00:02:42] Yeah. No, we’re ready for the revolution. And it starts right here with this episode—
Shaun: [00:02:46] On Rework.
Wailin: [00:02:48] About a reality show that I wanted to talk about, so I shoehorned it into my day job.
Shaun: [00:02:52] Okay, I guess I have no choice but to bite. What is Selling Sunset about?
Wailin: [00:02:59] Selling Sunset is about a luxury real estate brokerage in Los Angeles run by two twin brothers. And all of the agents on the show are beautiful women who are always dressed to the nines. And the show is kind of equal parts watching them do their jobs, like showing homes and having open houses and negotiating deals, and then having super messy personal conflicts with each other.
[00:03:21] And the producer behind the show is a guy named Adam DiVello, who also created Laguna Beach and my favorite show of all time The Hills.
Shaun: [00:03:30] Okay, well, let’s get into it.
Wailin: [00:03:33] He said, so resigned.
Selling Sunset Clip: [00:03:37] Theme song “Let’s get to work!”
Jason: I’m Jason Oppenheim, and this is my twin brother Brett. Together we built and own the Oppenheim Group Brokerage here. We are far and away the number one real estate team in West Hollywood. We sell a quarter billion dollars a year. Anyone who’s buying or selling in the Sunset Strip, in the Hollywood Hills calls us.
Theme: “Let’s get to work!”
Wailin: [00:03:58] I wanted to ask how did you get into Selling Sunset?
Anne: [00:04:00] Burnout. So here’s the thing. I have a PhD in media studies and for a very long time prided myself on my diverse and edifying television and movie choices. Like, would always be watching the show that you know you should be watching. And I saw enough people talking about it on Twitter. Also, I am obsessed with Zillow stalking. I just find it incredibly interesting looking at people’s houses and and how they want to sell them and the choices that they have made.
[00:04:35] So it’s like okay, I think I will like this. And also I can convince my partner to give it a try because he also is fascinated by real estate.
Wailin: [00:04:42] And then once you started watching it, were you like, “Oh, this actually comes right back to what my book is about.” Is it impossible to consume any pop culture not through the lens of your book research now?
Anne: [00:04:53] I mean, I didn’t. When you brought it up, all of the dots connected. I was like, “Oh my gosh.” Well any reality show that takes place in the workplace is actually a really horrible burnout scenario, because you are absolutely mixing your personal life with your professional life and your performance of self vis a vis the taping of your life at various times.
[00:05:19] But then this one in particular, there’s just… that office is so weird. And I’d love to hear what you think is going on with that office. Because I could talk about it for hours. But I’m really curious what you think.
Wailin: [00:05:29] The office is weird. And I think part of it is that it’s run by these two brothers who look exactly the same.
Anne: [00:05:37] Right!
Wailin: [00:05:37] So like from the jump—
Anne: [00:05:39] I really cannot tell them apart. I know that one has a condo and one has like a giant house. I can kind of hear some gradations in their voice. But I wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell you like, which one is which at all.
Wailin: [00:05:55] One of the central things you say in your seminal essay that you turn into your book is that millennials have been told all their lives to work. That they’ve internalized the idea that they should be working all the time. Can you talk a little bit about how you see this on the show?
Anne: [00:06:10] I think that they are encouraged to give up all of their lives to the flexibility of the market. There’s the parts of the show where they talk about like, oh, you should do twilight showings, because it allows a certain type of client to really see themselves in this space at night, right? So that means that you have to probably work all day, and then be ready to go and totally on and look great to go to a twilight showing. Open house culture, like the pressure to be having open houses as much as possible means that you have to spend your weekends just hanging out of this house waiting for people to go.
[00:06:46] I think what happens is that, maybe in another scenario, you’d be like, okay, I’m gonna have an open house on Saturday. So I’m not going to work at all on Friday. But that does not seem to be the case. It just seems that they are working in every corner of their lives.
Wailin: [00:07:00] Right. And then the most egregious example of being Mary showing the home, that’s also her wedding venue on her wedding day.
Anne: [00:07:09] It’s just wild.
Selling Sunset Clip: [00:07:12] Buyer’s Agent: Oh, my God, are you getting married?
Mary: I am.
Buyer’s Agent: Congratulations.
Mary: Thank you.
Amanza: Only Mary. This is the hardest working chick. Like, it’s your wedding day! For the love of God.
Mary: I know, but I’m here anyway. So take a look around. And then I’m gonna run down there and meet you.
Buyer’s Agent: Okay. Thank you. So sorry.
Mary: Okay. All right. No, don’t be sorry!
Anne: [00:07:33] I mean, do you think that they forced her to do that? Like, they were like, Oh, do this to add some narrative tension? Or do you think that she really was like, I’m gonna have my wedding at this house and sell it on the same day?
Wailin: [00:07:45] I couldn’t tell what was going on there because on one hand, I could 100% see the producers kind of making her do it.
Anne: [00:07:51] Yeah.
Wailin: [00:07:52] And then at the same time, even if the producers made her do it, like, obviously, Mary is a willing participant, not just because she signed up for the show in general. But I also feel like she’s given this edit like she is the hardest worker. Even though the other ladies in the office are constantly complaining about how that stems from favoritism.
Anne: [00:08:09] Yeah.
Wailin: [00:08:10] By Jason, her ex boyfriend and now boss, and not from her actual work ethic. I mean, the relationship between Mary and Jason and how that poisons a lot of the other interactions, I think, and the competition between the agents in the office is very messed up.
Anne: [00:08:25] Well, just the idea. I mean, I know that this is like the premise of a reality show and they have to play this up. But just the idea that the primary friendships in some ways are your coworkers. That’s always just so toxic. We’re a family, you don’t do this to family, all of that rhetoric just sets you up to have passive aggressive, pretty toxic relationships.
Wailin: [00:08:49] And they have that big blowout at Heather’s broker’s open.
Anne: [00:08:53] Oh, my God. Selling Sunset Clip: [00:08:53] Heather: Can we not do this at my broker’s open, please?
Mary: I’m happy to leave. I wasn’t the one that started it. I’m happy to leave because I came here, taking time out of my actual schedule.
Heather: I didn’t say anything so don’t blame—
Mary: To do this.
Can I show you guys something in here.
Mary: I’m not going to fight about anything. I can’t fight about anything else.
Jason/Brett: You got an agent coming.
Anne: [00:09:13] Yeah, that also there’s reality cameras there too. Like, I know that this is taking us out of the action. But I always think of how hard it would be to do your job if you have cameras on you. How weird is it when someone’s coming to see the house and they have to sign a release ahead of time. They knock on the door and they’re met by a producer who’s like, “Um, this is also a reality show, like, can you sign your name here?” You know.
Wailin: [00:09:39] Going back to this notion of work is your family, when you were researching your book, did you look at where that notion came from? And like how long it’s been around?
Anne: [00:09:50] I didn’t drill down specifically on that idea so much as this larger idea that I think a lot of millennials have encountered, that your job is a cool job that you’re passionate about. And that because it’s something that you’re pursuing, and because it’s your passion, that it’s somehow uncouth to ask for fair pay or to rebel against bad working conditions. Because you don’t talk about money with family. And if your work is your family, then you shouldn’t talk about it with them. And what it does is it allows millennials, or any worker to just be continually exploited, and feel like they have no recourse because their bosses are using this rhetoric of a cool family in order to get around not paying a fair wage.
Selling Sunset Clip: [00:10:42] Mary: Jason is throwing a dinner party. This is just kind of what we do at the Oppenheim group. We’re all very close. We’re like family. But…
Wailin: [00:10:49] Yeah, and Amanza, interestingly, is the only one who has an actual family that you see influence her work life.
Anne: [00:10:59] Yeah.
Wailin: [00:10:59] But then she’s kind of punished for it, you know. I wonder if this comes back to this thing we were talking earlier, where if your work colleagues take primacy, that means that your actual family, then, is like a distraction. And thus is affecting your performance negatively and is seen negatively.
Anne: [00:11:16] Even that Instagram that caused all the drama of them doing like pole dancing, in Amanza’s house or whatever.
Selling Sunset Clip: [00:11:23] Christine: Bachelorette party. You guys had a bachelorette party without us, I heard.
Mary: No, it was an impromptu kind of thing.
Chrishell: I think it was more like people at her house. It wasn’t really a party.
Mary: Amanza and I were going to hang out on her house, because she had the kids.
Chrishell: But there were some people that weren’t invited [unclear].
Anne: [00:11:41] That was taken in Amanza’s basement because she couldn’t go to like the other party because she didn’t have childcare. Like that’s a suggestion, right? They had the party in her basement, this other secondary party, because she could be at home with her kids at the same time. And that’s the sort of thing that none of these other—None of the characters have to even deal with those considerations in their universe. And certainly Jason and Brett do not give a crap.
[00:12:11] And I think Amanza is so hungry, she just wants to really situate herself as a broker. And so doesn’t have that sort of stability.
Wailin: [00:12:18] Yeah, what’s wild to me about the fact that this is a real estate brokerage is that their relationship to money and how much everyone is making, and that hierarchy is actually totally transparent, right? Because you know how much the home sells for. You know what their base commission rate is, and I went down a little rabbit hole where I was like, well, how much did they actually make? Because they flashed the commission on the screen, right? Like, potential commission, and you think wow, you know, a high five figure commission. You only need to sell one house a year or two houses a year to live large. But then, actually, that commission is going to be split in half, because you split it with the other agent.
Anne: [00:12:58] Yeah.
Wailin: [00:12:58] And then you have to split your take with Jason and Brett because they’re the owners of the brokerage.
Anne: [00:13:05] Right.
Wailin: [00:13:06] So then their take home commission is like quite a bit smaller than that number that flashes on the screen. But then at the same time, it’s like, because of the way real estate works, that means like everyone in the office can constantly be calculating. Like, tallying up how much everyone has, which is also bananas to me.
Selling Sunset Clip: [00:13:24] Buyer’s Agent: You’ve got yourself a deal.
Buyer’s Agent: Yep.
Heather: Really? Shake on it.
Buyer’s Agent: Yes.
Heather: Anyway, am I imagining it? Did it really happen?
Jason/Brett: No, that happened.
Heather: This gives me confidence because it’s been so long for me, so.
Jason/Brett: That’s a six figure commission.
Anne: [00:13:39] And I do think that that’s why there is that resentment of Mary is because if it seems like or is perceived as getting these listings handed to you, then of course, you’re going to have a steadier stream of income. But also, I mean, like Mary, at least, as far as I’ve seen, she lives in this modest condo. And I don’t know if she’s paying off debt, what’s going on there. But it’s not like she’s living the high life.
Wailin: [00:14:03] Mary’s condo, which you only see in these tantalizingly brief glimpses. It made me think about a couple of things. The first thing it made me think of was, what does this show have to say about class mobility? Because Mary is someone who has done some living, you know what I mean? Like she was pregnant at 16. You realize that she was a teen mom, and she’s been married a couple of times. She had one husband who passed away. So she’s been through a lot. She’s lived like 15 different lives it seems like. Maybe in comparison, especially, to some of these other women.
[00:14:36] Because they also talk a little bit about class mobility with Chrishell’s story, and they have this whole thing about how Chrishell was the smelly kid when she was growing up, and in season three, she goes home to visit her sister. And at one point, her sister says something to her like, “You’re strong. You’ll get through this. Remember, we lived in a car, you’ll be okay.” And I was like, wow, well, Chrishell went through some stuff, too.
Selling Sunset Clip: [00:14:58] Chrishell’s sister: Where are we came from. You lived in a car. This is nothing. You got this.
Chrishell: Thank you.
Chrishell’s Sister: I just love you so much.
Song: “No matter the stars…”
Anne: [00:15:10] But I do think that there is this real balance to her story of, “I was legitimately poor.” It’s kind of a classic Hollywood story, I came to Hollywood to try to make it. I married an actor and then got on this reality show. But it is, I do think that something like real estate is an occupation in the United States that you don’t need it a massive education. You just need to study and pass this exam. Actually bring yourself up by your bootstraps, just by insinuating yourself into situations where you get listings and selling them successfully. But you do have to have, especially in what we see in Selling Sunset, there is an aesthetic of a certain sort of agent, right? They need to dress a certain way they need to have a certain style of boobs. That is what you expect in a real estate agent there. And to get to that point, there has to be capital along the way that allows you to do that.
Wailin: [00:16:05] The women are very matter-of-fact about the plastic surgery they’ve gotten. I think at one point, they mention just very like matter of factly, again, that Davina is the only one without fake boobs in the office.
Anne: [00:16:18] Yeah.
Selling Sunset Clip: [00:16:19] Heather: Silicon boobs?
Maya: Yeah, I have that.
Heather: So I have saline.
Maya: You have saline? Fuck, I have silicone.
Other cast member: I have silicone, yeah.
Christine: You guys are all getting recalled.
Anne: [00:16:29] Yeah, and I think that that’s really interesting, right? Like any other accoutrements of a successful agent, that’s just part of the uniform the same way that you’d buy like a fancy bag. Of course, you have fake boobs.
Wailin: [00:16:41] Of course, this work all falls on the women, right? The expense of this. Jason and Brett, they obviously wear expensive clothes, but it’s this very considered casualness, kind of like LA casual look.
Anne: [00:16:52] I do appreciate that they both seem to spend a lot of time on like body maintenance, because I would be pissed if you had like, this stable of gorgeous women. And then these two schlubby dudes. They talk a lot about whenever they’re having an event, you need to look good, you need to look classy or whatever. They use words to suggest the way that they want the agents to look. But they also come appropriately dressed as well, and with their bodies in appropriate shape.
[00:17:26] One of the less seemly parts of the show is there are these barons who are developing these properties. They don’t have to look the way that all of the people on the show look. Like the Bond villain guy who owns Davina’s house, he just gets to look like he’s on Sopranos.
Selling Sunset Clip: [00:17:41] Client: It has been so long and I have not seen anything concrete on the table yet.
Davina: That’s why we’re here.
Client: You guys, every day not selling it’s costing me a fortune.
Anne: [00:17:51] That’s who, I think, actually holds the money and the power. But they’re not as glamorous as the people on the show.
Wailin: [00:17:59] This idea of personal branding, which is something that you talk about in your essay, and this is part of the work that burns out the millennial generation, the fact that you have to be constantly branding yourself and performing some version of yourself on social media, etc. Because I was thinking about how that relates to the way they stage these homes. They’re always like, well, what kind of person would live here? What kind of buyer do we want to attract? And they’re constantly talking about basically rich bachelors who love to entertain.
Anne: [00:18:30] Yep. Yep.
Wailin: [00:18:30] And I’m like, first of all, why does a bachelor need five bedrooms? It makes no sense. But then you realize how all of the aesthetic of these LA homes, everything looks the same. And these are not homes I want to live in. They don’t look like friendly homes. They don’t look like inviting homes to me. It’s almost like they’re selling to Brett and Jason, you know what I mean? It’s like they’re always staging homes to Brett and Jason’s taste. And then, like we were talking about Mary’s condo earlier, it’s almost devoid of personality. You don’t see any interesting artwork or anything that would help you understand what Mary’s personal taste is like. And it made me wonder like, someone like Mary, has she spent basically her whole late stage career in service to these hypothetical rich bachelors and then she hasn’t had time to like develop her own taste?
Anne: [00:19:22] It’s such a good point.
Selling Sunset Clip: Client: Wow.
Christine: This is 5000 square feet of absolute zen.
Client: Is this the only view, though?
Christine: It is and if you’re looking for more of a view, we’re going to be $3 or $4 million up in the price point.
Anne: [00:19:38] You know, this is the thing that’s often hard if you’re trying to to climb the ladder towards success and stability, is it means like, negating yourself. Especially for a woman. Negating any sort of rough edges. Like Mary, through various forms of plastic surgery and through regimen in her body, through exercise or diet or whatever. She looks like an idea, but there’s no there there.
[00:20:02] And I’m not trying to say she’s stupid. She hasn’t had a lot of space to develop that those sorts of things because she’s been focused on survival.
[00:20:10] You’re right about all the houses. I love when they like show a house, and they’re like, this is a really cozy house. And I’m like, this is the exact house that you showed just a little bit ago, only it has a fireplace, right? Like does not necessarily make a space cozy.
[00:20:25] Even just through staging, because like, not all real estate relies heavily on staging. And I think a lot of it relies on the idea that you have to envision your whole life in this space as like a certain sort of person. You’re not looking at it the way that you would decorate it, you’re looking at the way that a cool person, bachelor who wants to entertain would decorate it.
[00:20:49] And all I can think of is like divorced dads who want to have these parties and then have a spare room for their kids to visit for like a weekend. Because otherwise, who are these people? Where are these guys? Like, where do they where they come from?
Wailin: [00:21:03] I was trying to think back to their various clients. And I think you only ever see one family. And it’s that couple that I think they’re maybe expecting but you don’t see an actual child.
Selling Sunset Clip: [00:21:17] House stager: When you think about this house, it’s not for young children or school aged children?
Heather: No, because we’re off sunset. So it’s more of like a lifestyle, entertainment. So I want the vibe definitely to reflect that.
Anne: [00:21:27] It feels like Jason and Brett are like kind of antagonistic towards family. Not only not only in their own brokers, but they’re like, ugh, we don’t want to sell to families. They’re like, oh, it kind of brings down the brand if families want to buy houses that we’re selling.
Wailin: [00:21:45] You know how Jason… Jason’s the one with the big house and then Brett has the condo?
Anne: [00:21:47] Yeah. Yeah, I think so.
Wailin: [00:21:48] Okay. So Jason has this big house he’s building and they make a huge deal about this TV that comes out of the ground. For some reason, this really annoyed me, because it just seemed like one of these things that people who have too much money to burn spend their money on. And it is wildly impractical, because you know that that hydraulic system or whatever is going to break, and then you know how long it’s going to take to get a repair guy out there? And then you can’t watch your TV because it’s literally stuck in your ground.
Selling Sunset Clip: Jason: Oh I want to show you this. This is really cool. Boom.
Woman: Oh my God.
Jason: You will never see an 85 inch TV come out of the ground. You ladies ever seen something like this?
Anne: [00:22:29] You know what, this is something that homeowners understand so well. It’s like, anything that’s complicated or unique, it’s gonna break and then it’s going to take you forever to fix it. And so it’s going to be a problem more than an attribute to your home.
Wailin: [00:22:48] And then if you have millennial burnout, you’re not going to even get around to calling that repair guy.
Anne: [00:22:51] You’re not going to fix it. You’re just going to stare at it every day or not stare at it, because it stuck in the ground, and understand it. You’re just gonna watch like Hulu on your laptop instead of your massive television that you paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to have installed. That is a story of millennial burnout.
Wailin: [00:23:12] I am, though, now obsessed with pocket doors and will settle for nothing less.
Anne: [00:23:18] I mean, pocket doors are not a new phenomenon. They are something… there were pocket doors, out of necessity in some homes, like I don’t know, like ‘20s, ‘30s or whatever. So I remember my grandparents had a pocket door. And I thought it really was the coolest, the most magic thing in the world. So I’m glad to see a resurgence.
[00:23:35] But I am, so I think about this a lot in my own home of trying to not just descend into that bland, bourgeois West Elm style taste. But then at the same time, it’s exhausting to try to make your house different. Having unique taste requires a lot of work and time.
Wailin: [00:23:56] Aesthetics are all… has just been flattened out by social media. You know, like all the articles about like the Airbnb aesthetic. You page through all these Airbnb listings, and everyone is decorating their listings exactly the same. It just makes it hard to figure out like, well, what do I like? Because you’re like, I don’t even know where to look.
Anne: [00:24:14] Right? Well, especially right now, actually. It’s an interesting time to think about tastes, right? Because it’s a more daunting proposition to be like, I’m gonna go browse antique stores, right? Like, with COVID. You’re like, no, I can only look online and then online, even, everything is s0… Because of the supply chain problems everything is so delayed that you’re like, I guess I could just hang out with my own stuff, but there’s nothing wrong with your own stuff, anyways, you know.
Wailin: [00:24:42] I did want to ask about homeownership, because one hallmark of the millennial generation is how they were defined and shaped by the housing crisis and the subprime crisis. The housing crisis, does it even exist on the show? I guess it doesn’t. It’s conspicuous in its absence.
Anne: [00:24:59] Yeah. Like that $40 million house, right? Like what an amazing artifact of pre-COVID times that you’re like, I’m gonna build this $40 million house. I love that they use it as this peg for the first season that it’s going to be this point of competition and then it kind of fades into the background. Like, I don’t know. And apparently, I looked it up online, and I think Jason sold it.
Wailin: [00:25:24] Right. So after all that, after Heather being like, I have a buyer from China or whatever, this mysterious Chinese oligarch, it’s like, nope.
Anne: [00:25:31] Yeah.
Wailin: [00:25:31] No one got that commission.
Anne: [00:25:33] Yeah. Selling Sunset Clip: [00:25:33] Jason/Brett: When it’s done, it will be over 20,000 square feet. Five luxurious bedrooms and nine bathrooms. Not only that, it has a 15 car garage, four hot tubs, 150 foot pool, 360 degree views and a rooftop deck and an elevator that takes you up there.
Anne: [00:25:49] But no, it’s not like… You do not get the feeling at all that this show is haunted by the very recent history of the real estate crisis.
Wailin: [00:25:57] Yeah, I was confused about what the show wanted to say about this notion of I earned this all myself. Because on one hand, it presents these women who do work hard. And you see how glamorously they’re dressed and in the case of Christine, she has this like great house and everything. But then at the same time you have an extended talking head with Christine, where she’s like, “Oh, well I have my Louis Vuitton rep on speed dial and I’ll give him my fiancé’s credit card number and then I’ll delete the notifications off his phone.”
[00:26:30] So are we supposed to be like “You go girl, you worked hard for that Louis Vuitton bag.” Or are you supposed to be like you married a rich guy and now you’re doing this thing where you’re hiding your purchases from him.
Selling Sunset Clip: Christine: So, I have like my Louis Vuitton representative on speed dial so when he’s sleeping I’ll have her buy a purse and then I’ll delete the notification while he’s sleeping. I don’t know, some call it fraud. I call it love.
Anne: [00:26:55] That just seems like conniving, right? That doesn’t seem like oh, we have conversations about wealth and money and… It does not seem like an equal partnership or like an I worked hard to get that partnership. It just feels backhanded. I’m like Christine, you don’t have to do that. You could just talk to him about your Louis Vuitton bag and I’m sure he would give it to you.
Wailin: [00:27:16] I really enjoyed seeing Christine’s outfits get more and more over the top as the season progressed. At one point, my husband was like, I feel like Christine gets up in the morning and says, “What would Lady Gaga want to wear if she were a realtor?” And then she puts on that and comes to the office.
Anne: [00:27:33] Well, and she. You know, I love the character of Christine because she’s such a classic villain, right? One of my first graduate student papers that I ever wrote was about The Hills and melodrama and how when you’re doing a show that is clearly contrived in the way that… like, scripted in the way that The Hills and Selling Sunset and some other reality programs are. They are shaping the narrative and what they’re shaping it as is melodrama with a clearly legible hero and villain. They’re trying to make that very visible, right? They’re not trying to be like, everyone’s kind of good.
[00:28:08] But I love Christine because she just leans into it so hard. She is clearly wearing these outfits, like, in season two, a lot of the confessionals, she’s wearing these suit jackets that have shoulder pads that give her that like 1940s Joan Crawford, villainess look that is just amazing. And she’s also so funny.
Wailin: [00:28:34] Yeah, I think Christine has a keen sense of melodrama because when she’s planning her engagement party she tells a party planner she wants the theme to be sexual Phantom of the Opera.
Selling Sunset Clip: Christine: Just be, like casual I just want like stuff going on like no big deal like sexual Phantom of the Opera.
Party Planner: Exactly.
Christine: I’m thinking like, like a zebra here.
Davina: A zebra.?
Wailin: [00:28:54] I love this kind of like arc of Adam DiVello’s career. He’s moving up in terms of each life stage.
Anne: [00:29:01] I’m fascinated by just the general idea of reality shows forcing this blending between the personal life and then the professional life. It is a millennial experience that he has tracked in a lot of ways. And like Laguna Beach was one of the first reality shows, I think, to really try to shape the narrative as much as it did. So much of the contemporary reality aesthetic and the melodramatic elements of it, I think, can really be traced back to the Laguna Beach style.
[00:29:34] Laguna Beach Theme Song plays (“Come Clean” by Hilary Duff)
Anne: [00:29:41] ‘Course High School is intermingled with your personal life. They don’t have jobs. They have high school, which we never saw. Then into The Hills, you had sort of jobs but they were—the social lives always took the foreground. And I think when we go into your ‘30s, people’s social lives, really go into the background and your job takes the foreground so it makes sense that it would rotate around the workplace. And then you can see just how hard it is to manage all those things at once.
Wailin: [00:30:08] Yeah, I will never get bored of the classic Adam DiVello closing shot of like a beautiful woman walking away from a party while this like generic pop music plays. I just live for that moment at the end of every episode.
Anne: [00:30:22] Or staring out at the ocean is a classic DiVello shot. It’s like…
Wailin: [00:30:28] It is the best. I just need this content injected directly into my veins.
Anne: [00:30:33] Yes.
Wailin: [00:30:35] Well, last thing, then, do you want to just tell everyone where they can find you and your newsletter and your reporting and your book?
Anne: [00:30:43] Yes. So you can find me on Twitter at @annehelen, and my newsletter is annehelen.substack.com. You can also just Google my name and newsletter and it’ll come up. Thank you so much. This was so fun.
Shaun: [00:30:57] Rework is produced by Wailin Wong and me, Shaun Hildner. Music for the show is by Clip Art.
Wailin: [00:31:06] Anne Helen Peterson’s book is Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. It is out now and you can find it on bookshop.org or at your local independent bookstore. We will link to her book along with her newsletter and the famous essay on Millennial burnout that started it all in the show notes for this episode at rework.fm.
Shaun: [00:31:26] Wailin, you got to do your episode. How does it feel?
Wailin: [00:31:31] Feels amazing.
Shaun: [00:31:32] Well, dear listener, even if this wasn’t quite up your alley, sometimes we do weird stuff on here. But don’t worry. Next week we are checking in with our old friend David Heinemeier Hansson. We’ll tell you what he’s been up to because he’s been off Twitter for a while.
Wailin: [00:31:49] He’s coming on live from Europe. Not live. I should not promise that. But he’s in Europe. European Bureau.
[00:31:59] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:31:59] [Singing] Feel the rain on your skin? No one else feel it for you. Only can let it in! No one else, no one else—
Wailin: [00:32:22] Feel the rain on your skin.
Shaun: [00:32:23] Well, I have not seen the show. I know that might surprise you. But so…
Wailin: [00:32:28] You’re not a reality show person, though.
Shaun: [00:32:31] I’m really not. I’m really not.
Wailin: [00:32:31] It’s like, what is a reality show you’ve ever watched? This is just not your genre.
Shaun: [00:32:34] None. I mean, does documentary film count? Right? That’s reality television.
Wailin: [00:32:38] That’s like proto-reality. You’re like, oh, Errol Morris is my preferred reality show producer.
Shaun: [00:32:44] I really like The Thin Blue Line.
Wailin: [00:32:47] So highbrow. So highbrow. Mm. The Fog of War, is that a reality show?
Shaun: [00:32:50] Fog of War is so good!
Wailin: [00:32:53] I’m not trying to disparage Fog of War. Oh my God. Don’t at me, people.