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‘Vanderpump Rules’ Meets Charles Murray’s ‘Coming Apart’ In Fight Over Kentucky Pastor


When “Vanderpump Rules” picks back up on Tuesday, the gang will still be reeling from backlash over Jax and Brittany’s pastor. Tom Sandoval, not content to let his friends off the hook, threw gasoline on the fire last week by confronting Jax over why it took the couple so long to cut ties with the man they planned to have marry them.

The culture war has arrived at “Vanderpump.” Anguish over the pastor was induced by news reports about his open promotion of traditional views on marriage and sexuality and opposition to LGBT causes. It would take anyone about ten minutes of watching “Vanderpump Rules” to know that just won’t fly at SUR. (Or Pump. Or TomTom. Or Villa Blanca. Or The Vanderpump Cocktail Garden.)

What’s not interesting is that a group of West Hollwyod-dwelling millennial Bravo stars are pro-LGBT. What’s actually interesting is how the drama impacted Brittany.

According to Brittany, a Christian who was raised in Kentucky, the pastor is a family friend. As his social media posts began surfacing more and more in the press, the ordeal clearly weighed heavily on her conscience. Rather than standing firm, of course, the couple ultimately replaced their pastor with gay pop star Lance Bass.

Yet it all made for a fascinating case study in the cultural pressures facing young people who leave their homes for big coastal cities. The drama brought Brittany, who’s not exactly known for her intellect, to an important realization. “In LA we kind of live in this bubble, so whenever I go back home there are people who believe all different kinds of things,” she explained during a confessional on last week’s episode.

“Some people believe in way different politics than we do, like there’s just so much you don’t really talk about, so when something like this does get brought up, it makes it very difficult because I don’t want to disappoint anyone in my life,” she continued, genuinely pained by the experience.

While some of the cast like to style themselves as political thinkers (they’re all extremely progressive and need us to know it), ironically, in this situation it was Brittany whose analysis was most cogent. She basically stumbled onto the patterns Charles Murray outlined in “Coming Apart.”

Murray, like Brittany, was concerned explicitly by “bubbles.” In explaining his famous bubble quiz, Murray wrote, “Your present life may be completely encased in the bubble, but you brought a lot of experience into the bubble that will always be part of your understanding of America.”

City Lab reported last year on a new study that found “not only have young people been a driving force in the urban resurgence of the past two decades, but they favor living in central urban neighborhoods significantly more than previous generations did at the same stages in life.” Whether the cohort of urban-dwelling millennials who came from rural and suburban communities is shaping the culture of cities or letting their new environments shape them is the question.

To be sure, nobody would confuse the “Vanderpump” cast for Harvard graduates who grew up in Greenwich and work in banking. But they’ve left their hometowns and made good money in LA. The pricey non-WeHo houses they all seem to have moved into this season are proof positive of that.

In a 2012 NPR interview on “Coming Apart,” Murray spoke of the ZIP codes with “levels of affluence and education that are so much higher than the rest of the population that they constitute a different kind of world.”

Murray added:

The people who run the country have enormous influence over the culture, politics, and the economics of the country. And increasingly, they haven’t a clue about how most of America lives. They have never experienced it. They don’t watch the same movies, they don’t watch the same television shows — they don’t watch television at all, in many cases — and when that happens, you get some policies that are pretty far out of whack.

Brittany is staunchly, and convincingly, in disagreement with her erstwhile pastor. Lisa Vanderpump herself attests to that. “It’s hard for me because this is my family friend,” Brittany said on last week’s episode. “No one ever thought that he would be this way. I grew up with my pastor’s daughters. He’s a great family man. Whenever I saw that he had posted all of these, like, very negative things, I don’t want anybody to feel uncomfortable, anybody to feel like I had those same feelings, because I just definitely do not.”

Got it. But watching Brittany struggle to explain the situation to her LA-based friends, most of whom have lived there much longer than her, was interesting. While her girl group was mostly supportive, the cast still seemed to have no notion that well-intentioned people could disagree with them on LGBT issues, much less tolerate or associate with anyone who does.

As cultural norms on marriage and sexuality shifted, and regional differences in lifestyle increased, a lot of millennials probably probably found themselves in Brittany’s shoes. When the show continues on Tuesday, Sandoval seems poised to keep the controversy coming, pressing Jax and Brittany over what they knew and when they knew it.

It’s an ugly fight, but one that at least represents a very realistic and very under appreciated culture clash. “Vanderpump Rules” is the best reality show on television, but occasionally it’s worth paying attention to for other reasons as well.