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The @BravoHistorian versus Kelly Dodd feud shows the power of online fandom culture
One of the things I enjoy most about the internet is its ability to complement my enjoyment of pop culture. Take, for example, Bravo. I have spent most of quarantine binge-watching multiple series, including Vanderpump Rules, Summer House, Below Deck, and several editions of Real Housewives, and while the shows themselves are great, the actual episodes are only a part of why I watch them.
The real fun comes from the Bravo zeitgeist that exists on the internet. I love to scroll through the r/BravoRealHousewives subreddit for analysis of petty RHOBH drama that aired in 2012, laugh at everyone’s hot takes, and send my other Bravo-loving friends the memes I see on Instagram. In a time where I have felt alone and disconnected from almost everyone in my life, becoming a part of the Bravo world has helped me feel less isolated.
So, last week, I was shocked to read that one of my favorite Bravo world meme accounts, @BravoHistorian, had vanished suddenly from the gram. Upon investigation, I learned the reason for its departure. The woman behind the account, Samantha Bush, had gotten into an internet fight with one of the Real Housewives of Orange County, Kelly Dodd. The fight turned so nasty that Samantha deactivated her account for a few days to cool off.
I found this fascinating. The woman behind a Bravo meme account had risen up from the depths of the internet community to get into a fight with an actual Bravolebrity, as if she were a Housewife herself. Hypothetically, had Kelly been filming at the time, this is the type of drama that could even have been featured on the show! It’s like as if a sportswriter covering a baseball game was invited midgame to come down onto the field and pitch a few innings.
This week, I chatted with Samantha about what happened. Samantha described herself as an average woman from Detroit with a normal job who just loves Bravo. She’s been a fan of the network’s shows since around 2008, and initially got involved with Bravo fan internet communities because she didn’t know anyone IRL who wanted to discuss the shows with her. She made her Instagram account in August 2018, she said, solely to shout her Bravo opinions “into the void,” but then she started to get responses from other fans. She now has about 142,000 followers, and has made a name for herself in the fandom by going to events like BravoCon and writing a few freelance articles. Last month, she even reached the pinnacle of Bravo fandom: She appeared on Watch What Happens Live (so scary, but so cool, she said).
Samantha has way fewer followers, about 4,000, on Twitter. However, that platform is where her feud with Kelly began.
Samantha said she saw a video that Kelly had posted of herself on Instagram with a group of friends. She noticed that one of the women in the video flashed the “OK” sign (I reached out to a woman some identified as the friend in question, but didn’t receive a response). This hand gesture used to be perfectly innocuous and still is in many cultures, but in recent years, has become a “white power” symbol.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, in 2017 trolls on 4Chan began to spread a hoax that the symbol meant “white power,” in hopes that “media and liberals would overreact by condemning a common image as white supremacist.” However, some people soon began to use the symbol seriously. “By 2019, at least some white supremacists seem to have abandoned the ironic or satiric intent behind the original trolling campaign and used the symbol as a sincere expression of white supremacy,” the ADL writes. The symbol can still be used perfectly innocently, it says, so context is needed when evaluating it.
Samantha saw the video and said she was astonished. She and others on Twitter began to point out that the woman in the video seemed to be flashing the symbol, with another Twitter user pointing out that Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager accused of killing two people in Kenosha, recently used the symbol while out on bail. Samantha said she just wanted to point it out and wasn’t trying to “cancel anyone.”
Even though Samantha wasn’t the only person talking about the video online, Kelly zeroed in on her and began to fight the allegations on Twitter.
She tweeted: “Here’s some dumbass who took Emily’s friend saying ‘perfect’ (after talking about how perfect the night was) and is now twisting it into a case of white supremacy. Of course it’s a white girl making such an idiotic leap. @BravoWWHL. this is who you have on? This chick is a moron.”
Kelly then took it a step further. She attempted to shame Samantha by posting her LinkedIn and @-ing her employer on Twitter. The problem was, she had the wrong Samantha Bush. Kelly instead blasted a woman named Samantha Busch, sharing the woman’s LinkedIn profile and employer to her 200,000 Twitter followers (she has deleted the tweet but it still lives online). I reached out to the other Samantha for her take, but didn’t hear back.
Samantha Bush said she woke up to her phone “blowing up” with people telling her Kelly was on the attack against her. She was shocked, especially since she actually had met and interacted with Kelly at BravoCon. This was an entry into the Bravo universe she hadn’t expected.
“I’ve interacted with Bravolebrities online, but I’ve never gotten into a fight with them,” she said.
Soon, Samantha said, she began to get an avalanche of hate. “It was terrifying,” she said. Samantha changed her name and picture on Twitter, hoping to calm the storm. “It never did, it just kept going,” she said. Adding to the hate was a vocal contingent of Twitter users, who Samantha said have been rooting for her to be “canceled” for a while. For years, she said, she has been fighting accusations that she built her platform off stolen memes (Samantha said when she created her account she didn’t know the internet etiquette for crediting tweets). She said she has since worked to make sure all her memes now are credited and has apologized to accounts who accused her of plagiarizing them, but she still gets accused of being a “fraud.”
So these haters plus Kelly’s followers soon grew to a critical mass. Kelly’s posting of information about the random woman, Samantha said, was the last straw for her. She deleted the tweet and made all of her accounts private, but Kelly kept going, trashing Samantha again on Instagram Live.
“I was like yep, I can’t do this,” Samantha said. “This isn’t fun anymore, this is not why I started an Instagram to fight with Housewives … no, this is scary.” She disabled her @BravoHistorian account, she said, because she just needed a mental health break.
Kelly didn’t return a request for comment from BuzzFeed News, but did tweet that she had been “shocked by the claim” that Samantha and others had made and did not think it was the woman’s “intent” to flash a “white power” sign.
Samantha may have never expected to be involved so intimately with the Real Housewives cast, but her feud with Kelly could have some monumental consequences for the series. Kelly has been under fire for a while for her attitudes toward the pandemic, and her attacks on Samantha have added more fuel to the fire of people calling for her to be kicked off the show. I asked a spokesperson for Bravo if they had any comment on Kelly’s feud with Samantha (they said they didn’t) or if her status as a Housewife is in jeopardy. “The network has not made any casting decisions at this time,” they told me. Samantha told me that after she went offline, she received a ton of support from her Instagram followers, who have showered her with praise and love. She has since returned triumphantly to her account, to the delight of her fans.
It’s possible that by choosing to go after a popular part of the Bravo online universe, Kelly may have put the last nail in the coffin of her Bravo career. To me, this symbolizes how much power these online communities have. The Bravo community isn’t just about the stars on the screen, it has become about all of us, the fans, the commentators, and the memers.
This democratization of such a universe is a fascinating aspect of internet culture. A show built on the premise that these women are untouchable symbols of wealth and status has actually proved how, in the age of the internet, any ordinary person with creativity and a work ethic can build influence and power. A show ostensibly about the 1 percent has over time transformed into a community built by all of us. How’s that for juicy?
Since when did the mirror selfie become such a status symbol that people are faking them??
This week I stumbled upon this TikTok from model and influencer Kara Del Toro. “I’m going to let you in on a top-secret secret for all the top blogger mirror pictures you see,” she says in the video. Del Toro goes on to reveal that many of the mirror selfies that famous fashion bloggers post are not actually taken in a mirror (!!!).
The LA model and influencer, who has 1.3 million followers on the app, said this is why these mirror selfies always seem to look impeccable, like there are “never any smudges” on the mirror. “So here’s the secret: There’s no mirror,” Del Toro reveals. “All you need is a second phone or spare camera.”
Influencers will fake the mirror selfie “look,” she explained, by setting up a second photo-taking device and pointing their phone at it like they are pointing at a mirror.
This simple realization absolutely blew my mind. I was in shock to learn that not only were people faking this kind of photo, but that the mirror selfie has become iconic enough to fake.
I thought people took mirror selfies because they were easy to take if you didn’t have a second person take a full-length photo of you. I take mirror selfies for this reason! So I was cognitively frazzled, in total disrepair, to realize I was apparently completely off base.
I wasn’t the only one, BTW.
So, I reached out to Del Toro, who in my eyes is now a scholar of the mirror selfie, to learn more.
Del Toro’s answer was straight to the point. “Honestly, there’s no real rhyme or reason behind the mirror selfie.” On a practical level, she said, it’s a way to show off your clothes or body without showing your face.
“It’s just kind of a trend right now and it’s an easy way to hide your face if you just aren’t feeling it that day, which is totally fine. The mirrorless trick is just a game changer. It’s great because you can do it anywhere,” she said.
But also, it’s a vibe.
“It has an effortlessness to it and an ‘in the moment’ appeal, I think,” she said.
And there you have it: a total sign of the times. When I began to think about it a bit more critically, I guess I’m not too surprised by it, either. It is completely symbolic of social media representation: trying to look effortless by putting in as much work as possible. I think about the time my very cool teenage cousin handed me her phone to take photos of her, but instructed me to take them only when she wasn’t looking at the camera, and at specific angles that looked like she happened upon the camera. It was very stressful, and I felt like a million years old.
I now can no longer look at a mirror selfie the same way again. I’ll also try to get over the silliness of it all and maybe try it for myself. But I don’t have a second phone or camera and Del Toro advises against going that far to buy one just for this.
“Definitely wouldn’t recommend running out and buying a second phone or camera,” she said, laughing. “There’s other ways to get creative with your content if you don’t have a spare phone or camera. Or just borrow your friends?”
My first agenda item post-pandemic will be to invite friends over just to facilitate fake mirror selfies. Can’t wait, I’ll report back.
Until next time,
Want more? Here are other stories we were following this week.
YouTuber David Dobrik said he’s lost $85,000 from investing in GameStop stock during the hype. “I fucking hate stocks,” the influencer said on his latest podcast. “I only like doing it because I like gambling.”
Women are warning creators about the TikTok silhouette challenge. Dozens of videos on YouTube show how to remove the red filter and reveal posters’ bodies
LulaRoe is paying more than $4 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed it was running a pyramid scheme. The Washington attorney general says most of the settlement funds will go to approximately 3,000 former consultants who were harmed by “LuLaRoe’s deception.”