A Brief Taxonomy of the Reality TV “Drink Slap”

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A Brief Taxonomy of the Reality TV “Drink Slap”

Reality television: The fantastical world of silicone, spin-offs and sassy personalities who say things like “mess with my family, mess with me” has spawned a new mode of violence—the drink slap. Occurring when one alcohol-fueled drama-bot throws a drink over their rival, the drink slap has become an entrenched mechanism of reality television. Its modern roots, though, lay in cinema: The first onscreen portrayal of a drink slap was in the 1914 silent film Wages of Sin, in which a prostitute goes loco on a man trying to slide into her DMs (or the wartime equivalent), and it’s since been featured in films from Turning Point to Mommy Dearest. Whilst it resembles a violent attack, the drink slap has low to non-existent physical stakes. It belongs to the realm of fake blood and pop-guns. Characters can go on a drink slap mega-frenzy, attending a party armed with a Super Soaker-style goblet glass, and still bypass section 47 assault charges. The only exception to this rule is the tan-smudged “Guidettes” of Jersey Shore for whom drink slapping is married to nail scratches and tilt-a-whirl cross-body wrestling moves.

The drink slap is part of a formula cyclically manufactured in industrial quantities by television production companies. This is how it works: It begins with an argument concerning something tribalistic (“Don’t talk about my sister’s boyfriend’s son like that!”) or territorial (“How dare you use my personal chef at your charity gala!”). As tensions near the pitch of an MMA match, a high-pitched piano melody chimes in, until—BAM! The drink slap hurtles across the screen. Fury, liquid and melting mascara combust together like fairground dodgems. In the aftermath, the audience is stimulated by a series of heavily edited reaction shots in which the characters appear shocked (as shocked as you can be when your face has been paralyzed with Botox). The whole thing is finished off with scripted confessions to camera: “Stay out of my life,” “I’m done,” “I expected more from her.” Then the advertisements roll—cue Andrex puppies, Land Rovers drifting across the desert and perfume ads with Terence Malick-esque hazy voiceovers.

In reality land, the drink slap is the trembling climax of the interpersonal issues (or, as the stars squeakily refer to it, “drama”) that have brewed over the course of several episodes; when the argument has fully flourished and the characters’ mouths and brains cannot think of anything more degrading to slur out—”What’s worse than saying ‘slut whore’?” they seem to ask themselves—the only logical response is a physical display. As the water flows out of the glass and smacks against the flesh of its victim, the argument reaches its nth degree, the end of history, the summum bonum. Like the role of ejaculation in the sex act, drink slap is the orgasm of reality TV’s theatrical violence.

Clipped, buffed, moisturized and shaved, the women of reality television don’t take well to a splash of sticky fluid to the face: It’s worse than a tabloid leak because it exposes the real self, their internal I. The producers of reality TV seamlessly enmesh scenes of characters dining and shopping with routine soaks, so much so that it has become tranquilizing. From sloshing the remnants of a water bottle onto an ex-husband’s face to tipping an entire table of alcohol onto the floor, though, each drink slap possesses its own nuances.

Kim Richards v. Lisa Rinna, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

The “You Can’t Drink Slap a Jedi.” The first drink slap on our list begins when Real Housewife Kim Richards makes a series of accusations about Lisa R’s husband: “You don’t want to know,” she growls. In response, Lisa R and her ‘90s Reese Witherspoon bob fail to provide a car-crash dousing. Grabbing her wine glass, she flicks her wrist to generate spin, but Kim is used to having people project things onto her face—and not in a sexual way. (I mean, she’s the tyrant and aggressor of Real Housewives, calling Brandi a “slut pig” and dragging her sister’s hair out, so even whilst she appears heavily sedated with rich-woman drugs, Kim maintains a dextrous reaction time. She tucks her chin under and avoids the torrent of liquid. Humiliated by missing the shot, Lisa smashes her glass on the table and gears up for a Runescape-style bar brawl.

Brandi Glanville v. Jeff Lewis Watch What Happens Live

The Sass-Pot Slap. Captured under the florescent lighting of the Watch What Happens Live studio, this attack begins when Jeff Lewis refuses to touch Real Housewives of Orange County star Brandi Glanville’s hair. (“Can I get an STD from that?” he taunts.) In response, Brandi regurgitates a series of unformed sounds: ”…motherjkfj self.” After host Andy Cohen choreographs a smooth segway into the commercial break, Brandi returns full of sass. Flicking her wrist, she sends a cyclone of wine into the upper echelons of his mohican. “I think you’ll be fine,” she concludes. It’s only a small glass, but this one’s a beauty. It screams, “You’re not worth my backwash!” Like the Mean Girls character who can judge the weather using her breasts, Brandi appears to communicate better through the physical.

Tamra Judge v. Jeana Keough, The Real Housewives of Orange County

The AK-47 Merlot. Submerged in the rhetoric of the law, this drink slap involves Tamra Judge and Jeana Keough, who’ve fallen out after a series of lies, tabloid stories and domestic abuse accusations. First, Tamra hurls some cease and desist papers onto the ground, before a man in wraparound sunglasses frantically picks up the remains. (I assume he’s a digital spy for Perez Hilton.) Then, we get this amazing cutaway to perhaps the last man brave enough to don a trilby without irony. Jeana shouts, “I will push you in the pool, you skinny bitch!” In response, Tamra hurls liquid into the spongy mass of Jeana’s face: Using her rapid motor function, Tamra expels the liquid out of her glass like a gun shot, and the wine churns across the screen in a blurred mass of red pixels.

Matthew v. Rhett, Millionaire Matchmaker

The Prosecco Vortex. Despite his occupation—he earned his money by inventing a “cookie diet”—Patti’s chosen Millionaire, Matthew, is not well versed in the norms of reality TV. After insinuating that his date is an alcoholic, Mr. Millionaire leisurely throws his head back and chuckles as a torrent of liquid plunges towards him. He has no idea what he’s in for: He looks like he’s thinking about tax havens or whether the feta in the fridge will be off by tomorrow’s lunch. “Is this amateur hour,” I ask myself? “Where are your pre-packaged comebacks and over-emphatic facial expressions?” Instead, this chump quotes Cormac McCarthy. Sprawled out across the globe in zebra print slankets, surrounded by assorted snacks, we viewers want to guzzle up Millionaire Matchmaker and shit it onto our Facebook feeds without disturbances from high culture. Keep it to yourself next time, mate.

Teresa Guidice v. Danielle Staub, The Real Housewives of New Jersey

The Drink Slap Tsunami. As Sugalva1345 and Danglass44 write in the comments section on YouTube, this attack, from hothead Teresa Guidice, is “iconic”—famed in the pop cultural consciousness as the drink slap in its most sublime incarnation. As with most drink slaps, the context is sloppy and boring; it involves the publication of a book by Danielle Staub’s ex-husband and bucket loads of gossip and side eye. The attack itself escalates fast. Teresa screams, “You are a stripping, prostitution whore, you have been engaged fucking 19 times, you fucking stupid bitch!” Her eyes roll back in her head like a crazed banshee about to eat its prey. Her arms, muscled like Madonna’s and lithe like a chicken leg, wrench the table up and onto Danielle, sending platters of over-indulgent canapés flying and creating a ripple—no, a tsunami—of drink slaps.

Pauly D v. Danielle a.k.a “The Stalker,” Jersey Shore

The Bumout Blow-out. This drink slap involves Pauly D’s ‘stalker,’ an accusation made far too frequently in reality TV. I mean, is this person hacking your phone and watching you shower, or is it an alcohol-infused lapse in judgment? This attack involves the latter: After eyeing him up through tear-jerked eyes, ‘the stalker’ approaches Pauly with a left hook jab and lobs a vodka soda into his blowout. As a reality show in its premature days, the producers provide no snappy compilation of reaction shots. Instead, the low-fi camera swings around chaotically as they attempt to capture the attack. Post-drink slap, Pauly’s fellow guidos steer him through the crowd like he’s the victim of an acid attack. The scene fades out with a shot of Danielle doing that Britney-esque paparazzi thing, batting down the camera as it fuzzes over like a scratched video tape.

JWOWW v. anonymous woman, Jersey Shore

The J-CAPOWW! This attack occurs when some girls mouth off at Snooki (“Who’s your fat friend?”) before cowboy-meets-porn-star-meets-anime-character JWOWW gets involved. Using her glass less as a vehicle for projecting liquid and more as an assault weapon, JWOWW hurls the drink like she wants to draw blood. The two combatants latch their acrylic nails onto each other’s hair and begin to rotate, screaming intermittently generic insults like “slag” and “bitch.” Sapped of any physical contact, everything the women touch is plastic, manmade and factory produced. They are warriors of the synthetic. As they tug and pull at each other, the simulacrum is at its fullest flowering, fertile and ferocious. After this maniacal act of aggression, the editor cuts back to the villa, were the boys are attempting to “get it in.” There is little reflection or discussion: Grievous bodily harm is smoothed over like a leg wax.

Stassi v. Tom, Vanderpump Rules

The Go Taste It. Reality TV has spewed out so many spin-offs and subgenres that it’s generated its own incestuous micro-climate. Involving the staff from Real Housewife Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant, Sur, Vanderpump Rules is one example. Featuring Frank, Jax, Katie, industrial amounts of hormones and inactive brain cells, the various strands of this argument would take too long to unpick. It orientates vaguely around a breakup and it follows a standardized formula: Sharp provocation + boozed-up reality stars = drink slap. The whole sequence moves so fast, it’s like editors have purposely sped it up for the audience’s short attention span. After shouting “Fuck you, Stassi!” Tom receives a face full of Prosecco. He retaliates by sloshing his Heineken onto his attacker’s face. As the scene drifts to an end, we see the characters illuminated by the clinical blue lights of their limo, their eyebrows slanting down like sad Disney creatures.

Sherée Whitfield v. Bob Whitfield, The Real Housewives of Atlanta

The “Kill It with Fire.” Epitomizing Drake’s meme-ified song lyric, Real Housewife Sheree Whitfield has started wearing less and going out more, and her ex-husband, Bob, is jealous. But that’s not the only reason these two are fighting. Bob is guilty of refusing to pay child support. As Sheree splashes the dregs of her water bottle into his face, we’re filled with a sense of moral righteousness. Here, the drink slap functions in much the same way as public flagellation, or throwing rotten vegetables at a criminal in the stocks. Bob remains passive during the attack, because he knows this is the best way to appeal for re-endorsement from the bloodthirsty masses. We might even be won over by his plight because we see how much pain he’s in. He could even get his own E! series: Bob Whitfield: New Beginnings.

Snooki v. anonymous juicehead, IRL

The Liquid Smush Smush. Whilst throwing a drink on someone was once confined to the hyperreal expanse of reality TV, it has since spread into the tactile world of the everyday. In 2010, Radar leaked a video of sausage dog impersonator Snookie lobbing watered down cocktails, ketchup and hotdogs at a guy after he reportedly tried to hit on her. Her tiny T-Rex arms, strapped onto her chest like removable toy add-ons, scratch at him as a wall of people armed with cameras absorb the action from multiple angles. With the rise of Instagram and Snapchat and the lurid accessibility of the red record button, we have become locked in a three-dimensional Truman Show that makes us act like we’re being watched all the time, and we are. Stars like Nicole Polizzi leave MTV’s pay slip and continue to act as though they must generate drama, lest they be booted from the public eye.

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