"It's a great day in South Carolina" was not likely whispered from Gov. Nikki Haley's lips after the first episode of Charleston's plunge into the media spotlight, Bravo's "Southern Charm."
We are supposed to swallow the cast as the "new" Southern elite in Charleston - "playground for men that never want to grow up." There's not enough bourbon in the state of Kentucky to numb the pain this causes the brain, and there's not enough white eyelet and lace to pretty up the stain of shame that may leak onto our seersucker suits.
Admittedly, I know next to nothing about South Carolina politics.So, it shouldn’t be shocking that Thomas Ravenel’s name didn’t ring a bell while I watched the Southern Charm premiere. But after hearing snippets about him during the ep, my mind raced with a pile of questions: Who IS this Thomas Ravenel guy? What’s his story? How could a polo field cost $1 million? Isn’t it just a big square of grass? What is polo? (I’m still working on those last three inquiries.)
Thomas Ravenel was the SC Treasurer, then went to jail for serious coke charges, and is now trying to get his foot back in the political door. BUT! He refuses to clean up his image/stop doing him. In the words of Polonius, “To thine own self be true” (ain’t that right, Thomas Ravenel?)
After the Southern Charm premiere, I went Googling. Fortunately, Thomas is a big effin’ deal in SC, so there’s a hefty amount of local and national news about him. Here are a few notes:
- His father, Arthur Ravenel, Jr.,was a politician in Charleston.
- There is a cable suspension bridge in Charleston named The Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge. Nope, it was not named after another Arthur Ravenel, Jr.: Thomas’s dad has a giant bridge named after him. A BRIDGE. A GIANT BRIDGE. Why? Because Arthur helped get the bridge funded.
- Thomas has a Masters in Business Administration, and in 1992, he started the Ravenel Development Corporation. He makes serious cash money.
- He digs polo.
- Thomas ran for state Senate in 2004 (he funded his own campaign), but he did not win.
- In 2006, Thomas ran for Treasurer and won.
- In 2007, he resigned as SC State Treasurer when he was indicted on cocaine charges with intent to distribute (but not sell). He served several months in prison.
- Before the drug charges, he was the state chairperson for Rudy Giuliani’s Presidential campaign.
- He is a Libertarian and is a proponent for the legalization of narcotics.
- In 2011, he sued ex-fiancé Danielle Tosi when she wouldn’t return the engagement ring. He didn’t win the $47,500 ring back, but a settlement happened, so I guess everything’s hunky-dory.
- In 2013, he was arrested for drunk driving. The case has been put on hold until May 8.
- He could run for Senate against SC Senator Lindsey Graham in 2014. He says he’d run as an Independent.
Southern Charm airs tonight, and, depending on your perspective, this could mean, 1) the end of Charleston as we know it or, 2) the best thing to happen to Thomas Ravenel since getting out of jail.
For those in the first camp, Southern Charm represents all that is base and vile in the world. Charleston will become the laughingstock of the country — as if South Carolina isn't already a laughingstock for things much worse than man sluts. You know, things like institutionalized racism and homophobia, high rates of illiteracy, poverty, teenage pregnancy, AIDS, etc. When it comes to this corner of the world, a group of partying pretty people sleeping around town is the last thing we should be outraged about. But many people are. To them I say, take a seat on your joggling board, drink a mint julep, and relax already. It's a freakin' TV show, not the race for state superintendent of education (which you really should be paying more attention to). Seriously, get your priorities for outrage in order people.
Now, for those like me, seeing Thomas Ravenel in his natural habitat is fascinating stuff. This is a guy who truly is from the local elite — a French Huguenot with a family name that dates back centuries. The big bridge is named for his dad Arthur Ravenel for god sakes. And about his dad. I kind of miss old Cousin Arthur, a former politician who served in Congress, ran for governor, and took a seat on the county school board at age 79. He gave the City Paper plenty of fodder for years. We dedicated entire issues to his Cuzway, the bridge's nickname during the project stage. We called him out when he famously referred to the NAACP as the National Association for Retarded People during the Confederate flag flap.
And because he is the son of Cousin Arthur, we shouldn't be surprised that T-Rav is an attention whore who loves stirring up controversy and saying shit like he did in last week's City Paper. Father and son share a mischievous twinkle in their eyes. They like to challenge and charm people. They like attention, which is why we caught a glimpse of the senior Ravenel in the preview episode. That's right. Cousin Arthur makes an appearance in Southern Charm, and for that, I will watch. I mean, you could put these two guys in a sitcom, they are such characters.
A few other items gleaned from watching the preview episode and clips on Bravo's website:
• Cameran I say more power to this non-independently wealthy young woman who is no stranger to reality TV, after being a cast member of MTV's "The Real World: San Diego." You gotta get in there and make friends with rich people who have their own reality show so that they can jump-start your career.
• Thomas. This guy is having a ball, making lots of money, playing polo. I think he comes across as a douche who's in on the joke — which has its charms. It's clear he could not give two shits what anyone thinks about him.
• Shep Rose. 33, Some blog somewhere described him as a golden retriever, and that he is. Big, goofy, and good-looking. He's a man-slut with a girl problem. But boy is he cute. And seemingly rich. A panty-dropping combo. Most recently of Hilton Head Island. He prefers the life of luxury. In fitting with the Peter Pan Syndrome theme of the show, he's a little too old to be "spinning his wheels," but he's got a smile that will knock your socks off and exceptionally good hair.
Whitney Sudler-Smith: age unknown, who shares a downtown manse with his mother. Yes, he lives with his mother and she (martini in hand) and their personal chef tease him about the women's clothing (and other items) in a pile on his bedroom floor. He decides he needs a love shack in town. It's a good thing he knows Cameran, who happens to have just passed the real estate boards.
Whitney appears to be the true center of this universe. He has a confidence that doesn't come across as too arrogant and he looks like the lead singer of Train.
We can't have Southern "reality" without a lawyer in there. Enter Craig Conover, 25, a native of Delaware, law student and clerk. He's bummed because he can't make his friends' 2 p.m. parties. He's chastised for tardiness by his supervisor and cautioned about being judged by the people he hangs out with. It was so stilted that I almost forgot it was a reality show. He's got the good hair and the good clothes, but there's an undercurrent of something else.
Jenna King: 28, and originally from Sumter, has lived in Miami, New York, and Europe - you know, all true Southern hubs. She's got an edge, so when she picks Whitney up in her "starter Benz" and they go boutique shopping, you know that this girl with a mohawk is going to be a real piece of work.
Nutshell: Everyone is real pretty and has really good hair and they smile a lot. But that's probably because there's always a cocktail around.
South Carolina political scientists were quick to downplay Ravenel's odds of success, given his federal cocaine charge and guilty plea that drove him from office in 2007.
"I don't think he has a chance in hell," said College of Charleston political scientist Kendra Stewart.
Stewart said some voters can be forgiving, citing how coastal 1st Congressional District Republicans responded to now-U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford's marital affair and Appalachian Trail hike story while governor.
The difference, she said, was that Sanford asked for forgiveness and was contrite - helping him win his former seat in Congress last year.
In Ravenel's case, she said, he hasn't been as repentant. He also was pushed from office for drug use.
"I think a drug scandal is a lot harder to overcome than a marital scandal," Stewart said. "Especially in other areas of the state."
Much of "Southern Charm," seen on the Bravo network, claims to show the lives of rich young men and women living in Charleston. Parts of Monday's broadcast focused on Ravenel's efforts to mix his playboy persona and efforts to rehabilitate his image toward a political campaign.
"It's just television; it's entertainment," Ravenel said of the first hour of the series that was shown Monday. He added that he felt he was portrayed accurately.
He also let on Tuesday that other Charleston residents earlier had dropped out of the project, and that his siblings had pressured him to get out as well.
"(The network) said they wouldn't have a show without me; I was the only Charlestonian in it," he said of his decision to honor his commitment to the project and stay on.
Ravenel said he would self-finance his campaign if it does materialize, and would seek donations. His conviction does not prohibit seeking federal office.
Graham's campaign declined to comment on a potential Ravenel candidacy.
Clemson University political scientist Dave Woodard said Ravenel's best hopes as a potential independent candidate would be to try to pull between 13 percent and 18 percent of the electorate. Other than that, Woodard said independents don't have a history of success in South Carolina beyond trying to promote an issue.
"I guess he can go on TV and talk," Woodard said.
BEST QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: "When I got out of prison, I was listless and I found polo." - T-Rav
WORST QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: "It's not that I had a problem with cocaine, I just liked the smell of it." - T-Rav
BEST QUOTE ABOUT THE ELITISM OF POLO: "You get all decked out to go walk around in horse****." - Cameran
BEST QUOTE FOR PUTTING YOUR FAITH BACK INTO TODAY'S YOUTH: "I get bored easily and will stay in Charleston until I get bored again. I guess." - Jenna
WORST PICK-UP LINE OF THE NIGHT WHILE PLAYING BOCCE BALL: "The first time I played bocce ball was in prison." - T-Rav
This is like NYC Prep South of the Mason-Dixon and middle aged.
Real World: San Diego Classic Makeout
Jenna is my personal favorite. I wonder how she makes her money. The gossip sites say that she participated in the sex industry.