I have spent a very large chunk of 2015 floating on the choppy whitecaps of the MediaWorks reality TV sea. I’ve recapped and podcasted every week of The Bachelor NZ, Dancing With the Stars NZ and hesitantly lowered myself briefly into X Factor NZ waters. And for what? I’ve often wondered. It’s fun, it’s what I enjoy talking about, and I believe that it reveals a lot more about our bizarre little corner of the world than we are willing to admit. For better or worse.
Yesterday, something dragged me out of the reality TV waves, gasping in enormous gulps of suddenly putrid air. I feel like I’ve had the shitty mirror ball smashed over my head and had the final rose torn apart in front of me. I’ve been faced with the reality of our reality TV – and it’s uglier than a rogue koala poop in an unsuspecting navel.
I’m talking, of course, about the dispute between Dom Harvey and Chrystal Chenery. Dom Harvey, a king in the MediaWorks court, a published author twice over and our most loved and loathed shock jock. And Chrystal Chenery, a new breed of MediaWorks creation, a self-proclaimed ‘Bitchelorette’ who flew straight from The Bachelor to Dancing With the Stars on a magic TV carpet of charisma and manifest star quality.
By now, we know all about the incident that got us all here. During the Sunday night grand finale of Dancing With the Stars, Dom Harvey took an unsavoury screengrab in the fraction of a second that Chrystal split her legs during a dance and sent it out to his legion of 41k+ followers:
Obviously this was a vile thing to do, symbolic of not only Dom Harvey’s particularly terrifying brand of ‘naughty school boy in grown man’s body with one of the biggest media platforms in the country’, but illustrative of much larger problem: the right to faff around with women’s bodies however one so desires. The tweet was deleted, Dom Harvey wheeled out his (at this stage probably ‘here’s one I made earlier’-style pre-prepared) apology on air, and this is where the story really starts.
This is Chrystal Chenery we are talking about here. In her own words, she is a shark at the front of the food chain. This is the Chrystal who demanded that Art Green open his mouth when they kissed, Chrystal who called out the More FM wildcard for being a fan-voted wildcard, Chrystal who owns everything she says with a confidence and a lack of fucks that sends Joe Bloggs New Zealand into a sweaty keyboard rage. Women aren’t supposed to be like Chrystal. Women are supposed to be quiet and “handle the jandal” as so many true blue kiwis have written online. Chrystal spoke out yesterday, and boy did it put the mad into Morning Madhouse.
The fact that Chrystal has not accepted Dom’s apology feels like a watershed moment. For so long he has offended so many people, scooching by with a mild apology and so many bosses turning a blind eye that every suit at MediaWorks must need a seeing-eye dog by now. Here’s three hot faves from Google:
- 2013: Harvey apologises after weighing in on girls rapping as “hardly ever a good idea”
- 2013: Harvey apologises after this tweet about X Factor contestant Grace Ikenasio “Poor Gracie! First molested in her own bed by uncle bully [sic]. And now kicked out of #xfactornz.”
- 2015: Harvey apologises after planning to dress “Trans for a Day” as a stunt for The Edge.
Every apology accepted from Dom Harvey is just a hall pass to do it all again. And, as we’ve seen, again and again. He peppered his most recent apology with the venomous insinuation that Chrystal crawled back “basically seeking compensation”, turning it into a non-apology by reducing her reaction to one based around financial gain.
But, even beyond the incident itself, something much bigger than Dom and Chrystal has been revealed now – this feud has become a deeply troubling representation of the hatred towards women who stand up for themselves, and wish to protect and defend their rights to their own bodies.
Looking at Facebook, as I have regrettably been doing for the last few hours, reveals just how deeply the problem runs. Although Chrystal has some celebrity clout, she’s still up against the might of his 41,000 followers, and the 263,000 people who ‘like’ The Edge on Facebook. We’ve seen Harvey’s family members come out of the woodwork, including wife Jay Jay’s praising her intelligent, extremely creative, funny, clever and ambitious” husband and Harvey’s mother, saying “he is the best a son can be”.
I’m not here to cast judgement on them, and I don’t doubt that Harvey has strong and positive personal relationships. I am more worried about his professional personality – one full of instances that have fed off the vulnerable and the marginalised for a number of years, and that has mobilised a poisonous army to attack, victim-blame and cyber-bully in his defence.
Even on Chrystal’s own fan page, despite maintaining they have no idea who she is, people have lashed out in a way that I forgot was humanly possible. “She’s attention seeking” garnered hundreds of likes, and is a view even held by a professor, who said the following on Stuff yesterday:
“As a feminist I find it quite disturbing when I see women mobilising a feminist rubric like “objectification” to act out petty personal vendettas or as a cloak for self-serious preciousness,”
“It really atrophies the public’s ability to take feminism seriously at a moment when, as a movement, it is dealing with genuine inequities in women’s social, cultural and economic status. Crystal’s [sic] decision to take “offence” at the tweet is disingenuous, quite out of keeping with the spirit of campy exhibitionism and sublime silliness at play in a show like Dancing With the Stars.”
So Chrystal needs a permission slip to use feminism, but Dom doesn’t need one to degradingly screengrab her in a vulnerable position? Is the ‘campy exhibitionism’ of Dancing With the Stars an excuse to access women’s bodies however one so desires, with no repercussions? Where does the buck stop then? Does that mean any dancer is vulnerable? Any woman in a short skirt? Any woman? However trivial you think Chrystal’s gripe is, there’s no denying that it directly addresses women’s “social, cultural and economic status”. Chrystal appears to have been dropped from the MediaWorks family faster than you can say “Natalia Kills” – and it’s very hard to ignore the social, cultural and economic motivations there.
What this torrent of hostility has proved is that women’s bodies are still being treated differently. This difference is the reason Simon Barnett can wheel out his nips on 80s night a mesh vest, yet when I go to recreate his iconic costume I make myself wear a singlet underneath for modesty. It’s the reason Dom Harvey himself can pointedly rip off his pants and shake his jockeys down the camera lens, and yet Chrystal is hounded on Facebook for being a “slut”, for exposing her underpants for a fraction of a second as a consequence of jaw-droppingly difficult routine. It’s like how Si’s shirtless ‘Dad bod’ has probably got a gold shrine in Hagley Park by now, and yet Chrystal is the one coming under fire for wearing a short sparkly dress in a dancing competition.
What’s also interesting is how people are pulling on her controversial Bachelor personality, as if to imply that she was asking for it. “Where was all the fuss when she was walking around in a bikini on The Bachelor?” someone writes. “You were a catty cunt on The Bachelor and that was acceptable”, another big fan reports. There is a vast disparity between being prompted and edited to play a particular personality type on a different reality show – which Chrystal seemingly owned and largely drove – and suddenly being objectified and invaded on a different show. I can’t help but remember this dangerous “karmic” language seeping through other, far more serious instances, where a woman has been sexually victimised. As Minstrel demonstrates:
Despite the now thousands of people telling Chrystal to suck it up and move on, it’s crucial that she doesn’t. She’s now one woman, abandoned by the same overlords that made her, facing a tsunami of blind sexist rage from women and men alike. In her statement, Jay Jay Harvey closed with “let’s just hope Chrystal can find peace”.
Fuck that. Never find peace Chrystal, but know that many of us have found peace witnessing such a strong-willed New Zealand woman stand up for herself and women everywhere.
[This story has been amended to reflect that Jay Jay Harvey said “let’s just hope Chrystal can find peace” and not Dominic Harvey as was originally attributed. The Spinoff apologises for this error]