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'The Real Housewives of New York': Getting less real by the minute?

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Some reality-show rubrics are evergreen — rode-hard Penthouse pets and BadaBing girls will no doubt keep rocking Bret Michaels’ love bus ’til his last flaxen hair-track falls to the RV floor — but others, like Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York City, seem, increasingly, to be victims of their own success.

Call it the Hills syndrome: The soapy tribulations of a group of camera-ready unknowns capture the public’s imagination (or lack thereof), which leads to media coverage, which leads to paparazzi interest, which leads to … said unknowns becoming celebrities who can’t pick up a nonfat Starbucks frap or have a tear-stained catfight in an exclusive nightclub without someone being there to capture it.

On The Hills, that meant ignoring the fact that LC and Whitney were supposedly lowly interns at Teen Vogue, while also being on the cover of said magazine — a turn of events strangely unrelated to my own intern experiences — and learning about Speidi’s Mexican “wedding” from the tabloids weeks before it aired on the show.

With Housewives this season, it means watching the cast hawk their wares — the Countess’s etiquette book, Bethenny’s Skinny Girl empire, Ramona’s skin care and jewelry lines — as if all these opportunities have nothing to do with the fact that these women, once mere bling-y, Botoxed mortals, are now beamed into our living rooms once a week (and then ad naseum on subsequent reruns).

Not that I would begrudge the ladies their right to sell ill-gotten owl necklaces or snuggle up to the Yankees’ most eligible bachelor (Madonna’s done with A-Rod, after all), but is there a weird disconnect when the current press coverage of our favorite guilty pleasures starts to subsume the months-old footage we see on Bravo every Tuesday night?

Does it affect your enjoyment of these shows at all to see that the cast, as carrot-tressed cawfee-tawker Jill Zarin explains below, are, among other meta developments (oh shattered innocence!), now the subjects of their own college sociology study, or is that just par for the pop-cult course?