James D. Huysman Psy.D., LCSW

Life in the Recovery Room

Reality TV: The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire?

The Shadow Side of Reality Television and the Culture It Is Spawning

Posted Oct 11, 2010

The Reality Conspiracy of Silence

Reality on Public Trial...Again

"The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."-Albert Einstein

The Reality Conspiracy of Silence

Reality on Public Trial...Again

In the past several weeks, I have been interviewed by the New York Times, the LA Times, Yahoo’s Shine and the online Hollywood staple, The Wrap, concerning recent disturbing events connected to reality television shows and the genre in general.

I have worked with many celebrities in reality and talk situations over the years, so I can say, with certainty, that there is a ‘great detach’ in understanding who the real personas behind the reality machine are.  First there is the celebrity, who is a brand on their own based on a perceived persona, that may itself be invented and their handlers. 

The agents, managers and publicists who ‘handle’ the celebrity guide and control the image to keep the celebrity famous at all costs, often in a Machiavellian manner. Then there is the network,  whose myriad of executives, producers and deal makers are goal driven;  the goal being to drive ratings at all costs, at all times.

Finally, there are the advertisers, intent to drive as many people as possible to their products, using the celebrity and networks to do so.  So, all things considered, the final ‘product’ will either look like a confederacy of dunces or a well oiled syndicate (of conspiratorial egos).

Second Suicide from the Show

Skewered again?

After being a ‘clinical beard’ for the world of celebrities for so long, I am often reminded that they really don’t know what they are doing.   After all, celebrities work hard to become who they are.   It’s easy to get carried away, become the hype and genuinely forget or forfeit who they really are as human beings.  There are so many genuinely talented people in this world, why do we remain fixated on the most outrageous and scandalous among them?

Is it ironic that my most read posting to this blog was about Mel and Lindsay?  Or does this fact reflect something deeper?  I write a lot about boomer and senior addictions, because it’s an important issue that we should all be aware of.  Literally, Americans cared more about Mel and Lindsay, than the pandemic of our grandparents becoming addicts and alcoholics at the fastest rate of all populations!

America loves the celebrity; often seeing them as an extension of them and being attached to them even when they have never even met them.  We live vicariously through celebrity and reality TV makes celebrities.  Albert Einstein’s statement holds more meaning in this context because nouveau celebs rarely put the ‘evil’ Albert speaks of ahead of their own 15 minutes of fame.

My testimony over ten years ago during the Jenny Jones trial was characterized as me “singling out” Jenny Jones, Telepictures and Time Warner.  It should not have been misconstrued; it was a warning.

Talk, court and reality’s dirty little secret is that television is nothing more than filler between commercials. If the companies that bought the time for us to gaze upon the soap they sell would tell the networks that Gordon Ramsay, Maury Povich or even Dr Phil could not and should not shame people in the way they do just for tabloid effect then chances are “the suits” would tell the hosts to tone it down.

If America’s almighty dollar world would put their feet and wallets down, shaming people in such emotionally abusive ways for the sake of entertainment would not be accepted.  The ethics of the companies producing and distributing television and buying airtime time might actually make a difference in our culture’s mean spirited lust of all things shameful.

We can call for accountability from talk show hosts/celebs, the networks and even ourselves, knowing full well that in Eldridge Cleaver’s view, “If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem”.

The pervasive values of today’s corporations only reflect the spiritual bankruptcy of the viewers who crave dumpster diving television.  The question is who and when will someone say, "Enough?”  Will it be you as a stockholder of a company that advertises, you as a viewer who turns off the shaming as soon as they see it or must we all endure more media about heart breaking murders, relapses and suicides that come from the shame driven by Talk, Court or Reality shows?

Who knows, if we all did not have such a salacious appetite for shaming reality programming, we might have even sent a different message to Tyler Clementi’s reality hungry roommate and his consort.

I will let the reader ponder the connection between television’s thirst for shame-based programming and the true reality that,  under the guise of ‘personal freedom’ and free speech, we are giving over the power of the camera to a generation that thinks that this is all OK.Could Have Tyler Clementi Died for our Sins

No doubt future blogs will delve deeper into the notion that we are doing ourselves no favors in turning the Internet into a world version of the Roman Coliseum.

Thumbs up, anyone?

Related articles:

New York Times article concerning Fantasia’s attempted suicide: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/fashion/05With.html?pagewanted=all

Yahoo’s Shine http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/life/reality-rehab-suicide-and-survival-when-filming-stops-2395970

The Wrap, http://www.thewrap.com/television/article/suicides-binge-drinking-female-escorts-are-reality-shows-out-control-21277  concerning Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” suicide.

Mel & Lindsay http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-in-the-recovery-room/201007/are-mel-and-lindsay-the-only-addicts-we-care-about

Tyler Clementi http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/09/tyler_clementis_family_confirm.html.