June 2016


This is Reality?

Dying for fame: 21 reality stars committed suicide in a decade

read a headline I ran across a few months ago on line. And I was about to skip past it without giving it a second thought; one of those stories that tends to “slip under the radar.” But my antennae picked it up. I paused. Then gave it not only a second thought, but a third, fourth and a few more as well. It seemed to trigger associations to various things on various levels. Starting with, and not the least of which, is that running for the presidency has now become the ultimate reality show. But as that is hardly an original thought and now so obvious, I’ll not waste even another line of Trump, er, type, to further expound on it. Though let it be noted, that none of the losers voted off the debate stage or primary ballots has committed suicide. At least not yet.


Suicide is invariably shocking. Be it someone we know, or a celebrity on the order of a Robin Williams, whom we somehow think we know. And I don’t know the percentages of suicides per capita relative to the U.S. population in general, but the number “21,” seems awfully high for this alleged entertainment we call Reality TV. It’s still another sad commentary on this sort of programming, in which we now learn that so many of its participants have taken their own lives. The latest being a young woman named Alexa McAllister.

In reality, Reality TV is grossly mislabeled. It bears no resemblance to reality in the least. Unless you have been living in some sort of alternative universe.


When was the last time in your life, in front of a room full of those with whom you were competing for a job, have you witnessed a man in oddly colored and contoured hair, tersely declare: “You’re fired”!? And with millions of viewers looking in on your misfortune? In my experience, such transitional moments usually occur quietly in a side room, with corporate regret usually accompanied by that old chestnut, “the company has decided to go in another direction.”


Oh, you old schtick in the mud! Isn’t this just supposed to be all in fun?

Apparently, not to the many losers who have been unable to deal with the agony of defeat, in being voted off the island or tossed out of the building. Which often means having to return to a “real” reality, that can be rather humdrum and unsatisfying for them. If it weren’t, they probably wouldn’t have gone on these shows in the first place. But to be fair to Mr. Trump, no one from The Apprentice has ever taken their life.


But many others have, from the many reality shows such as The Bachelor, Bachelorette, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Kitchen Nightmares, to name a few. Kitchen Nightmares? Well, it is hard to keep up. At least to this non-viewer, who was astounded to happen upon another piece entitled: “How we went from ‘Survivor’ to more than 300 reality shows: A complete guide” Yes, three hundred. Even Sarah Palin had one for about twenty minutes. (

Survivor, is acknowledged to be the first of the genre having premiered in the summer of 2000. The final episode was viewed by 50 million people as Richard Hatch walked away the winner, and with a million bucks.


The show’s participants seemed pretty normal to me when I had a chance to meet about a half dozen of them at an advertising event soon after the concluding episode. Especially Susan Hawk, a truck driver from Wisconsin who seemed particularly personable, approachable and down to earth. Whereas Hatch, who spent a good deal of the time surviving in the nude, and who didn’t appear that night at the gathering—dressed or naked— was later convicted to 51 months in prison for tax evasion. Still, no suicides.


But if you think about it, Survivor was hardly the first program in which real people were vying for their fifteen minutes of fame and fortune. Or simply to turn their miserable lives around. Arguably, Queen for a Day (1945-1954) was the first. A rather maudlin program during which women told their sob stories, which were then measured for their “patheticness,” by an audience applause meter. Invariably the most destitute woman won, and went home with a new set of big kitchen appliances, a dozen roses and a cheap tiara on her head. None of which were of much use to someone whose husband was dying of cancer, but it was something. The losers? Emptyhanded and back to their squalid lives, with not even a toaster to show for it. But still, no suicides. At least ever reported.

But let he who has not slimed, cast the first groan. I too have succumbed. I once appeared on a reality show in the late 70’s, though it wasn’t called that back then. It was called a game. The Dating Game to be exact. I guess it was a sort of a forerunner to The Bachelor and Bachelorette.

One winning fellow on the show, a real charmer, who appeared the same year I was on in ’78, actually turned out to be a serial killer. He was sentenced to death in California in 2010. Though he has not been executed as yet. True.

The competition I first encountered in the greenroom on my night, was thankfully not that deranged. From this group of young men in badly designed clothes and hairstyles (self included), all trying to pass ourselves off as cool, and not the starving actors that we were vying to become, I emerged victorious. Though hardly something to be proud of, in that I beat out one guy who sounded like Latka from the old “Taxi” series, and another, who was a former two-time loser on this show.


As a member of SAG at the time, it paid $238 (“scale”) and later, some paltry residuals—I was essentially broke. And I did get a dinner out of it a couple of months later, at which I learned that my date, since our appearance on the show three months prior, had been stabbed several times one night on her way home. Again. True.


And in a different mother lode within this reality vein, long before we looked in on the lives of the currently divorcing Osbournes, (The Osbournes 2002-2005), we lived with the Louds via PBS’s An American Family in 1973. And their marriage broke up right on the air! But again, no suicides. Or stabbings. And Ozzy never even bit a bat’s head off the whole time.

So what is going on now, in what can only be described as a new wave in reality show tragedy?
Dr. Richard Levak, a California-based personality expert who has worked on several reality shows, including “Survivor,” says…

“…the spate of suicides among reality-TV stars boils down to a chicken-or-the-egg debate."

“Does [appearing on reality television] attract people with a higher rate of instability?” Levak asks. “Are people who are unstable more interested? Or do the vagaries of reality TV precipitate people killing themselves?”

I don’t know doc, you tell me. He goes on to note that…

“Generally, the producers would like people that I was uncomfortable with for psychological reasons… there’s an allure to having a degree of volatility on TV.”

Who knows the value of volatility better than Trump?

And as Eliza Orlins, now a lawyer in Manhattan, who starred on two seasons of “Survivor” notes:

“People aren’t screened (by the shows) as well as they should be. A lot of people have trouble dealing with the aftermath.”

‘Ya think?

What has always been particularly off-putting and creepy about this programming for me, is that at its core, it’s about humiliation. Ok not in all 300 that have so far been produced. But in the main, it is not enough to win. It’s not enough for the victors to receive their rewards and praise. No. The losers must also be humiliated. It is one of the reasons I stopped watching American Idol. For every shining moment, there were dozens of scathing put-downs of sadly misguided people, who should not have been put on the air in the first place. And we may have hissed at Simon Cowell, but we watched.

There are bigger stories out there, for sure. There always are—terrorism, mass shootings of innocent people, natural disasters etc. But this one particularly caught my attention. I suppose it has to do with seemingly normal, “regular,” real people, doing dumb things that end badly. And all in the name of “entertainment.” And that, ironically, always strikes me as unreal.






The Top One Percent: A Sonnet


• Oh, those short hops in and out of hotels
• The body barely dents the sheets
• In the clashing time zones, the ride on coattails
• Of the corporation; the fight for sleep.
• Arising before seven, there’ll be clients to meet:
• General Matters and their management teams
• In marathon sessions, through snow, rain or sleet.
• Soaring profits on the paper of dreams.
       ° Skull and Bones connections in the money making games.
       ° Avoiding commitments in unfavorable times.
       ° Chauffeurs arriving in limos, hold up their names
       ° Bypassing any resemblance of lines.
            • Just one more perk from the skyscraper palace
            • With its golden parachutes, if not the very chalice.


                                                                                 Ron Vazzano





I Adopted a Saint Bernard



No, not the dog. But a real live saint named Bernard (dead now almost 900 years, and not in dog years either), whose statue I ran across on a recent visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s a place that has served as quiet contemplation for me— all 10,000 tourists “selfie-ing” themselves to death, aside. And now with this historic cathedral all spruced up and glistening once again, one can only wonder what that four-year restoration project must have cost. God only knows.

I don’t do yoga, I don’t do spas, I don’t do gyms. I do Catholic churches. I seem to find solace in their unabashed “over-the-topness.” What with all that ancient looking marble, granite, intricately carved wood and stained glass recreations of unfathomable moments from the scriptures, it speaks to my aesthetic and artistic sensibilities. And yes, spirit. And then of course, the no holds barred reminder that the cross is not merely symbolic, but a torture device from which a young Jewish man from Nazareth still gruesomely hangs before your eyes, in case you think you have it tough. (I’ve been to Nazareth. And even today, it still seems like a place to leave if you want to make a mark on the world.).

But I’m especially taken with all those dramatic statues wherever you turn; replicas of men and women who were once real people doing real life things. Even sinning. St. Augustine drove his mother St. Monica crazy with all his shenanigans to which he owns up to in his confessional memoir, before seeing the light. Speaking of which, those box seat rows of votive candles at St. Pat’s at two bucks a pop, are a little on the small side. You don’t want your tiny flame of prayer or intentions, to flicker out before you’re out the door. But back to Bernard. Or to be more specific, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153).

I check out his plaque before me which I had always bypassed, and note that his feast day, August 20th, is the same as my birthday! And he was a writer too. Cool. And while Bernard is not one of my favorite names, and a St. Bernard is a breed of dog, it could have been worse. St. Schnauzer? St. Basset? St. Jack Russell?

I’m now intrigued by this heretofore unknown guy who has been standing here for too long, essentially unnoticed. And looking a little like Neal Patrick Harris if you ask me. He’s been upstaged however by a rock-star nearby, looking skyward and a bit doleful, as if to ask how did I get this job?—St. Jude.

Known as “the patron of lost causes,” (which covers a lot of ground) and a favorite of well-known American performer—well-known that is, if you’re at least over fifty— Danny Thomas (born Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz), who founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in his honor. And so it is to this saint to whom so many flock. But I’m not as yet a lost cause. Give it time. And on this day. “I’m feeling the Bern.” Even though he has no hospital named after him.

Reading further from “my” saint’s brief bio …

“A reforming abbot and theologian…from a brilliant family…four brothers and twenty–seven friends (an impressive number as this was long before Facebook)…developed an order of monks called Cistercians…a fine writer challenging Peter Abelard, clerical luxury, persecution of the Jews, shady elections and the careless work of the Papal Curia…he was doctor melleffluus… ‘the honey-sweet teacher’ (for his eloquence).

It is interesting that the issues he addressed, are still timely in 2016. Though I wish he would have stayed off of Abelard’s case, whose affair with Heloise is one of history’s most passionate and romantic true love stories. But bottom line, in Bernard’s being referred to as a honey-sweet teacher— which is as poetic a paean I’ve ever heard or seen expressed— I’m smitten. Oh, to have been called a “honey-sweet ad man” in my day.

Certainly this must be fate. To happen upon such a prestigious fellow “8/20”?! I’ve known a lot of people in my life who have shared “my” birthday. Even dated one for a while, long long ago. But none of us were ever saints. None like my man now, St. Bernard. (I’d say “My Bro,” but ‘ya know). Gotta’ Google him when I get home.

Invariably in all lives, saintly or otherwise, when you go a bit beyond sound bites, tweets, press releases, or church notes, what you find is complexity, conflict, contradictions.

Unmentioned in St. Pat’s, was that though Bernard was a monk, he defied a lot of what their lot implies: i.e. a world of prayer, chanting and serenity, and perhaps baking bread somewhere so far off the beaten path, that even with a GPS you’d couldn’t find them:

“This saintly man was gradually drawn into world affairs as church leaders came to seek his advice. Even the pope’s legates sought his council. A prolific writer, Bernard led much discussion and dialog on reforms and restructuring of the church as it passed through its first millennium.” (

Not bad, this stereotype-defying monk. But then there’s this that is disturbing:

“The Pope commissioned Bernard to preach the Second Crusade. The last years of Bernard's life were saddened by the failure of the crusaders, the entire responsibility for which was thrown upon him.”

Sort of like Colin Powell being summoned to make the case for why we needed to invade Iraq. We still think of Powell as a hero, but in shilling for a faulty premise—oh Colin, and oh Bernie, you made a boo boo.

But then again, and on the flip side again, there’s also something about my saint in a whole other realm, that I am surprised and pleased to discover. No lesser than a Dante Alighieri, was a big fan of his. So much so that Bernard plays a large role in the Divine Comedy serving as Dante’s last guide through Paradise, and the one who makes him see the light:

            Bernard conveyed to me what I should do
               By sign and smile; already on my own
               I had looked upwards as he wished me to.


            For now my sight, clear and yet clearer grown
               Pierced through the ray of that exalted light,
               Wherein, as in itself, the truth is known.


            Henceforth my vision mounted to a height
               Where speech is vanquished and must lag behind,
               And memory surrenders to such plight.

                                                 — Dante Aligheri

  Divine Comedy
III: Paradise
Canto XXXIII (49-57)
(Penguin Classics Edition)

Rather impressive, regardless of one’s spiritual inclinations or lack thereof; one’s poetic sensibilities or lack thereof.

So I’ll keep my St. Bernard. And that is my shaggy dog story for the day. And if you think I’m being cute here by at least half on this whole play on words between dog and saint, check out the quote of the month that follows. I guess this is how this association came into being.





Quote of the Month

“Qui me amat, amet et canem meum.”

(Who loves me will love my dog also.)

        — St. Bernard of Clairvaux







                      Ron Vazzano





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