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.
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. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/entertainment/reality-tv-shows/).
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
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
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,”
“…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
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
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.”
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.
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.
one more perk from the skyscraper palace
its golden parachutes, if not the very chalice.
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).
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
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
Reading further from “my” saint’s brief
“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.” (http://www.sbcwickford.org/history/bernard.html)
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
conveyed to me what I should do
By sign and smile; already on my own
had looked upwards as he wished me to.
now my sight, clear and yet clearer grown
Pierced through the ray of that exalted light,
Wherein, as in itself, the truth is known.
my vision mounted to a height
speech is vanquished and must lag behind,
memory surrenders to such plight.
Rather impressive, regardless of one’s spiritual inclinations
or lack thereof; one’s poetic sensibilities or lack
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.
of the Month
me amat, amet et canem meum.”
(Who loves me will love my dog also.)
Bernard of Clairvaux