The disgusting truth of Reality TV

The day that should change reality TV – CNN.com.

This has got to be one of the most depressing stories I have ever read. In short: family allows themselves to become subjects of a reality TV show. After a while, they divorce, and then later, the husband, under the pressure of the show, hung himself.

I realize this story is about six days old, but I was just in shock reading stuff like this, that I couldn’t post immediately:

What’s so important about August 15? It was the day that put in full view the life-shattering impact that reality shows can have among couples and families on the brink. For one reality show couple, the news that day was about an ending point for a wild ride that led to separation. For the other couple, the news was about a fatality.

Russell Armstrong apparently ended his own life after years of marital and financial turmoil. The story line of Armstrong and his wife, Taylor, on the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” franchise was one of tension, distance and a sense of distrust. The feelings were obviously deeply rooted long before the cameras starting rolling, and the show probably didn’t help the situation.

But America lapped it up.

On July 15, the couple announced they were divorcing. On August 15, Russell was dead, apparently by his own hands.

Weeks before his suicide, Russell said to People.com: “When you get a TV show involved and all the pressure, it just takes it to a whole new level. We were pushed to extremes.”

Could those be the same extremes that led to the very public, very nasty split between reality show sweethearts Jon and Kate Gosselin, who shot to television and tabloid infamy not because of their fertility, but because of the never-ending back-and-forth bickering that played out on “Jon & Kate Plus 8″?

It reminds me of Running Man and Death Race, in a way: we are now a culture that watches, with glee, misfortune and ugly happenings occurring to rather ordinary people. Our entertainment is based on ratcheting the pressure up on these poor souls and watching them break.

That’s seriously messed up.

It’s the central piece of all good stories, unfortunately: take a character, force him/her up a tree, throw rocks at him/her, get him/her back down. That’s how you write fiction (although sometimes I wonder if I throw enough rocks at my characters. I’m not sure. I probably don’t. Note to self: be a jerk to characters.) There are two very important differences between fiction and “reality” TV, though: first, obviously, in fiction, the characters are not real people. (Not unless you buy into Heinlein’s “Pantheistic Solipsism” or the so-calld “Fox-Broome Theory,” which in the latter case absolves you of all guilt anyways.) Second, in fiction, a very important part is getting the characters out of the tree. In reality TV, there doesn’t seem to be any of that.

I don’t watch reality TV for these reasons. It ruins lives, in many ways. Granted, if you seriously think about putting your family into a situation like that, you’re probably already messed up in some fashion, but the show itself only exacerbates that. Watching such programs only encourages and condones this abhorrent behavior, and I won’t sully myself by doing so. I hope others will feel the same way.

Let’s stop the insanity, and keep the rock-flying where it belongs: in fiction.