To lose their lives out on a limb…

[1] Brittany Murphy died a few weeks ago at the age of 32. I do not mean to exploit her in any way. The speculation surrounding her untimely passing just provides an example of a social problem that I feel needs addressing.

When news broke of Brittany Murphy’s death, there was speculation about drug use and/or an apparent eating disorder. This type of speculation always happens when a celebrity dies. Her husband and her mother did an interview this morning on the Today Show.

Let me say first, I don’t think they should feel the need to speak about their wife/daughter’s death. It’s personal for them and just because Brittany Murphy starred in movies (and, my personal favorite, was the voice of Luanne), it doesn’t mean that the public has to have an explanation of her death that goes beyond the public record/coroner’s report.

During the interview, her family denied that Brittany had either a drug problem or an eating disorder. I don’t doubt that they believed these statements. Brittany Murphy was frighteningly thin at some of her last public appearances, but this could be due to a lot of factors, only two of which being drugs or an eating disorder. I don’t know if either of these were the case, and I’m not going to speculate.

What does bother me is this:

NO ONE in this situation will ever admit that their loved one has/had a drug problem, an eating disorder, or any type of mental illness.

What are we so ashamed of?

There is still an unfortunate stigma attached with problems of the mind, and it’s disheartening. One shouldn’t be ashamed of an eating disorder or a drug addiction or depression or schizophrenia or any such “problem.” Nor should family members try to deny it, for whatever reason. It’s not your fault if someone you love has a mental illness of any sort. Nor does it mean that they cannot live a reasonable life or gain any sense of well-being. They just might need some help.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The problem is that we see these things as “illnesses” in the first place.

[1]Title taken from “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley… yes, I know it’s in poor taste.


When "Reality" Gets Real

My Problem with “reality” television is that most shows seem to lack “self”-awareness.

What do I mean?

“Time Out!”

Some of my favorite sit-coms growing up were those in which the characters occasionally made reference to the fact that they were on a television show. Sometimes on the Fresh Prince, Will Smith would talk to the camera. Sometimes Zack Morris would stop time on Saved by the Bell. I appreciate the subtle acknowledgment made by a television show or a movie that it knows it’s being made for entertainment, because there’s nothing worse than something ridiculous (which the entertainment industry is) taking itself too seriously.

I never watched The Real World, but I have read Chuck Klosterman. He once wrote an essay[1] in which he discussed the fact that during Season 3, Puck was acutely aware that he was on a television show where everyone else pretended that the cameras weren’t there. The producers didn’t like it, which is unfortunate, albeit expected, because the only thing real about The Real World is the cameras.

I know the point of “reality” shows is to fuel our voyeuristic tendencies. But, to pretend that locking people in a house or deserting them on an island and making them play ridiculous games in order to win cash prizes is “real”? Well, it doesn’t fool me. The people who go on these shows want to be famous. They are caricatures, not authentically acting individuals.

Reality competition/game shows are almost worse, because they feed the delusion that being famous or recognizable is important. No one really goes on the Bachelor to find true love. Shows that require actual talent are a bit more tolerable, but you still get the feeling that the contestants were chosen based on looks and persona and not their talent.

“You are a powerful and attractive man.”

One of the only “reality” shows I enjoy is Gene Simmons Family Jewels, because it doesn’t try to be completely real. I have no doubt that the personalities displayed by the Simmons’ family are real, but the situations are sometimes contrived.

I like that.

I don’t like feeling duped.

Anyway, I don’t need to watch “reality,” I live it.

[1] “What Happens When People Stop Being Polite” in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, (pp.26-40).

Up, Up and Away…

I used to be more on the pulse of what’s going on in the world. I still watch the news, read news websites, and even sometimes read the newspaper, but I don’t really feel informed.

The problem is that when I turn to any of these outlets, I cannot shake the feeling that I’m being brainwashed. I’m being told what is important. I’m being given the soundbite version of events. From what little I know about journalism, I know that traditionally in the first paragraph of a news article, you need to get across the who, what, when, where and why. Yet, when I read news stories anymore, I am almost always acutely aware that I’m getting information filtered through someone’s viewpoint.

Some news outlets are better than others, but it seems that all of the major news outlets cover the exact same stories, and they are willing to do anything to have their version of the story stand out. The result is bad reporting, and me having to uncomfortably watch microphones being shoved in people’s faces while they grieve, for example. I wonder if the competition to be on the scene first and to have the most viewers or readers is what really drives the information I’m receiving.
Take the “balloon boy” story, for instance. I was not sitting around my TV watching and waiting for the balloon to land, but I do admit when I first heard that the boy was safe, I felt relieved.

As the hoax has unfolded and the parents have plead guilty, I realized that I’m not angry or outraged at the Heene family’s behavior. Yes, I think it’s sick that one would exploit their children to gain fame. (Though, parents of pop stars and child actors have been doing this for years.) But, the Heene’s are just a product of the environment created by our constant need for “news,” to be connected and in the know, and our obsession with celebrity.

Being bombarded with information, and often mindless information, it’s no wonder everyone thinks they can get on TV. It’s also no wonder that people go to drastic measures to do it. I hope the Heene’s case sets a precedent, but it’s more likely that people will just get more creative with their hoaxes.

What I’m struggling to understand in all of this is “why?”

Is it weird that I have no desire to be on television?

Or that I have no want for people to recognize me, or know who I am without me knowing them?

Does my desire for anonymity make me a freak?

When All Else Fails, Profit from Death

[1]Do you realize that Michael Jackson died nearly seven weeks ago?  Seven weeks!  And for the past seven weeks I have been unable to go to a single news source without hearing some speculation about custody, autopsies, paternity, burial, Demerol, and a Jackson 5 reunion tribute concert.[2]

Or about how Ryan O’Neal was (supposedly) only interested in Farrah Fawcett’s fortune this whole time.

And now I just found out that Billy Mays was (allegedly) a coke user.

I do understand why the death of a famous person makes the news. I even kind of get why people want to leave flowers at Strawberry Fields.  But I don’t want to hear about any of the rest of this supposed news!

Continue reading

Overexposed, Commercialized

“You know, my kids think you’re the greatest, and thanks to your gloomy music, they’ve finally stopped dreaming of a future I can’t possibly provide.” – Homer Simpson to Billy Corgan

Children and teenagers are different today than they were when I was a kid.  I think I grew up in the cusp of this change, but when I was in high school, kids didn’t have cell phones, or blogs, or TMZ or overexposure.  This was in the days when instant messaging was still innovative (We used ICQ), and before cable modems and DSL were the norm.  Where my generation, we children of the 80s, was disaffected, this younger generation seems almost over-affected.

I think when it comes down to it, Rousseau was right about a lot of things.  Children are exposed to too much, too soon.  They lose the innocence that comes with being young.  They learn fear at an early age.  Parents are more over-bearing, more over-protective, or at least they think they are being so… but the real problem is that the world has changed so rapidly, that parents don’t know what to do to “protect” their children anymore.  And so most attempts are misguided.

The thing is, kids are going to be okay.

Continue reading