Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cultural Narcissism and Reality T.V.

I was going to avoid posting about the party crashers last week at the White House, but Tom Shales' WaPo column today is too good to not mention.

This must never, ever, ever happen again. And by "this," we do not mean an alleged gate-crashing incident at the White House -- though that should never happen again, if it did happen, either. We're talking not about the act but about the reputed motive and reward for committing it -- which was, apparently, to get the perps' pusses on television, to make them stars.

If this was their wish, it's rather painfully obvious that they got it. Their pictures are paraded even when someone is denouncing them.
Including this morning, in their first t.v. interview on one of the softball morning news programs.

“We did not party crash the White House,” Mr. Salahi said on the “Today” show on NBC.

“There isn’t anyone that would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that,” Ms. Salahi added later.

Mr. Lauer did not ask any questions about Ms. Salahi’s “Housewives” role.

LOL. "So other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" Way to miss the point there, Matt.

As Shales points out, this wasn't about party crashing as much as it was our culturally-obsessed narcissism and the drive for infamy that "reality t.v." brings with it And the ways it mirrors the script of the 1983 creep-fest "King of Comedy" with Robert DeNiro and Jerry Lewis is frightening.

In the Martin Scorsese 1983 film "The King of Comedy," two feckless dolts commandeered a late-night talk show, and a national network, by kidnapping the show's star, played in the film by Jerry Lewis. But commandeering media is really much easier now, as the new breed of star babies has demonstrated. All you need now is a venue, an opportunity and a lot of nerve.

It seems as if people don't want to be just people any more. That's too humblingly anonymous. Now they want to be a show. They want to be a series. It's not enough to be John Doe; you've got to be the John Doe Show. For some, it appears that being on television imbues otherwise incidental lives with meaning; if you're watched while doing something -- whatever it is you might be doing -- the activity stays the same but you take on new dimensions. You're more here, there and everywhere. It's a validation.

The sorry state of affairs may have become inevitable once reality TV went from trend to epidemic. The act of appearing on television morphed from privilege to right, or imagined right, with the prerequisites for admission lowered drastically. Now, no real talents or abilities are required, nor do you have to have attained fame in some other sphere; that would be so elitist!

The new make-me-famous mischief is not there to entertain us, make us laugh, make us gasp or anything else; it's there to sell people like products, to push them into our consciousness, to make them famous.
And nothing sells soap like a good car crash (or a car-crash personality). As Shales illustrates, the the "news coverage" of these non-news stories is what pushes the envelope of bad behavior even further.
"And now in other news" could be replaced by "and now, in nether news." Nether News from Nether Land could be a show in itself. As long as no serious crimes are involved, relegate these stories to a trash-news segment populated by publicity hounds. Perhaps anchors could say, "Several more people tried to get themselves on television today by doing something stupid; here they are."
Except in the case of the Salahis, crimes probably were committed. You have to wonder, given all the "war on terror" claptrap the past eight years, how two reality t.v. dopes could slip into the White House and come face to face with the leader of the free world. To put it another way, had it been anyone other than reality t.v. contestants, the words "domestic terrorism" and "mentally unstable" would have been bandied about.

I'm a little out of the loop on how the Secret Service views these things and what the laws actually are, but it's stunning to think that these two aren't already in the pokey, facing prison time of some sort.

Tonight the president addresses the "global threat" in Afghanistan as he announces further troop buildups, deployments and years ahead in what many are calling "Obama's Vietnam." We can have that debate, but it doesn't seem a real stretch to say, at this point, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are hardly the national security threat that reality t.v. contestants are.

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