The Broken People Club: How Do We Solve a Problem Like Reality TV?
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The Broken People Club: How Do We Solve a Problem Like Reality TV?

By Courtney Enlow | Celebrities Are Better than You | February 7, 2014 | Comments ()


It is no secret that reality television is a haven for the unstable and unwell. The term “damaged” is one of those horrific yet accurate terms that you don’t like to use, but is the only way to describe the ideal candidates reality television cherry picks, fosters and further ruins. And we all know that. This is not news. But, as we watch (or actively avoid) and laugh (or dismiss and write off) it’s easy for forget what we’re laughing at or dismissing: a person who under any other circumstances would require urgent care but who by sheer fate is instead paid large sums of money just for being mentally ill. For this, they get fame, which makes them get sicker, and then have forums and platforms to reach large groups of people, people who then laugh and ridicule, self included (twice), thus leading to further downspiraling.

It’s dark out there.

I think about this today because of Farrah Abraham, a star(?) born out of televised mess factory, Teen Mom, which means she has a child, lest we forget. She also starred in a sex tape, which was just a fully produced porn that she claimed was a stolen sex tape, despite her co-star, James Deen, saying the contrary. She is now appearing on VH1’s Couples Therapy by herself, not as a couple, because her supposed partner in couplage, Brian Dawe, was hired by Abraham to appear on the show as her boyfriend, so we’re off to a really healthy start already. Dawe backed out of the show citing “morals and integrity,” words uttered anywhere near a reality star or program elicits an automatic snort.

On last night’s episode, after weeks facing accusations from her co-stars that she was lying about the sex tape, she came clean…ish.

“I signed some shit away that I’m fucking against and I can’t even talk about it because I signed this huge fucking contract…You guys think that I’m purposefully and intentionally lying to you but it’s like, you know, I have a lot to lose. So I would tell you the truth if I could, if it were safe. If it wasn’t gonna fuck up my whole life, then I would tell you the truth.”

So, either Farrah Abraham’s life is in danger if she admits the tape wasn’t an accident, or she’s severely paranoid OR a problem liar. It is probably one of those last two. Who fucking knows which.

It should be noted that Abraham also says she was beaten as a child and repeatedly raped at events following the video’s release.

And here’s where we get into the societally important, uncomfortable area—where to go from here.

To distrust a woman who claims she has been raped is not something I am remotely comfortable even considering, and, yet, here I am, unsure this woman is telling the truth because she is attempting to build an entire career (complete with erotic novels AND a Christian parenting book) on the back of this tape, because she is working on its sequel, because she is an opportunistic reality star, albeit one who seems clearly unstable. And I feel awful about it. It’s easy to lament Philip Seymour Hoffman, to examine his illness and mourn him as tragedy; it’s harder when it’s Farrah Abraham.

So what’s the answer? Fuck if I know. But, at some point, MTV and VH1 will face consequences. Until then, we have these people. And other people are tuning in.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Chris Adams

    Jeez, getting your panties all in a bunch over reality tv stars.

  • Sean

    At this point, there isn't anything to be done. People celebrate the stupid and useless subhumans that are on these shows. The viewers aren't going to suddenly turn to PBS to watch opera. They aren't going to read Tolstoy. Or even Stephen King. There is a permenent class of people that will watch this shit, and that is it. The networks that broadcast this shit isn't going to change. They found something that makes money for basically nothing.

  • googergieger

    Yeah. That is whoever you were talking about for you.

  • Brian Merritt

    I really dislike that James Deen is my doppleganger. Couldn't I have JGL or Charming Potato? It's a problem.

  • Oh. So...the answer ISN'T "put them all on an island and then blow that shit up"?

  • e jerry powell

    We would need a really big island and really big bombs.

  • BlackRabbit

    And very durable cameras. Oh, wait, now I get it.....

  • e jerry powell

    I think George Carlin optioned the whole idea before he died, anyway, so...

  • BWeaves

    OK, old person here. I still remember the original reality TV program: An American Family on PBS in the early 1970s. The Loud family pretty much disintegrated on screen. Would it have happened anyway? Maybe, but not as fast or as furious.

    In 2011, The New York Times reflected on some of the controversy the series engendered:

    "For the viewing public, the controversy surrounding An American Family doubled as a crash course in media literacy. The Louds, in claiming that the material had been edited to emphasize the negative, called attention to how nonfiction narratives are fashioned. Some critics argued that the camera’s presence encouraged the subjects to perform. Some even said it invalidated the project. That line of reasoning, as Mr. Gilbert has pointed out, would invalidate all documentaries. It also discounts the role of performance in everyday life, and the potential function of the camera as a catalyst, not simply an observer."

    Did we learn anything from this? NO! People are dying to fuck up their lives for 15 minutes of fame. And the lies, oh, the lies. From Octomom to Backdoor Teen Mom to Crazycats Amy the Baker, they are so delusional that they think we cannot see the truth.

  • kirbyjay

    Amy the Baker. I watched that video yesterday and I'm still reeling. Imagine going through life with those blinders on? That is one person who will view that show and say" Gordon Ramsay, what a hater" instead of reflecting on how she came off on national television. Some things just can't be fixed.

  • Wigamer

    I think there's been an unfortunate intersection between reality television and people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. People with NPD already live day-to-day life performing on a stage that only exists in their heads, they constantly lie and manipulate, and work like holy hell to control others' perceptions of them. Someone just figured out a way to profit from what these folks have been doing their whole lives.

  • emmalita

    There are different kinds of reality shows, and some are more worthwhile than others. If all I knew about Teen Mom and 16 & Pregnant were the girls who are making bad choices, I would judge it as exploitive junk. But there are studies showing those shows bring down teen pregnancy rates more than traditional sex-ed and way more than abstenance only ed. See link below. I think it's sad that some of the girls have used the money and platform to continue making bad choices. I try not to reward people who are making self-destructive choices with my time and money. I don't know if Farrah Abraham could have been guided to better choices or not. It's the problem with giving people choices, sometimes they make the wrong one.

  • ViciousTrollop

    I am a fully grown adult and find 16 & Pregnant to be an awesome form of birth control.

  • emmalita

    Being a nanny in law school took care of that for me. I love being an aunt.

  • PDamian

    Being an aunt is where it's at. You sing lullabies, buy little presents, play finger games and peekaboo, and the minute they poop, ralph, or do something disgusting, you pass them right back to their parents with a hearty, "Here, wipe that up, will ya?"

  • emilya

    ditto. i also find some of the situations to be really fascinating in kind of a contemporary anthropological way. i remember one teen mom, before she was a mom talk about the fact that in georgia in order to get a legal abortion, she had to go before a judge a semi-plead the case that she should be able to have an abortion. that broke my heart and simultaneously pissed me off- our foremothers did not fight for their reproductive rights only to have conservative old white men regulate them.

  • George Tarleton

    [steps on soapbox]

    Forgive me if this is slightly off topic, but those opening comments on this thread have irked me.

    You know, every week Courtney or someone else writes one of these pieces, and every week at least one person shows up and passes judgment on the article and the writer and on any person who might be interested in the subject matter, condemning him or her for writing the piece, condemning others for being interested. And yet, there they are. Basically, just showing up for the opportunity to state how much better they are and how damn above it all they are.

    Every week someone shows up and whines about the fact that Pajiba writes about these things. They say, as someone above said, that we should stop watching it, talking about it, posting about it, failing to recognize the irony inherent in that statement.

    I'm damn tired of it. Don't act like she's part of "the problem" and you're not. Don't act like the readers and commenters are part of the problem, when you're one of them. First of all, she's not part of the problem, because to lay the blame for the entire billion> dollar industry on the writers of this site (or any relatively intelligent site, really) is preposterous. There will always be terrible things, and people will always want to consume them. And writing interesting, introspective pieces that examine the why and how and what-can-we-do regarding those terrible things is a valid and valuable exercise and I'm just kind of sick of seeing writers and readers get trashed for it. To somehow intimate that it contributes to the success of those stories is petty, insulting, and utterly ridiculous.

    No one is glamorizing Farrah Abraham, and I HIGHLY doubt that anyone is going to read this piece or the comments and then become a consumer of whatever braindead societal detritus she produces. Instead, it encourages us to think about it and engage each other and examine how this came to be. And that is an important and critical exercise.

    Also, the posts are often quite funny.

    [steps off of soapbox]

  • Uriah_Creep

    See Courtney, I told you the Pajiba commenters had your back!

  • Well, lets be honest. The answer to the question posed by the writer in her title is self-evident: stop watching.

    I'm not blaming the writer for writing commentary on the subject but at the same time lets try not to make it feel impossible for people to comment on social trends they find abhorrent. If you don't mind. If that's ok with you.

  • God Of Bal-Sagoth

    "at the same time lets try not to make it feel impossible for people to comment on social trends they find abhorrent."

    That's sort of his point. Did you even read the whole comment?

  • Jezzer


    Also, any space devoted to reality television is space that isn't being used for twee hipster horseshit like the works of Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach.

  • Wigamer

    Stop talking shit about Wes Anderson before I don my red track suit and come challenge you to a BB gun fight while a Simon & Garfunkel song plays in the background.

  • Jezzer

    If he didn't use soundtracks that stab people right in the nostalgia centers of the brain with a lobotomy pick, everyone would wake up to how terrible his movies are. :3

  • BlackRabbit

    "Oooh, I'm George Tarleton and I'm special because I can stand on a box!" When I was growing up, we were lucky if our soap came in a BUCKET! Are you enjoying judging us from your box-throne, fancyman?*

    Actually I fully agree with you.

  • logan

    Well since you called me out.... i dont watch those shows so by definition I am not part of the problem.

    But thanks for the rant!

  • Right on.

    EDIT: I just wanted to add: if folks like Courtney didn't write on sites like Pajiba articles like this one, what would be there to counteract the programming itself? As long as people keep acting like ignoring the problem is a solution, nothing gets fixed. You don't ignore a broken leg, hoping it goes away.

    It may not be as widespread or powerful as the advertisements and gossip and so on, but at least somebody is standing up and saying "Look, this is bullshit. These people should not be laughed at." Otherwise, the only voices speaking about this are the ones who DO want it to keep going. The people making money off of it and the gawkers enjoying it will win, simply by letting the opposition quit.

  • Eva

    Thank you for that!

  • tjedison

    Many years ago, before the "classic" reality TV we just had a series of video compilation shows with names like "Deadliest Police Chases" and the like. A friend called it at the time "thank-god-it's-not-me-video". I think that's the heart of it all. No matter how shitty their life is, sitting their fat ass on a recliner in their trailer in some run-down town and watching these people makes them feel better. For centuries, people have seen the "entertainment" value in picking on the less fortunate.

  • Sean

    The problem is that it isn't just trailer trash watching this. It is teenagers that think this is a valid career path. It is adults who fucking know better.

  • emmalita

    My BFF watches super low-brow reality tv as stress relief. I don't judge, I read low-brow literature. In her day job she deals with high level international finance stuff I don't understand. No trailer, no run-down town, no shitty life.

  • oilybohunk7

    I'm fortunate to live really close to work so I go home on lunch everyday and watch Days of Our Lives. It is so terrible but it is nice to watch something that takes no brain power.

  • emmalita

    For stress reduction, I need my tv to engage my brain so I don't keep going over the real stuff in my life. Low brow books let me turn off my brain. We all have our thing.

  • Real human suffering as entertainment worked so well for the Romans.

  • e jerry powell

    Martyrdom became a cottage industry in the fourth century.

  • Mrs. Julien

    It's sentences just like that which confirm my deep and abiding love for Pajiba (and e jerry powell).

  • e jerry powell

    *happy dance*

  • tjedison

    Exactly. Centuries.

  • Here's the thing: I don't watch reality TV. I've never seen a moment of Teen Mom, Real Housewives, Top Chef or any of the other "real", faux or pseudo reality TV shows that are peddled by MTV, VH1, E!, BET or Bravo (to name the biggest culprits).

    My "reality TV" fix is sports.

    In other words, there's not much more I can do to help offset the damage that this genre of entertainment is/isn't doing. There's something intrinsically human about watching the car crash. And that's what this is. Car crash TV.

  • emilya

    i feel the need to quibble with the lumping of all reality tv together and maybe i'm deluding myself that there is a distinction. I feel like there is a huge difference between the real world/real housewives of wherever/teen mom vs. top chef/house hunters/iron chef. i don't really see anything wrong with some of the competition shows where, in my opinion, no one is being exploited other than the free labor of having non-chefs staff emeril's restaurants.

  • If it was just a competition show, I could see it not being an issue. Problem is that even competition shows borrow from the reality TV show tricks bag and try to spin story lines in their contests. So that you end up with villains and people to root for/against.

  • kirbyjay

    I love Survivor, Design Stars, Chopped etc....because they are competitions but to watch a camera follow a Kardashian or a Duck Dude doing what they do. I really don't get it.

  • Juliet Dillon

    It goes beyond reality tv. Just look at the media insanity around Amanda Bynes, who was CLEARLY mentally ill... the problem is that America looooves a train wreck. We love to gossip and judge and hate from our couches. The exact type of people we would normally shun in our real lives, we obsess about in the made up virtual world of tv and internet and tabloids. We are entertained by bad behavior. We glorify it by spending so much time and money following these peoples' every move. Its really sad.

  • Tom

    I assume she means that she signed a contract saying that she would always assert it was a "sex tape" rather than "porn" or she would have to return the money she was paid. Maybe Vivid, and Farrah herself, thought her movie would be more marketable as a "stolen sex tape" so they all agreed to do what they could to perpetuate that image. Apparently James Deen was not as committed to that mission. I'm not sure if that's in any way legally enforceable but I don't think Farrah can afford to find out in court.

  • Sean

    Or maybe she is just a lying piece of shit trying to promote a horrible product. Not horrible in the sense that sex, or recording sex is horrible, but that she is herself is a horrible product. Dumb, not interesting in any way. That she feels that this is actually the way to a career. That lying has become the only thing she knows how to do.

  • I wondering that her assertion instead of being tied to giving the money back is tied to a bonus. As long as she keeps the "sex tape vs. porno" plate spinning the better her, ahem, back end deal is.

  • Beth C.

    I can't think that is really the case. If it were Deen would have the same clause in his contract and he quite obviously doesn't as he's flat out said it was a professional shoot. It could be she THINKS that's whats in her contract based on something she was told or misunderstood, but they wouldn't put that in one person's contract but not the other. It wouldn't make sense.

  • Tom

    You're both probably right. I'm just trying to look for some rationale in her behavior because it seems so bizarre and irrational. She might just be very messed up and troubled.

  • Beth C.

    I get it, that's why I wonder if it isn't so much it's in a contract but that she somehow became convinced it was, or got really bad advice from some PR guy or something. That's a lot easier to understand and is definitely the preferred situation, because otherwise it is possible the poor girl is so delusional or ill that it really becomes a serious moral issue as to why this is even being recorded and aired and if she is even sane enough to consent to anything that is happening. Obviously I have no idea if she's sane or insane or just some kind of bizarre media-manipulating genius, but the possibility for all three is there and I just hope for her sake it isn't the 'too ill to consent and no one involved is seeing that and stopping it' one. Because that would really be criminal and tragic.

  • NynjaSquirrel

    I remember Vivid doing a 'wtf' when she talked about it being a sex tape - even disclaiming they'd paid her just 10k for it.

  • Bob Genghis Khan

    "We" will not solve the problem. As long as these networks air, promote, and lets be honest, enable this sort of behavior, they profit. They profit because the advertisers are there, ready, willing, and able to make money. And MTV gets to turn the other cheek and claim they are 'just pointing and shooting a camera', when in reality everyone knows the drill. And as long as people watch, which, obviously they do, it will never go away.

    Perhaps the problem we need to address is society's subconscious need to watch someone like Teen Mom Jenelle circle the Toilet Drain of Life as a means for reminding ourselves our day might not have been as bad as we think it was.

  • John W

    My solution: stop watching it, talking about it, posting about it.

  • logan

    Ya beat me to it friend. Stop watching and talking about it and it will go away. It aint rocket surgery.

  • Prepagan

    Personally, I like the 'rocket science'/'brain surgery' conflation. I think it works and will henceforth use it whenever it appears apposite. Thank you.

  • e jerry powell

    I'm going to med school at NASA to study rocket surgery. So that I can perform surgery on and/or using rockets

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