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Mindy McCready and the Curse of "Celebrity Rehab:" Blurring the Lines Between TV and Treatment

By Courtney Enlow | Celebrity | February 19, 2013 |

By Courtney Enlow | Celebrity | February 19, 2013 |

When tragedy strikes, the majority of us tend to respond appropriately. Murder = bad. Abuse = bad. Petting kittens = good. Petting kids = bad. But when it comes to addiction and suicide, we get…weird.

It makes sense. Other diseases and demises can be understood logically. Someone gets rheumatoid arthritis, we get it. Someone gets muscular dystrophy, we get it. Someone gets cancer, we get it. While we may hate that these diseases happen, and decry its lack of sense from a spiritual standpoint, we can logically fathom these things as physical disease. For one reason or another, the cells have turned on their inhabited body, attacking and weakening it, perhaps to death.

When the brain does the same thing, we aren’t quite as understanding. Because, unless you yourself have experienced the same thing, how can you be expected to rationalize that which lacks “normal” rationality?

On one hand, maybe it’s not so bad that so many people respond to any loss of life at one’s own hand or descent into addiction with an overwhelming sense of incredulity. It means there are still people to whom these things have not happened, and, for that, I’m happy for them.

On the other hand, when a person takes his or her own life, or completely falls apart under the complete physical and mental dependence on substances, why do people seem so quick to villainize them—furiously deriding them for a perceived weakness, selfishness or lack of courage, dismissing them as losers who couldn’t cut it while the rest of us toil away, heroes for merely existing?

I bring this up because, following Mindy McCready’s death at her own hand on Sunday, I expected once again to watch as the internet drifts into its two standard camps: the group sanctifying the life of the deceased, immediately forgiving and forgetting any misdeeds that life contained, and the other group who always insults, demeans and disregards that person’s very existence, proclaiming the planet a better place without that loser.

But, this time, that didn’t really happen.

We had the usual second camp (amplified by animal lovers, because McCready killed her dog as well), but the former was almost nonexistent, largely because she hadn’t been famous for much more than her career as tabloid fodder in quite some time. Hell, I grew up in the home of a die-hard country music loving father and I still have no recollection of any song she ever sang. I know her, predominately, for the same reasons as the emerging third camp: those familiar with the show “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.”

Yes, the majority of conversation regarding McCready’s death is about “Celebrity Rehab,” the VH1 reality show that follows famous people as they go through substance abuse treatment under the handsome watch of Dr. Drew Pinsky.

If you watched the show—which I did, on occasion—you know that Dr. Drew and his team were actually very good at their jobs. Aside from, you know, putting desperately sick and addicted people on television and making money off of them. But, in terms of counseling and treatment, they really did seem like they were doing good work. It seemed like the patients were having breakthroughs and working through their issues and getting on the right track for their release.

Yes, five “Celebrity Rehab” patients have passed away. I would argue that some of them, sadly, were on their way there anyway. If you watched Jeff Conway on that show and really thought he’d have a long, healthy life, then you were watching on mute while painting your nails. The damage to some of these people was so severe that the help clearly came too late. That said, it’s likely not unfair to speculate that an audience of TV viewers didn’t help matters.

And neither did the money.

Dr. Drew and the producers of “Celebrity Rehab” admit to paying participants, defending their choice to do so with “whatever gets them in the door.” Reports allege they are paid $250,000 or more for their one-month stint in rehab.

I have known addicts. Really well. And do you know what an addict hears when someone says “I’ll give you $250,000 to go to rehab”? They pretty much hear “I’ll give you $250,000 to spend on drugs when you get out of rehab.” Yes, the treatment received in the facility may be hugely helpful. But when they are released from the safety net of that facility with a renewed public interest, a likely rock-stupid fanbase who wants to buy them shots at the bar and a huge check? It doesn’t take a doctor to see that this is a terrible situation these people are being released into. Or, at least, it doesn’t take a Dr. Drew, because he seems to think it’s a stellar idea. And why shouldn’t he? Look how well it worked for McCready, Conway, Mike Starr, Joey Kovar and Rodney King.

The fact is, many of us, try as we might, may never really comprehend the broken brain that drives people to do unspeakable things. Even if we have the compassion to attempt to piece together suicide and self-harm, for most of us, that probably falls apart the second another living thing is harmed. Suicide victim = sick and tragic. Suicide victim who took her dog with her to the other side = monster. Or their spouse. Or, god forbid, their children, because I can honestly state that, try as I might to have some semblance of empathy and understanding for people suffering from mental illness, if a child is hurt, I’m the one with the torch and pitchfork praying for the perpetrator’s painful suffering and agreeing with Daria’s argument that we revoke the death penalty and bring back torture. We all have limits to our capacity to forgive and sympathize. We don’t necessarily need to try to understand what drives people to do tragic and terrible things. I’m not saying that.

I’m just saying maybe we shouldn’t give them a quarter of a million dollars and put them on television.

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