Is our infatuation with “reality stars” waning?

Kate plus eight-figure deal

In the past several weeks there have been some real tremors in the world of reality stardom: Kate Gosselin has lost her reality show, and wonders what she’s going to do next now that she may have to find a real job. We’re no longer fascinated with the Octomom—not that I understand why we ever were—and there is even a rumor, officially denied by MTV, that Jersey Shore is all washed up after this season. The once-hot stars of The Hills are now like dry weeds. And the one who arguably started it all, Paris Hilton, is seeing interest in her pathetic life at an all-time low: first her new TV venture got canceled, then it was announced sales of her merchandise is way down. Paris in general is yesterday’s news, and she got so upset during an interview when she was asked about this that she stormed off the set (to return later when the interviewer toned down his questions).

And in a possibly related story, one half of the White House gate-crashing couple, Tareq Salahi, is divorcing his wife after she, possibly sensing that her fifteen minutes were up long ago, fled their marriage into the hairy arms of a rocker from the group Journey. {Speaking of fifteen minutes…)

Now, I’ve never understood the interest in these worthless pieces of DNA to start with. Pro-reality people will tell you people like the unscripted candor of the reality universe. Anyone with an IQ higher than 80 will tell you this stuff is as scripted as any other show, and in fact is even more formulaic than most. There are multiple takes of many of the arguments on the sets, as well as suggestions from producers about how to move the “drama” along.

But what’s sad about the reality culture is it has made it not just okay, but desirable, laudable to be famous for nothing, something that seems to reflect our modern values almost everywhere else these days as well: the appearance of success matters more than actual achievement, concern for which seems quaint. Just say something is a certain way and it is, because you said so. After all, why bother developing a skill? Just make a sex tape or be the bratty billionaire’s daughter. Be paid millions to party, or hold up a toy dog and say “That’s hot!” In the process words like celebrity and star became cheapened. To shows like TMZ, every two-bit rapper, celebrity star and LA streetwalker with a boob job is a “celebrity.” Everyone with a Twitter following is a “star.” Suddenly even Madonna seems to have oodles of talent. Meryl Streep must want to die just so she can spin in her grave.

It’s far too early to tell but maybe this obsession with…nothingness…is fizzling out. To be sure I think there will always be reality TV and reality stars. The shows are just too darned cheap and easy to produce. You can make about five reality shows for the cost of one good drama. I think it was a mistake that the Emmys ever started acknowledging them with award categories.

But maybe they’ll be relegated to where they belong, the back of the line, far back, behind infomercials and that announcement that tests to make sure the emergency broadcast signal is working. Maybe Kate and the Octomom will have to get real jobs. (Daycare center?) Maybe Paris will have to start washing cars for real. Maybe animal control will round up Snooki and her friends. And maybe we’ll start paying attention to talent again, instead of sensationalism, boobs, and drunken sexual escapades. Maybe the ghost-written books detailing debauchery will thin out. Maybe real TV shows will return to the airwaves, lots of them, not just a token few.

Then again, maybe not. But it’s refreshing to note that Russian billionairess Petra Ecclestone and her younger sister Tamara, prime fodder for a reality landscape jonsing for another Paris and Nicky Hilton combo, have so far stayed away from the reality spotlight. I realize that could change tomorrow when they announce they’ve been paid a hundred million dollars to let us see them traipsing around their new mansion in their underwear or less, but for now…here’s hoping we never find out if their orifices are pierced.

2 responses

  1. Ha! Good one, John. I hate reality shows. I’ve never understood our culture’s fascination with them, except they seemed to emerge after 9/11 when “reality” hit us square in the face. Perhaps a decade of the stuff will be enough and we’ll get back to really good dramas.


    September 25, 2011 at 9:44 am

    • A decade of the stuff has come and gone…and they’re still here to stay. People like watching other people’s lives for some reason. Seeing their triumphs and falls…and it’s usually the same people who buy celebrity magazines. It’s here to stay.


      September 25, 2011 at 10:16 am

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