Saturday, February 16, 2008

Insight From Reality TV?

Reality TV has earned a reputation for being the lowest form of television entertainment. It has become a goldmine of cheaply-produced programming that rakes in billions, heavily relying on exploiting everyday people (or washed-up celebrities) by setting up outrageous destined-to-fail dating shows, humiliating competition-driven shows (i.e. eating cow testicles for 50 grand) where participants are encouraged to sell each other out, cut each other down, and be as ruthless as possible. But every now and then, a show or a moment on a show can capture something real. A moment that teaches you something about people as well as yourself.

This is the case with Vh1's Celebrity Rehab

VH1 teamed up with Dr. Drew Pinskey, a renowned drug counselor, to create Celebrity Rehab, a reality show documenting the raw process a group of celebrities go through when they enter an alcohol and drug rehab. The show attempts to de-glamorize the allure of drugs by revealing where drug addiction leads, the unbelievable pain an addict must go through to get sober, and the deeper issues they must face to maintain sobriety.

When I first saw the preview for Celebrity Rehab, my initial thought was, "Oh boy, a bunch of spoiled celebrities whining about how hard it is to be rich." I figured these people had silver spoons in their mouths, never heard the word 'no', and lacked self-control. (I was really on a high horse that day...geesh). But as I watched, I found myself moved by the stories of these fallen celebrities, crying along with them and empathizing with their pain. Their addictions have little to do with an over-indulgent life of debauchery, but are more the external manifestation of their horrendous pasts, filled with abuse, illness, and abandonment. Most of them utilize their addictions as a means of escape.

Here are just a few of the back stories from some of the cast...

Jessica Sierra, a former American Idol contender, was busted for two DUIs and cocaine possession. She was a mess when she entered rehab, difficult and filled with despair. As the group therapy session progressed, Dr. Pinskey encouraged her to share about her past. Her mother abandoned her as a baby and didn't come back to see her until Jessica was thirteen. It was then that Jessica learned her mother was hooked on drugs and prostituting herself to pay for her habit. Jessica lashed out and told her mother she hated her. A few months later, Jessica's mom was found dead in a ditch, dying from a drug overdose.

Jeff Conaway, famous for his role as Kenickie in the 1970s hit musical Grease and as Bobby Wheeler in the sitcom Taxi. Conaway, an addict for nearly 30 years, has been reduced to a shaking, tempermental, stuttering man, confined to a wheelchair most the time as a result of chronic pain. It turns out at the age of four, he was tortured: locked in trunks, hung from buildings, and beaten severely. At age seven, he became the victim of child pornography. Ever since he's used drugs to numb his pain and escape reality, and has battled suicidal thoughts.

Mary Ellen, a porn star, was abandoned by her father, left to care for her bi-polar mother. A few years ago, her mother attempted suicide by flinging herself off a four-story building. Mary Ellen prayed to God and said if He let her mother survive she would quit porn and turn her life around, which is why she entered rehab.

Watching this show made me realize how judgmental I can be. It is so easy to look at the outward behavior of people and think we know what's going on underneath. As I was thinking about my first impressions of these drug-addicted celebrities and how drastically it changed after taking the time to listen to their experiences, I wondered how many other people I have made snap judgments about, thinking I know exactly why they are the way they are. The reason shallow judgmentalism is so dangerous is because it strips us of the opportunity and call to have compassion for others. The author over at the Tree Reach blog wrote this insightful post on compassion versus judgementalism. This post sums up perfectly the need to put ourselves in each other's shoes and to exercise compassion instead of judgment.

Kudos to VH1 for taking on a show that reveals the truth about drug use: the dire consequences and the long, long road to recovery.


Tilly hester said...

I loved Grease when I was a kid (now Im showing my age!), so when I saw Jeff Conaway on this show it was really hard to see. His life is so very sad. I felt the same as you and cried along with all of them!

Peter said...

Good pick. At first I thought this show might be exploitive...but its really honest and seems to be helpful overall, to the people on it as well as to the viewing public.

lala said...

Thats a tough show to watch. But youre right, good insight.