TV or reality? Lines blur after death of show star

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 3, 2013 at 3:18 am •  Published: April 3, 2013
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Then there is another byproduct of reality-TV culture: the compulsion, enabled by social media, to broadcast everything about yourself.

Who needs a TV show when you can Instagram that hamburger, YouTube that roller coaster, tweet about the twit who just cut in line? Then comes the feeling of validation from every "like" and click and retweet — a fulfillment of the basic human need for attention.

Some have a deeper thirst — for fame. Their every post is one more chance to go viral, to reach the promised land of recognition: television.

"People misbehaving is nothing new," says Tyler Barnett, owner of a public relations company in Beverly Hills and a former cast member on several reality shows.

"What's new is the ability to misbehave to a global audience almost instantly," he says. "This is very encouraging to people to keep doing outrageous things. People can share so easily, it ups the ante on what's considered outrageous."

Barnett has tasted reality fame as a cast member on "Party Monsters Cabo." He found it addicting.

"After being on camera for a month straight, almost 24 hours a day, when I got home I felt very depressed. And I'm not a depressed person," Barnett says. "I had so much attention, and that felt good. When I was pulled out of that situation, it felt very low."

"It's almost like a drug," Barnett continues. "You figure if someone is on a drug, they're higher than life. When you come down, all of a sudden life doesn't seem that exciting."

Daily life can also seem mundane for viewers entertained by escapades like the spectacle of Gandee and friends leaping from a roof into a dump truck full of water.

"You're sitting there at home, watching on TV, thinking, 'Wow, this is so much more exciting than my own life. Let me go out and try this. Maybe I can get on a reality show,'" says Lou Manza, a psychology professor at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania.

Of course, the vast majority of viewers would never fill a dump truck with water, let alone leap into it from a rooftop. And it's too simplistic to blame reality TV for the failings of modern society.

"It's important not to dismiss what happened (to Gandee) by pointing fingers at a genre of television that's a giant tent with many different kinds of shows and productions and varying degrees of ethical behavior," says Andy Denhart, who has followed reality television for 12 years as editor of RealityBlurred.com.

"What's important is to continue a conversation about what entertains us, and what are the consequences of our entertainment," he says. "What are the consequences of fame, and what are we learning watching other people's lives?"

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AP National Writer Jesse Washington is reachable at http://twitter.com/jessewashington or jwashington(at)ap.org.