My Blog__ Reality Kills

August 15, 2011 | By

I am completely fascinated by reality TV. The whole scope of it--from Cheaters to Million Dollar Decorators. I've seen multiple seasons of The Real World, America's Next Top Model, Bad Girls Club, The Bachelor, Teen Mom, Flavor of Love and, of course, Jersey Shore. Remember Temptation Island? I watched that. I've sat through hours of Antique Roadshow, Banged Up/Locked Up Abroad, Pawn Stars, Wife Swap, Charm School, The First 48 and Paradise Hotel.

Don't get me wrong. I love a good conversation about poetry, politics or philosophy. Hell, my undergraduate degree is in 2 of those things. In fact, one of the few things my degree is good for is breaking down the socio-feminist implications of prime time dating shows over pitchers of beer in shady underground bars. I'm in fairly good company too. Have you guys seen Grantland's Reality TV Fantasy League? I want in.

When people say that reality TV isn't real because it's scripted, it reminds me of the unsolicited "but we're part of the food chain" remark that I often get in reaction to my vegetarianism. Yes, but, like, no. Dudes, these people are the worst actors ever. They can't even help but be themselves, or a version of themselves that is equally as fascinating. It's not like The Bachelor is Daniel Day-Lewis or anything. For the most part, these people are fame-hungry lunatics with just a touch of self-awareness. I once interviewed a documentary filmmaker who said that she looks for subjects that understand the drama of their own lives. Reality TV casts are that, but with a bucketload of crazy poured over them.

People are erratic, strange, endearing, funny and contradictory. We are validated, humbled and amused by the actions of others because we are social animals. I've learned a lot from watching the families in Wife Swap, the female dynamics in Bad Girls Club and the disintegrated relationships in Teen Mom. Did you notice that all those titles have to do with girls? Reality TV is fueled by female insanity, complexity and attention-seeking behaviours.

Francois-Xavier, pictured above, was not a woman but his personality definitely ticked all the boxes of the aforementioned traits. I'm using the past tense because he killed himself last week by walking out into traffic. He was on a show called Secret Story that is apparently France's version of Big Brother. I never watched it because I'm not French and the shows on my international roster are mostly English remakes of American classics (Geordie Shore, anyone?).

In this Daily Mail article, the reason for Francois-Xavier's death is cited as an inability to "cope with no longer being famous". Over the past 18 months, since being voted off the show, he released a pop song and a line of clothing, both of which failed. The other contestants on the show commented that the psychiatric support was inadequate.

Are the show's producers responsible for this? Was Francois-Xavier exploited and then tossed away? It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend about Teen Mom. I likened it more to youth-accessible documentary while she saw it as simply exploitative. Maybe she's right, based on the age of the show's subjects, but is it the case with all reality TV stars? Essentially being on a show is a job and a job they get paid for. There's no promise of future fame and fortune, although some people have done a pretty good job of manufacturing their own.

Would Francois-Xavier have killed himself regardless of his time on Secret Story? I think this is quite likely. Are the producers therefore responsible for casting an ill person? I don't think so. I think we need more people, like my friend who is appalled by MTV's parading of pregnant teenagers, because I am not of that ilk. I can't help but feel that we make our own decisions. Yes, a little bit existentialist, I guess. There's that Philosophy 101 sneaking in.  Society has been making and killing stars for a long time and, to be honest, it strikes me as a 1st world problem. Looks like this is another conversation for a shady basement bar.

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