‘‘Jon & Kate Plus 8’ = A Waste of Time

by | May 31, 2009 | Detroit Free Press, Comment | 0 comments

“Are you keeping up with this Jon and Kate thing?” my colleague asked.

No, I said.

“Everyone’s talking about it. It’s huge!”

Huge is not the same as important.

“But it’s a reality show!”

Particularly true with reality shows.

“You gotta watch! It’s unbelievable!”

No. Sadly. It’s very believable. Reality TV has now done what we once feared robots would do. It has created its own world, with its own rules, and now is infecting the very society that created it.

Take Jon and Kate Gosselin, a Pennsylvania couple who tried fertility treatments, had twins, tried again, and had sextuplets. They soon become the center of a TV reality show that followed their harried lives. The show, “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” is now in its fifth season and is bigger than ever.

“Huge!” as my colleague says.

However, it is huge because the couple is fighting, the husband is suspected of having an affair, the wife is suspected of wanting to have one, and – gasp! – who knows? Maybe they’ll split up! There’s so much tension! Not surprisingly, they are all over the gossip magazine covers.

“This is certainly not what I envisioned I was signing up for,” Kate recently lamented during a public appearance in Muskegon. “It amazes me there is an industry that follows you around and writes stories about you.”

Exploiting the children

Now, forget for a moment, the sheer audacity of a woman whose family gets paid, reportedly, $75,000 an episode to let cameras follow them around all day, to act surprised that gossip magazines follow her around as well.

What did she think? They were making home movies? The fact that she, her husband and pretty much anyone else on a reality show quickly morphs from “normal” looking people to better-coiffed, better-dressed, better-made-up people tells you they are all for being followed around. It is, in fact, their job to be followed around.

They could always quit, you know.

But they don’t. And so I can’t really engage in conversation over whether Kate or Jon is the wronged party. Or which is a worse parent. Or whether I feel sorry for all those kids, who sometimes use the words “p-people” to describe paparazzi. (Personally, I would have those children removed from the home; five years in front of TV cameras is, to me, reckless endangerment.)

But I can’t give the subject real time, because it’s not a real subject. These are not real problems. Signing up for a TV show, then complaining that the cameras are ruining your life is not a real issue. It’s like dressing up as Cinderella and then complaining that everyone wants you to try on slippers.

The world of faux reality

Take the case of Susan Boyle, the dowdy volunteer church worker who wowed the judges during auditions of “Britain’s Got Talent.” She has grown so famous that recent reports had her cursing at photographers who wouldn’t leave her alone.

Or Adam Lambert, the eye-shadowed “American Idol” favorite who was upset in the final round and now has his sexuality questioned as the reason he lost.

I may empathize with these people, but I don’t feel sorry for them. No one put a gun to their heads. Once you turn your life over to the cameras, you move into a Bizzaro World of attention. You are – whether you realize it or not – getting what you wanted.

The same can’t be said of laid-off autoworkers, young widowed mothers, abandoned children or unable-to-find-a-job graduates. They live in the real world. And you’ll excuse me if that reality renders the reality TV world pathetic.

So color me clueless. But count me out. A penny for your thoughts has turned to dollars for your privacy, but you couldn’t give me a million bucks to make my daily life a conversation about publicity vampires like Jon and Kate. They may draw attention like a train wreck. But unlike the train, they brought it upon themselves.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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