Maybe reality TV shouldn’t be quite so real

| Cadenza Reporter

Courtesy of Bravo
Aug. 15, 2011, was a day that should change reality television forever. On that day, Russell Armstrong, the estranged husband of Taylor Armstrong of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” committed suicide.

While watching reality television is a mindless pastime that most people partake in, it’s easy to forget that what we are watching is someone’s life, and that person may be spiraling radically out of control. People looking in from the outside may write it off as just some added drama to the latest batch of episodes, but it can be far more than that.

The Armstrongs’ marital problems were no secret to anyone watching the show. In fact, the storyline for the upcoming season was going to follow the couple as they attended marriage counseling in the hope of saving their relationship. It was obvious that the counseling had not worked, as Taylor filed for divorce early in the summer. What was not so obvious, however, was how severe the family’s problems were until after Russell’s death.

The family was deep in debt, something no viewer could have known if they had just watched the episode where the couple threw their daughter, Kennedy, a $60,000 birthday party. The family had apparently been living beyond its means for a while, funding their lavish lifestyle on a day-to-day basis. And in addition to that, had just sued Russell for more than $1.5 million, alleging that the couple misled people into thinking they were investing in the company.

Taylor, in her divorce filing, also alleged physical and verbal abuse, which led Russell’s ex-wife to come forward with her own stories of his abuse.

These problems would have been enough without the magnifying glass of celebrity, and with it the problems were only, well, magnified. While celebrity and reality television cannot take sole blame for Russell’s suicide, they cannot be ignored as major players.

Russell himself spoke to People Magazine just a few weeks before his death, saying, “When you get a TV show involved and all the pressure, it just takes it to a whole new level…we were pushed to extremes.”

The creators of reality television need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. While the drama that’s playing out before their lenses may bring high ratings and viewers by the millions, what’s happening is not an actor reading from a script with a pre-determined ending, who can walk off when the scene is over.

When the cameras on reality television stop rolling, the subjects’ lives still go on. Then again, the cameras never really do stop rolling for these people. And while Bravo can make all the apologies and statements to the press it wants, they cannot ignore the damage done. It’s time for everyone to rethink reality television, because for a while we’ve been ignoring a big piece of the picture: reality.

These are real people’s lives we are messing with. And it shouldn’t take a disastrous event like the Armstrong suicide for us to realize that things need to change.

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