There have been 11 winners of American Idol. Only two of them…Kelly Clarkson & Carrie Underwood…have achieved what one could subjectively define as a sustained level of prominence & achievement. That’s an 18% success rate, although to be fair when one throws in non-victors such as Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson, rocker Chris Daughtry, television actress Katherine McPhee, & (since I’m feeling generous) Clay Aiken and considers the fact that Phillip Phillips is fresh out of the starting gate the accomplishments of Idol alums looks a bit better.
I am not ambitious enough to research the relative successes from programs like America’s Got Talent, The Voice, Last Comic Standing, America’s Next Top Model, The X Factor, Top Chef, The Biggest Loser, or So You Think You Can Dance, but who really cares anyway?? And we haven’t even mentioned shows where the winner merely receives a cash prize like Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, or Fear Factor.
I could belabor the point, but I’ll just cut right to the chase. Reality TV is, for the most part, stupid. It in no way reflects actual reality and really only serves two purposes…it entertains the dumbed-down masses and makes a lot of people famous who A) did nothing to earn it, and B) aren’t prepared to handle it. My low opinion of reality television is nothing new to citizens of The Manoverse, but as the old saying goes “it’s all fun & games until someone gets hurt”. Well now someone has gotten hurt. In fact someone has died.
Back in January I stated my intention to not watch MTV’s new show Buckwild, which is just another way for Hollywood to laugh at my home state of West Virginia. I must admit that I did end up watching it once…for about 15 minutes…several weeks ago. As I suspected it was idiotic and not worth my time. I also saw two Buckwild cast members being interviewed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon right before the show premiered. The young lady was articulate and quite lovely. The young man was the quintessential redneck hillbilly and embodied just about every negative Appalachian stereotype. That young man was Shain Gandee. A few days ago Shain Gandee along with his uncle and a friend, were found dead. Reportedly the men had been at a bar at 3am then decided to “go muddin’”. No one knows for sure what occurred, but the theory being floated around is that their truck got stuck in the mud with the tailpipe submerged and the three men sat there revving the engine until the fumes overtook them. It’s the kind of freak accident that one might see in those Final Destination movies, only this was all too real.
The reaction here in West Virginia has been mixed. No one is happy that these people are dead. Everyone agrees that the situation is sad & tragic. But some are acting as if it is a calamity on par with The Day the Music Died or when Dale Earnhardt got killed, while others have the “well that was predictable” attitude. Personally I come down somewhere in the middle, and it is precisely because Mr. Gandee was on an asinine reality television show that I feel the way I do.
My feelings about the whole thing were encapsulated perfectly by something I saw on Facebook and decided to repost (which I rarely do). Essentially what was said in this meme was that we have become a nation that is entertained by watching people act like idiots. There are people that have figured out…as someone always does…how to make money from that fact. Thus the proliferation of TV shows about nothing but people acting like idiots. It laments the fact that we have gone from a nation that “used to celebrate brilliance & seek wisdom” to a populace that makes Honey Boo Boo a star and enables the antics of drunken morons on Jersey Shore. One wonders how many people could tell you anything you need to know about Duck Dynasty or the adventures of the Kardashian clan but have never read Hemingway, enjoyed Shakespeare, or spent quality time with Chopin, Mozart, & Gershwin. The point is not that MTV or Buckwild killed Shain Gandee. He may or may not have died like this anyway. Only God knows the answer to that. The point is not that Gandee or the other two men deserved to die because they were dumb rednecks. Maybe there are some folks out there that feel that way but not me. The point is that the mere fact that this is a national story is a sad reflection of our society. These deaths should be properly mourned by the families & friends and their community of Sissonville, WV, but the fact that anyone outside of that town even knows about the situation is a direct result of our diminishing appreciation for excellence. The little ditty I saw on Facebook mentions the poor state of education in the United States in comparison to other more studious nations and assumes that in countries like Japan children aren’t “blowing off their homework” for the kind of idiocy of which we Americans have grown so fond. I don’t know if that is true or not because I don’t know what kids (or adults) in other nations do for fun, but it is likely a valid point. It also asks a rhetorical question about our lack of familiarity or concern for soldiers killed every day in the line of duty as opposed to our intimate knowledge of the most minute celebrity trivia. I didn’t take that inquiry to be a commentary on the relative value of one human life versus another, but rather an astute observation about skewed priorities.
Was this thing that I read, agreed with, & reposted a little harsh?? Maybe. Maybe not. Death is a sensitive topic, and the circumstances of this particular situation are so full of questions that no one will ever know what really happened. Is it proper to seize upon such a tragedy to rail against an ancillary issue?? In this case I believe it is to a degree. Two cast members of Buckwild have ended up in jail and now one is dead. The show has only been on the air a few months. Maybe it is time that we ask ourselves what is happening to our society. When did we become so voyeuristic?? The suits in Hollywood understandably like reality television because it is cheaper to produce and requires less effort & creativity. But when did we as a society segue from being entertained by professional actors who have been properly trained, work hard, and are well compensated to utilize their talent to portray characters in fictional stories that make us laugh, cry, and think to getting our kicks by watching a bunch of actual people that have allowed cameras into their “real” lives to capture their most intimate, embarrassing, and vulnerable moments?? I don’t know how much money reality stars make, but you can be sure that it’s a whole lot less than what your average actor in a sitcom or one hour drama is paid. And many of these “real” people aren’t mentally & emotionally equipped for the sudden fame & fortune…even though it is probably the whole reason they signed up in the first place. I admittedly cannot relate to that thought process because I make a concerted effort in my own life to keep to myself, fly under the radar, and not draw any unnecessary attention. The mere thought of cameras following me around makes me cringe. Your mileage may vary.
At any rate, regardless of whether or not there is any direct correlation between the existence of Buckwild and the sad death of Shain Gandee, I believe it is time to pull the plug. I did read that MTV is paying the young man’s funeral expenses and they deserve kudos for doing the right thing. But they need to take the next logical step and end this ridiculous show. Furthermore, we all need to reassess our priorities and possibly invest our time in better hobbies. There’s nothing wrong with a little harmless fun. We all need to chill out occasionally. I just think there are better ways to approach that task.
- UPDATE: ‘Buckwild’ Shuts Down Production In Wake Of Shain Gandee’s Death (m.deadline.com)
- “Buckwild” TV producers paying for Shain Gandee’s funeral (cbsnews.com)
- EXCLUSIVE: What Killed “Buckwild” Star Shain Gandee (spiffysean.com)
- TV or reality? Lines blur after death of show star (troyrecord.com)
- Shain Gandee and the appeal of the ‘reckless redneck’ (csmonitor.com)
- ‘Buckwild’ Star Dies – Line Blurred Between Reality, Reality TV? (theepochtimes.com)
- Whoever Killed Shain Gandee (liarsandcrooks.wordpress.com)