Reality Mentality

by Blair Sullivan | 3/4/09 11:22pm

If you were suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer and told that you had only months left to live, how would you spend your remaining time? I'm assuming that most of us would prefer to spend this precious time in the private company of our close friends and family members.

Not Jade Goody, 27, the British reality television star. Goody plans to spend her final days in the same place where she has spent a good deal of her life -- in front of the television cameras. That's right, just when you thought that reality TV couldn't get any more extreme, the British television station "Living" has already begun broadcasting the final months of this dying woman's life.

Goody first broke out on the reality TV scene when she was a contestant on the British show "Big Brother" in 2002. Her crass sense of humor and frequent use of foul language made her an ideal reality TV persona, which brought Goody some sizable success. Following the series, she went on to publish her autobiography, star in fitness videos and launch her own perfume line. Goody was also called back to appear on "Celebrity Big Brother," as well as India's version of the show. It was during the filming of this series that Goody was first informed that she had cervical cancer -- a diagnosis that was captured on film. She recently learned that the cancer has spread to other organs, rendering her condition terminal.

Upon hearing this devastating news, Goody declared her intention to sell the media rights to her story. It appears that this will prove to be a very lucrative move. It is estimated that her deals with various television stations and gossip magazines will earn a total of about $1.4 million.

Since the diagnosis, cameras have been capturing every moment of Goody's life, including doctors visits, time spent with her children and even her reaction to her boyfriend's marriage proposal. Last week, Goody married 21-year-old Jack Tweed. At the wedding, Goody reportedly declared, "I've had the happiest day of my life. Now I'm ready to go to heaven." This beautiful and touching statement is cheapened by the fact that the wedding will be aired on cable television as well as covered by OK! magazine.

In defense of her decision, Goody has claimed that the publicity from her show will help raise awareness of cervical cancer, and that the money she makes from the media contracts will go towards providing a better future for her two young sons. While these are noble causes, it does not seem that the ends justify the means. There are a number of morally questionable ways to raise money, in which many of us would not choose to engage. While our society would applaud a young mother for working hard to support her children, it would not sanction stripping or prostitution as a means for doing so. The fact that we need money, even if it's for our children, is not a legitimate justification for such behavior. You simply cannot put a price on self-respect and dignity.

Unfortunately, the overall genre of reality television suggests otherwise. Privacy and humility seem to have vanished, as people are now dating ("Flavor of Love"), getting married ("The Bachelor"), facing the struggles of addiction ("Celebrity Rehab"), settling legal matters (countless number of "Judge" shows) and even exploiting their children ("Nanny 911") on national television.

It is easy to criticize reality TV participants, as well as media outlets as being responsible for these abominations, but the fact is that reality television shows like "Jade's Progress" would not exist without a captive audience. While we look at people like Goody and ask ourselves, "Why would anybody want to do this?" we must also ask the question, "Why would anybody want to watch this?" It seems as though we as viewers have become so desensitized to the invasive nature of reality television that we are willing and eager to watch a terrible disease eat away at a young mother.

Even Andy Warhol, who famously quipped that "in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes," could never have predicted the degree to which we now expose ourselves, or the extent to which we enjoy prying into the lives of others. It is really no wonder that we have been named the "Look at Me Generation."