Dorothy Crenshaw November 28, 2009 | 01:43:11

Has Reality TV Gone Too Far?

The furor over the Virginia couple who evaded security and gained entry into the recent White House state dinner has many calling for a review of Secret Service procedures. When photos showed that the couple actually got close enough to the president to shake his hand, the concern, and the coverage, of “gatecrasher-gate” naturally escalated.

But, there’s a twist, of course. It turns out that the couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, are being considered by Bravo for a new edition of its successful “Real Housewives” franchise, this one to be set in Washington, D.C. A camera crew was actually videotaping them as they drove to the White House. (Sounds like more than an audition to me.)

The sturm and drang over their gate-crashing plays out a little like Balloon Boy redux, and it raises similar questions. To what lengths will people go for a chance at fame, however dubious? Is reality-TV “stardom” the new American dream? Shouldn’t we stop rewarding people for bad, outrageous, or even illegal behavior?

Most galling is the response from the couple – or, rather, their publicist. Her email to CNN sounds as if she’s repping Angelina Jolie. It reads, “We will begin doing press and media next week providing exclusive interviews and press junkets. If you would like to be considered in our media circuit we request that you hold your proposed published profile until then.”

Holy media tour. Mrs. Salahi is already booked on Larry King next week. I realize that reality TV attracts the publicity-hungry and the narcissistic, and the Salahis are clearly fame-seekers of a high order. In fact, there’s probably more than just a shot at a “Housewives” gig to the story, as some bloggers have suggested. But, from Omarosa to Octomom, it seems like the only thing that matters is to stand out. As reality producer Michael Hirschorn said, aspirants have become much more clever at “self-producing.”

So, where do you draw the line? And, at what point do the production company, the network, and even the viewers, share responsbility for these kinds of antics?

I’m a fan of many reality TV shows, and the “Housewives” are kind of a guilty pleasure. But, unless there’s another side to the story, I hope these guys are dealt with harshly by the law, if only to set an example. They’ve already enjoyed far more than their 15 minutes… and, honestly, if there’s a book contract in their future, I’ll organize a boycott or something. As James Poniewozik wrote his excellent piece on the Heene family, “Only in the reality TV era is unstable behavior a valid career choice.”
I think it’s time for all of us to get a life.

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