The few times that I paid attention in History class I actually learned a few things about America. I’m not talking about facts about wars or who was the 21st President of The United States. What I remember most is the few things I picked up about Americans and what grabs our attention.
I remember the first time I saw the picture of a lynching, probably in 11th Grade. My high school American History teacher, out in the conservative suburbs, commented that such acts were not only commonplace as “legal” crimes, but that hangings also counted as public entertainment. Yet public hangings weren’t just popular during the pre-dawn of the civil rights struggle against African-Americans. Hangings, public floggings and other public humiliation of local townspeople were part of the normal public reality TV throughout our history, long before TV existed.
So, we shouldn’t be surprised that one of the men in a cast of characters that make up today’s reality TV world choose to hang himself this week.
I don’t watch much TV, much less the show "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills". But I couldn’t avoid the story this week that Russell Armstrong, the estranged husband of cast member Taylor Armstrong, offed himself by hanging. Knowing nothing about this show or the family involved (none of my business, really), my hunch is that the stress of a divorce compounded by strain of having every moment of your life aired to the public doesn’t help.
I realize that reality TV garners a ton of ratings points for the entertainment industry and its television marketers. And the bloggers who waste ink and bits writing about reality TV do so either because they’ve got nothing substantive to talk about or that they don’t mind the attention they get from barking about a trending conversation topic.
The fact that I write about sports, mostly, gets me a few readers but only appeals to a certain audience. And so be it.
It is probably true that if I wrote a blog about Kim Kardashian’s engagement or Justin Bieber’s latest bowel movement I would get a lot more readers. Still, one has to live with oneself the next day. And I’m fortunate to be fascinated by other things.
ESPN Radio man Scott Van Pelt said it before the baseball All-Star game that the best reality TV out there is live sports. But I don’t think he meant the All-Star Game or baseball specifically. This could be watching your niece and 20 other kids chase a soccer ball around a patch of grass. Or flying a kite or enjoying friends’ company while totally ignoring the game at Wrigley or in your hometown park.
At least in sports today, as compared with the gruesome sports competitions of antiquity, no one gets eaten by lions or impaled by fellow gladiators. But in reality entertainment of the day, people are still experiencing needless humiliation and occasional death by hanging. This week’s "Real Housewives” news shows us fake reality’s real societal costs.
If you hate sports or couldn’t care less about sports I’m cool with that. I realize that some people think that sports emphasize competition and winning at the expense of other important life lessons. Probably so.
So, I’m not saying you need to turn off Judge Judy and watch the horrific Chicago Cubs. I wouldn’t suggest such a fruitless endeavor to anyone, even Cubs fans. But do yourself a favor. Turn it off.
Just stop watching TV. Stop gawking and gaping over the latest murder or misfortune on the boob tube. You won’t die if you miss out on the latest Bachelor / Bachelorette meat market transaction, or today’s savory gossip nugget.
Get out. Talk a walk. Plan a picnic with friends. Plant a tree. See the sunset for once.
Whatever you end up doing with your time, America, seriously…it’s time to get a life.
Andy Frye writes about sports and life (real life, not the TV kind) here and has written for ESPN.com and The Bleacher Report. If you haven’t been offended, follow his rants on Twitter at @MySportsComplex