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How long can we watch a disaster?

December 06, 2011|Georgia Garvey, RedEye

I have a confession to make: I watch reality TV.

I promise, I'm not about to launch into a timeline of the most dramatic moments in "Teen Mom 2: Return to Glorifying Underage Parenting."

Instead, I'd like to argue for something most reality TV watchers scorn: responsibility. (I know, I kind of want to tell myself to shut up, too.)

Enduring this season of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," with its seedy subplots of domestic violence, drug abuse, suicide and alcoholism, has pretty much harshed my reality-show mellow. When you find yourself comparing reality show producers' morality and it's the creators of fist-pumping and juicehead gorillas who come out looking the most responsible, well, that is a serious state of affairs.

On a recent episode of "RHOBH," troubled married couple Taylor and Russell Armstrong allowed cameras to film a counseling session. It's been hinted at—but not confirmed on the show—that Russell (before his suicide in August) might have been abusing Taylor.

Here's the key question: When should someone have stepped in? And what should they have done?

Is there any point when a drunk-off-her-ass Taylor sobbing inconsolably to Kyle Richards becomes creepier than it does entertaining? One hopes at least producers wouldn't let her go into a dangerous situation in that vulnerable state.

On "Jersey Shore," producers get cabs to ferry castmates to and from their drunken shenanigans. Sometimes a fight breaks out, but it's rarely allowed to progress beyond a feeble, inebriated slap. During "The Real World: Hawaii," when a cast member was caught drinking and driving on camera, she was forced to attend rehab or be kicked off the show.

In Beverly Hills, though, Kim Richards, who's been accused of being an alcoholic by no less an authority than her own sister, made it through two seasons of slurring and strange behavior unscathed. Now reports are that she's entering rehab again—the second time she's done that AFTER a taping season ended.

When does the sugary-sweet, fast-food enjoyment we get from watching these shows turn into shame at the disgusting crap we support?

It's getting real out there, folks. The producers on these shows seem to be weighing their responsibilities to stop violence, drug abuse and drunken driving against the huge ratings some of these shows get.

According to the Washington Post, "Kourtney and Kim Take New York," the show that documented the gone-in-60-seconds marriage between Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, drew 3.2 million viewers to the episode Dr. Drew Pinksy—promoting his own show!—said contained domestic violence between Kim and Kris. Last week, almost 2.3 million people watched "RHOBH."

The numbers are enough to make your head spin—as are the potential laws broken per episode. Between the domestic violence and the drunken driving, it feels like we're watching shows solely to see the trainwreck.

We're the audience at the Forum and the gladiators are Louboutin-wearing abused wives on a cocktail of champagne and antidepressants, drunk-driving their Lexuses through the TV landscape. How long will it be until the inevitable tragedies sully the viewers, too? | @gcgarvey

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