OFF THE GRID

Why America Needs a Jade Goody

Mar 2, 09 | 10:26 PM   byMichael Wolff
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How come the Brits are far crazier about reality TV than we are? You would have thought we’d have had a monopoly on outsized vulgarity—but we’ve been so seriously trumped.

Jade Goody seems to be some reverse Diana, embodying the British people's worst fears and most depressed sense of self. Our reality people, those gigantic people on the weight loss show, barely have names.

Jade Goody is surely some sort of economic tailspin chic, or end-of-the-good-times bathos. She turned reality celebrity into cash, got dinged for a bit of British working class-ism (racism, as it happens), rose again, then got felled by cancer. And now has chosen to live out her fate as publicly as possible.

That’s pretty irresistible—and Jade Goody is clearly an original. So where are our reality stars? Hard to believe there aren’t some suitable media-crazed Americans.

The bleak fact is that we need such a star to save the media—at least the old media.


(AP Image)

The New York Times, itself on the way to the ash heap, wrote the other day about the end of network television, or, more accurately, the end of expensive dramas and star-studded series on network television. Prime time can no longer afford a $3 million hour. That price has got to be viciously slashed. The reason Jay Leno’s now on at 10pm is that he’s cheap.

The problem in the US with reality programming, among the least expensive of prime time hours, is that reality shows are about freaks. Our fascination with them, which is usually short-lived, is a train-wreck curiosity; we don’t identify with these people. We don’t cheer them on. While reality shows are invariably structured as contests, we don’t actually want any of these people to win.

Because…they’re losers.

The Brits are different. They have a long tradition of loser media. There may be no greater celebration of the marginal, disenfranchised, and drunk, than Murdoch’s tabloid, The Sun.

The yuppification of the UK occurred pretty much on course with our own, but the Brits were still left with a salt-of-the-earth underclass. As a class-bound society, they accept their lower class (after all, without a lower class, they couldn’t be a class society), even mythologize it.

Nobody in the US wants to be, or believes themselves to be, not of an ideal class—nobody is who they see on reality television. Even other fat people, I’d wager, don’t identify with the fat people on the fat people show.

But, the Dow has just slipped into the sixes. At this rate, why not the fives or fours? And at some point, we all converge, and end up where we began, as what-me-worry types who can identify our dashed hopes with the poor suckers on reality television.

And that’s the depression silver lining that helps save prime time.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com


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