Ghost in the reality TV universe

cover 01This story stopped me in my tracks. There is no religion in it and, again, that is what interests me. There are legal question. There are questions about medicine and even therapy. There are life and death questions. There are even hints that moral questions may be involved. But that's it.

Here is the opening of a New York Times story, "When Reality TV Gets Too Real," by reporter Jeremy W. Peters:

On a recent episode of "Intervention," A&E's documentary series about addiction, no one was stopping Pam, an alcoholic, from driving.

As she made her way to the front door -- stopping first at the refrigerator to take a swig of vodka for the road -- viewers could hear a producer for the show speak up.

"You have had a lot to drink," the voice from off camera said. "Do you want one of us to drive?"

Pam was indignant. "No, I can drive. I can drive," she mumbled. She then got into her car, managed a three-point turn out of the parking lot and drove off. The camera crew followed, filming her as she tried to keep her turquoise Pontiac Sunfire between the lines.

And there is an obvious question. What happens if she kills someone?

I mean, I know that would make for excellent television. I know that would cause a media (and ratings) sensation. But what would the network say to the family of the victim or victims?

heroin odIt appears that the answer is this: Sorry, we were just filming the reality that would have happened anyway. We are not responsible.

OK, is that a moral answer? Is it a sinful answer?

This is a hot question, at the moment, because of Intervention and the child-safety questions being raised about Kid Nation on CBS. But laws have been broken on other "reality shows" as well. Do producers have a moral obligation to step out from behind the camera and prevent crimes -- forget sins -- from taking place on their watch?

Does this have anything to do with religion, or a lack of religion, or what?

Intervention creator and executive producer Sam Mettler is asking a question linked to this. Perhaps. Maybe.

"Morally and ethically, none of us can feel good watching someone hurt themselves or hurt someone else. And I'm not going to stand by and have someone who is drunk get behind the wheel of a car and kill someone," Mr. Mettler said.

Mr. Mettler himself has had to step out from behind the camera on a number of episodes to prevent someone from driving drunk. In one case, he followed a crack addict named Tim through a swamp. Tim had crawled into a drainage pipe and threatened suicide, so Mr. Mettler had to talk him out.

Why talk him out of it? Is life sacred or something? Was the producer playing the role of a counselor or even a priest? Just asking. This might have been an interesting angle to include in the story.

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