Bravo's Real Drinking Game
Are you one of the many people who find reality TV entertaining? Many viewers are attracted to the intense drama of the lives of people in these shows. A typical reality show involves someone behaving inappropriately, having an argument with a spouse or a fight with a friend, or being involved in a string of unfortunate events leading up to a wedding or big celebration. Normally, the fight, argument or series of unfortunate events is settled and the show moves on. However, what happens when a reality TV show pushes the boundaries of what is simply a small indiscretion of one character, to airing the daily struggles of someone suffering from a substance use disorder?
Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” has decided that one of the main characters, Kim (a real person with a real life), will be the focus of this season, by shining light on her struggle with addiction. This isn’t the first time Kim’s substance use has taken center stage in the show’s plot. In previous seasons, Kim revealed that she had a substance use problem to her family (her sister is also a character on the show) and friends, went to rehab, and began her journey to recovery, all while being watched by millions of viewers each week.
In the current season, viewers are led to believe that Kim has perhaps started using substances again. Instead of her substance use struggles being portrayed as a serious health issue, her relapsing disease is being leveraged for entertainment. The producers have created a storyline that highlights the challenges her friends have around dealing with Kim’s disease, including their feelings of guilt for being intoxicated in front of her.
Although feelings of guilt and anger are normal for any person with a loved one suffering from addiction, the show does not focus in on what Kim’s friends and family can do to support her in her sobriety. Instead, Kim is painted as the irresponsible villain in season after season. If one of the characters had been diagnosed with cancer or with any other chronic illness, the storyline would have been one of support and the character would be praised for her courage. But addiction is often perceived in a very different way than other types of long-term illnesses. Kim is not praised for her courage, but is often viewed as immature and broken.
The drinking culture on the show is harmful and should no longer be seen as entertaining. Is this really a safe or optimal environment for someone with addiction to be in? Should Kim’s sister and friends be concerned that the show may be a bad influence on her? Should the television network support Kim in her focus on recovery and not use her disease as entertainment for the masses?
This isn’t the first time we have seen something like this on reality TV. From “The Jersey Shore” to “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” we have seen overindulgence, partying and risky behaviors painted as the way in which individuals should have fun, bond with friends and live their life to the fullest. When did this become our new normal? When did someone’s true struggle with addiction become entertainment?
Kate Federici, MSW
Kate Federici is a Research Associate at CASAColumbia