Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crime Does Pay

Remember the days when all one had to do to get her own reality show was sleep around or emotionally scar her children? I miss that. I miss the security of a world in which a person had to go only as far as a moral mistake or maybe a minor misdemeanor to attract fame. Those days are gone. The big business of reality television and its promise of instant if not permanent stardom have spawned a new generation of criminals, and this crew isn’t messing around. I'm not talking about little things like Snooki's public drunkenness arrest. I’m talking about full-on felonies and near-fatal stunts. Worse, these new criminals aren’t just risking their own lives and dignities – they’re risking ours. Sure, it’s all fun and games watching the Gosselins rob their kids of normal childhoods, and everyone seems to enjoy the borderline prostitution of “The Bachelor” franchise, but it’s serious now, people. Look at the past week in entertainment news, and it’s clear that reality TV is the new organized crime.

Let’s start with Steven Slater. You might know him as “the Jet Blue guy.” For those of you who don’t have TV or Internet access (and therefore can’t read this, I know, just go with it), Slater was a flight attendant for Jet Blue Airlines until a week ago. On August 9, just after landing at JFK airport and after an alleged, ongoing argument with a rude passenger, Steven grabbed the plane’s intercom and cursed out the hostile passenger. Then, he grabbed two beers, activated the emergency exit chute, and slid  -- beers in hand -- to the bottom, where he was arrested for reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. By the next day he was an Internet sensation and, according to many, “a folk hero.” A HERO? Okay, look, I love cursing people out over intercoms as much as the next girl. I also think two beers are, generally, better than one. And I totally agree that an inflatable slide makes any leap into unemployment much more fun. Still, I think Slater’s a jerk. Airlines follow all sorts of annoying laws for a reason -- they want to keep planes from falling out of the sky. So, in this case at least, laws are good. One of those laws, I am certain, prohibits a person from activating a very expensive piece of safety equipment on a busy runway for no good reason. And, yes, Slater was arrested. He posted $2500 bail and now awaits trial for his felony charges. You know what he’s doing while he waits for his court date? Meeting with his agent and fielding offers for TV shows. Yesterday, his newly-minted publicist, Howard Bragman, told the press, “I can officially confirm that I am now representing Steven Slater…I will be helping him sort out the scores of offers that have come through in the past week from media, producers, brands and other interested parties.” So, he’s “fielding offers.” “Scores of” them. You know what else he is doing? He’s high-fiving the one or two people with whom he discussed his plans for the elaborate stunt. Because, come on, this was so planned.

From the beginning, Slater’s tale reeked of premeditation. The way he tells it, he was just fed up with rude treatment at the hands of passengers, and he snapped. First of all, it seems unlikely that if he were really pushed to his limit he would have had the patience for such a well-choreographed exit. I mean, two beers? Come on. Have you ever tried to open a door with two beers in your hands? A regular old door? It's tricky, trust me. I don’t believe that a man so enraged could deliver a perfectly coherent speech to a crowded plane and then activate an inflatable slide while double-fisting beers. Plus, among Slater, his reps, and the passengers, there are glaring inconsistencies about when the argument occurred and what exactly happened. A passenger from the flight went so far as to say that Slater started the fight. Well, of course he did. I’m not sure what bugs me most – that Slater so selfishly disregarded the safety of other people, that he is so shamelessly trying to get attention, or that people are so clearly falling for it.

Those of you who think I should reserve my judgment and give Steven Slater the benefit of the doubt should brace yourselves. Stevie was just my warm-up example. Remember Fantasia Barrino? If your answer is no, well, then, that’s my point. Some of you may remember Fantasia as the winner of "American Idol" Season 3. Fewer of you might remember her as Celie in the Broadway version of "The Color Purple." But the likelihood is that if you know who Fantasia is, it’s because she tried to kill herself last week after reports of her affair with a married man and rumors of their sex tape hit the news. So, let’s all welcome Fantasia to the Fame Felons Federation. Take a bow, Fantie! See, although sleeping with a married man is not a crime in most states (relax, Rachel Uchitel), filing a false police report is, and Fantasia did. Well, her manager, who called 911, did, anyway, because Fantasia did not try to kill herself. Yes, I am going to say it. No one else wants to say it; I guess I’m not supposed to say it, but I’m saying it: Fantasia faked a suicide attempt to get people to watch her show.

When Fantasia’s manager, Brian Dickens, called 911, he said that a woman “had taken a bottle of aspirin and is slowly losing consciousness.” If you haven’t heard the 911 call and you still think Fantasia, a single mom raising a daughter, really wanted to kill herself, please go listen to the tape. And please promise me that if I ever try to kill myself you will summon a little more urgency than Mr. Dickens, who I am relatively certain was getting a massage while he was on the phone. I don’t sound that relaxed in my sleep. I don’t know if Dickens is always this calm in an emergency if he was just comforted by the fact that nobody who wants to die overdoses on aspirin. Oh, excuse me, it was aspirin and a “sleep aid.” Dickens later explained to the press that the “media attention” for her affair with a married man led Fantasia to a state of despair. Yeah, those American Idol-winning, Broadway-starring, sex-tape making singers hate media attention. If you still think I’m being harsh, you should know that the day after Fantasia was released from the hospital, she was filmed outside her home having a serious discussion with Antwaun Cook, her married boyfriend. Guess who filmed them? The crew from Fantasia’s reality show. Oh, and I almost forgot: Fantasia’s new album will be released next week, on August 24, two weeks to the day after news of her attempted suicide hit the Internet. Crazy coincidence, isn’t it? I know, I know: I might be wrong. What if Fantasia really wanted to die? Then how will I feel? I’ll feel like a jerk. I’ll feel like a complete jerk. And, for what it’s worth, I totally rooted for Fantasia on “American Idol.” I even saw her in "The Color Purple." There is nothing about her that makes me think she’d fake a suicide attempt. Well, except that she did, of course.

Obviously and unfortunately, a lot more people will tune in to Fantasia’s reality show after this last week of drama. Likewise, even if he serves jail time, I imagine we’ll be seeing Steven Slater on TV some day soon. If you don’t want to see our world overrun by anarchy, I am begging you: do not watch these shows. Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic; I don’t think we’re headed to complete destruction necessarily. But when people with good jobs and real talent turn to irresponsible, dangerous, and illegal behaviors to get attention, we should probably worry a little. When the cast of “Jersey Shore” are some of the more upstanding citizens in reality television, maybe we’re sending out the wrong messages. No offense, Snooki, but Steven and Fantasia are making you look good. And that's bad.

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