Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rehab Is the New Black

I was innocently perusing blogs yesterday, whistling and humming, flowery thoughts fluttering around my head like so many blithe bluebirds, when TMZ.com effed it all up. Well, to be fair, it wasn’t TMZ’s fault but rather the onus of one Mr. Steven Slater. In case you are unlike me and his name doesn’t send you into snarling seizures, I’ll remind you: Slater is the former Jet Blue flight attendant who became a folk hero last month after he quit his job by sliding down an airplane’s emergency chute with a beer in each hand. He was arrested for reckless endangerment before hiring an agent and fielding reality TV show offers. Well, on Tuesday, Slater appeared in court to face the charges and a possible seven year prison sentence. TMZ was the first to report that Slater’s attorney asked the D.A. to reduce the charges if Slater voluntarily checks into rehab. REHAB? Is there addiction treatment for shameless famewhores? Some sort of jackass 12-step program? I don’t know why I’m so surprised. Steven Slater is only the latest in a string of public figures to abuse rehab -- which is pretty twisted. Think about it. We now need rehab for rehab.

Steven Slater follows a long list of offenders, criminal and domestic, who have used quick stints in rehab to get out of trouble. Tiger Woods comes to mind, of course. He’s in the “I’m not a cheater; I’m an addict” club with Jesse James, David Duchovny, Eric Benet (Halle Berry’s ex), and Michael Douglas, to name a few. And then there’s Charlie Sheen, who recently went to the very posh Promises rehab resort -- instead of jail -- after assaulting his wife. Kate Moss did 30 days in rehab some years ago after being photographed doing cocaine and was back to snorting and drinking within days of checking out. It’s pretty convenient to spin one’s character flaws and mistakes into addictions. “I’m sorry, your honor, but I’m addicted to speeding.” “Honey, it’s not my fault. Sleeping with your friends is my drug. I need help!” See? Pretty easy, right? Unfortunately, it’s hard to believe that 30 days of group therapy can remedy Slater’s narcissism, James’s lack of self-control, and Sheen’s well-documented habit of abusing women. And what happened to the days when people didn’t want to go to rehab? Seems to me it’s all the rage now. And while it is my policy to blame Miley Cyrus for everything, I have to let her off the hook this time. I’ll tell you whom I do blame, though: Dr. Drew.

I love Dr. Drew. I do. So this hurts. I’ve loved him since the early days of “Loveline,” and I have been known to poke holes in myself and marinate in “Celebrity Rehab,” if only for the silver-haired, bespectacled, soft-talking doc. There is no denying that Drew has destigmatized addiction and rehab. And that’s great in a lot of ways. As someone who has been to rehab (no, not for drugs; if you want to know why, you can read about it here), of course I believe that one should never be ashamed to get help. But it’s gone off the rails. Lesser known celebrities are using “Celebrity Rehab” to be seen (I’m talking about you, Rachel Uchitel), and Drew’s tendency to celebrate the addict has made the title more of a badge than a diagnosis. And, again, that’s great – for REAL addicts who want help. But attending rehab after endangering a plane full of people to get oneself in the news is not an inspiring story of recovery. It’s a greedy, pathetic act born of a culture that thinks that the Kardashians deserve a TV show.

Interestingly, while Dr. Drew has fueled the fame-by-fake-addiction flames, he is also one of the few to explain properly the problem at the root of the fire. In his book The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America, Pinsky calls today’s obsession with fame --  “supernarcissism” -- a public health crisis. Of course, the irony here is pretty rich, considering Drew himself seems to love the limelight, but that’s another column. The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story on Pinsky last year that detailed his new diagnosis. In the article, “Hitting Bottom,” Chris Norris writes, “This emerging strain of supernarcissism...turns especially virulent in the world of social media, where young people, who are chasing an increasingly accessible type of fame, begin to mirror the increasingly pathological behavior of their idols…This, Pinksy says, is the real sickness.”

Sick indeed. It’s almost hard to blame Steven Slater when you look at the big picture. Almost. He’s still a jerk. But the world around him promotes this new notoriety, this attention-at-all-costs behavior that favors fame over dignity. Watch almost any reality show, read almost any tabloid; the examples are too many to count. What’s most worrisome, though, is not that Steven Slater is going to get paid for a People cover story about his rehab stint, but that a very delicate, personal, and critical medical intervention is now the equivalent of an appearance on “The Real World.” How many fake rehab stays can the mental health care industry accommodate before the whole system becomes a farce? Real addiction is hard enough to fight. What are we going to do when we have a nation of people addicted to addiction? Well, I know what I’m going to do. I’m calling Dr. Drew.

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