By Michael Berland
Published December 4, 2009
Q: Is the culture of celebrity and reality TV eroding our understanding of what constitutes success? What should we tell our children about people such as Tareq and Michaele Salahi who apparently crashed a White House state dinner in pursuit of reality TV fame?
The culture of celebrity confuses young people and creates false idols.
There’s nothing wrong with the spate of “reality” talent shows that allow great dancers, singers, chefs and clothing designers to show what they can do and try to make it in those very competitive creative worlds.
But even within Hollywood, media give equal, if not more attention, to poorly behaved stars — especially of the do-nothing trash reality genre– than to the legitimately talented.
In the case of the Salahis, who crashed the state dinner for the prime minister of India in an apparently not too misguided effort to become part of the reality TV fame machine, my fellow “On Success” panelist Patricia McGuire is absolutely right when she says that instead of focusing on the gate crashers, it’s important to talk about “the legitimate guest list and why people of achievement were invited to the White House.”
Among the invited guests were stars in medicine, film, literature, public service, journalism, classical music, diplomacy, business, and so on. For some of those people, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, a reward that recognized a lifetime of hard work, sacrifice and risk-taking of the kind that doesn’t thwart measures to protect the executive brand of our government.
Frankly, I think that we shouldn’t even be talking about the Salahis a week later, even in this “legitimate” forum of The Washington Post column on success. In my opinion, their names shouldn’t be Google-able with the word “success.” Continuing this discourse just gives them and people like them further incentive to engage in acts of this kind — like rewarding a kid with a lot of attention when he behaves poorly.
And that’s a comparison that even a child would understand.