Thursday, January 10, 2008

And even more absurdly, she kept repeating, "I'm a terrific Mum! I'm a terrific Mum!"

I wondered what the upshot of the developing (but now seemingly fractured) Spears/McGraw Alliance would be. And though a few of you have congratulated me for "calling it right" the other day, I don't think I'm quite that deserving of kudos. I knew there'd be fallout from Dr. Phil's appearance on-scene and his decision to interpose himself into L'Affair Britney. The current buzz, however, has the Family Spears accusing its long-time celebrity friend of being exploitive in the very public nature of his hospital visit to Brit, and especially in his desire to build a Dr. Phil segment around her. They allege a betrayal of trust, and characterize McGraw's public statements on Britney as "inappropriate." (We'll leave aside the question of whether the Spears family, through its collective behavior, has forfeited its right to use words like inappropriate.) While I'm not at all surprised about the idea for a show, which McGraw says he has scrapped for now, the charges of exploitation were unexpected. I kinda figured that whatever came out of this, they were all in it together. And who knows...they may still be.*

Anyhoo, no matter how you slice it, this once again raises questions about the sincerity of the mainstream self-help movement, and especially whether its more high-visibility elements—like Dr. Phil and (non)-Dr. Laura—should be taken seriously as "help" or dismissed as mere "entertainment." Either way, I think the answers are troubling. For a variety of reasons (here I'll refer you to SHAM, if you have a copy, because it's way too long to get into on a blog**), you can't expect the people who turn up on Dr. Phil to achieve an instant turnabout; ergo, their faith in that outcome, assuming they had any, is misplaced to begin with. And if we take the more cynical, sophisticated view—"hey, it's just another freak show, it's all about ratings"—we shouldn't forget that we're talking about people's mental health here. What does it say about us as a culture that we abide making a spectacle of troubled people for the sake of Nielsen/Arbitron points? What does it say about Dr. Phil himself? Interestingly, if you caught Dr. Laura's appearance (click and scroll down) on Larry King last night, you know that she wasn't thrilled with McGraw's conduct, either. "I was particularly horrified when this pathetic situation and this poor, sad, sick girl is now going to be used as a television show for ratings," she said, before adding that she was grateful that someone with "good sense" and "taste" pulled the plug. Thus giving us another important lesson in pots, kettles, honor, thieves, and all that.

In fairness, I don't know McGraw personally, and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as to his sincere interest in seeing Britney get her head straight. (And that may be an even more ambitious project than we ever realized; among other things, she reportedly spoke with a British accent at times during her recent hospitalization.) He is, after all, a friend of the family who, say what you will, has come to Mama Lynne's defense when things were at their darkest. But I think this incident also shows clearly that the profit motive is never very far off-stage.

* Remember: When you're talking about the folks we're talking about here, nothing is ever truly final, and the unexpected is to be expected. There may be several shoes yet to drop. And who's to say whether the whole thing isn't some massive PR stunt, like the meticulously choreographed "feuds" stars used to have during Hollywood's golden era?
** See especially pp. 48-50, 68-70 and 177-178.

9 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - I'd be willing to bet that Dr. Laura's outrage was borne of her not getting a piece of the action for her own show.

And the predominance of this kind of "entertainment" states pretty clearly that we are a voyeuristic lot. I admit that if I see something that strikes me as enticing, I certainly won't turn away in disgust. But I wonder at folks who find others' suffering - whether self-imposed or not - entertaining. And I get really turned off by those - like Dr. Phil - who see others' suffering as profit centers.

There's voyeurs and then there's sick voyeurs...

Mary Anne said...

My biggest gripe with Dr. Phil is he does not say anything new. I watched his "love" show last Tuesday, because of all this hype around him and I got about five minutes of information. I did get a good 30 minutes of commercials though.

I think I am more a Dr. Drew (Pinsky) person myself. He weighed in on Brit Brit and he was the most informed, which makes sense since he is board certified medical doctor. He laid it out that she appears to be suffering from mental illness and would need lifelong treatment.

Dr. Phil was out of his depth and explotive for trying to cash in on Brit Brit.

Mary Anne said...

Having read the transcript, I did agree with Dr. Laura about the woman in a 20 year marriage who wanted to leave. It sounds like the woman doesn't know what love is and has a good marriage. A case of the grass is greener on the other side. One forgets it's still grass.

Did you catch Dr. Laura's sidestepping of her son in the military? Dr. Laura made a reference to her husband being a "girl" about it whereas she is the "stoic" one. That really helps gender roles and discussion of gender issues.

Steve Salerno said...

In fairness to non-Dr. Laura*, you'll seldom find a more staunch advocate of "traditional gender roles" than she is. She's pretty much been that way (or at least taken that position) since the outset, so--though you can attack the value itself--you really can't attack her for espousing it. After all, there are many who agree with her, for better or worse....

* It's not often I say something like that when discussing the gurus, and I've already used it twice today (the first time was in the post itself, referring to McGraw). So I'm thinking I'm already way over my "in fairness" quota for 2008, and we're only in January!

Mary Anne said...

Now I know who wears the pants in Dr. Laura's family :)

RevRon's Rants said...

"Dr." Laura is probably a big fan of a song written by Shel Silverstein for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, titled "True Love." :-)

Cal said...

Rev, I'm not sure if you meant Dr. Laura wanted a piece for radio show. She had a TV show many years back, but it bombed. I think she said something derogatory about gays and that kind of doomed it.

Mary Anne, I'm sure you know Dr. Drew has a reality show where he's "helping" some former D-list celebrities get off of drugs and alcohol. I always thought the guy was a serious MD, but television has a way of trying to simplify the serious problems people have. I don't know if Steve puts him in the SHAM camp. His "Love Line" radio show has been on the air for over a decade.

As I said in a previous post, I think the Spears family (i.e., her Mom) did call him to see her. Now they are mad because he's talking to the press about it. But the cat was already out. The press was camped out at the hospital and saw him coming in and could easily have surmised it. So, I do believe his producers and him thought it probably could be a very high profile show. But for her family to be upset is kind of disingenuous to me.

RevRon's Rants said...

Cal -
Dr. Laura is so yesterday, she's gonna jump on anything she can to try and rebuild her credibility and put her back in the spotlight. I don't think she cares whether it's for her radio show or merely seeing her name in print again. Just so long as they spell it right... :-)

Mary Anne said...

Yeah Cal, I know about Dr. Drew, but he reminds me of my youth in LA. If I have to pick a celebrity "Dr," I just want one with a medical degree. Oh his celebrity rehab was a big bust by the way.