Published December 01, 2009
If Michaele and Tareq Salahi faked their way into President Obama's first state dinner at the White House, they join Richard and Mayumi Heene (Balloon Boy's parents) and Nadya Suleman (Octomom) as massive examples of the vulnerability of our shared reality to manipulation by "reality terrorists."
"Reality terrorists" are those who seek to explode real news, real-life events, real politicians, real law enforcement officials and real feelings of admiration or panic or disgust and turn them into fabricated, staged entertainment events to pump up their egos or their wallets by becoming TV stars.
This is more than a game or a gaffe. This is a kind of psychological terrorism that assaults our collective ability to trust that dramatic events unfolding around us are serious ones that should indeed command our attention and elicit our genuine concern. If a state dinner is no more than a dry run for The Real Housewives of D.C.-in which Michaele Salahi hopes to star-then the White House is no better than the set of a sitcom and deserves no special respect or awe.
If a boy drifting away in a helium balloon, followed by the Colorado Army National Guard, is no more than a family's pathetic ruse to net a third appearance on Wife Swap, then the Guard is no better than a troop of circus clowns running after a beach ball. If a sick woman and her reprehensible fertility "doctor" are allowed to turn childbirth and children into a freak show and get paid for it, then our real efforts to cure infertility and love our sons and daughters is just so much filler between commercial interruptions.
Make no mistake about it, the convergence of television and the Internet can end up providing devastating weapons to a new breed of homegrown terrorists who value only their own causes (fame and fortune) and hijack our media, our empathy and our cultural/political symbols and icons, turning them upside down and inside out, leaving them as meaningless carcasses for camera crews to step over-like so many crushed Coke cups on the floor of a movie cinema.
One inherent problem with this kind of piracy is that it works even better than Somalis grabbing tankers. The White House Party Crashers, Balloon Boy and Octomom did hit the fame jackpot and may all end up profiting in one way or another, despite their truly despicable acts. Reality terrorists know that we will fall all over ourselves as a society to watch titillating events, in preference to complex, important ones. It's our psychological Achilles' heel. We'll take drama over substance, every time-and pay up for it.
Notice the amount of newspaper ink wasted on Tiger Woods lately, when we're sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. Did he have sex with another woman? Was he drinking when he crashed his car? Did he have a spat with his wife? Who cares? Well . . . America does.
In a world that worships the lens of a camera and cares not for fact over fiction, in which the President of the United States is happy to joke with any late night TV host who'll have him and grace the cover of any men's magazine that can disseminate his image, is it any surprise that an Iranian dictator who might just blow up an entire nation one day is perceived as a petty prankster puffing out his chest? A silly clown?
We're confused now about what is real and what is fake, and we're going to pay very, very dearly for it.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.