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This great comment on my blog post Did Reality TV save Taylor Armstrong from author/ journalist Paula Kamen:

“A much-needed commentary, a refreshing alternative to the “Reality TV killed him” angle elsewhere. I think this is very much worth writing about because of the tremendous popularity of this show (and admittedly, its sheer addictiveness). NBC is even running other “Real Housewives” franchises during the day in its old soap slot, so it’s not limited to just cable (Bravo). It’s an opportunity to help take domestic violence out of the closet and focus on this root problem.”

Instead of wishing Reality TV would just go away, which it won’t, why not use its mass appeal to educate the public about domestic violence? Or suicide prevention? RHOBH could run PSAs, could help bring the issue of DV to light in a multitude of ways including where abusers can go to get help. Why not advocate for that instead of trying to get Reality TV off the air?

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TMZ is reporting:

Taylor Armstrong secretly revealed to cast members she was beaten so badly by Russell Armstrong she had to undergo surgery– and when he found out she spilled the beans, he sent Camille Grammer a threatening email…this according to multiple sources connected with the show.

The story goes on to report that Armstrong was hospitalized as a result of the beating. She tried to keep the abuse a secret but, because her face was bruised, she couldn’t show up for work and worried she’d be fired. Apparently, Armstrong confided in Camille Grammer and Kyle Richards who urged her to tell Bravo the truth about the abuse. When Taylor told Russell about her talk with her costars, he sent Grammer a threatening email.

The source for this story is TMZ which we all know is not the New York Times. But the New York Times also probably considers itself above following ‘gossip’ about Reality TV, even if the story is really about domestic violence, a drastically under-reported crime. If the TMZ story is true, it shouldn’t be hard to prove– there would be medical treatment, an email, and the reports of others on the show.

Yesterday, after reading so much media demonizing Reality TV for its role in making private ‘marital strains’ public, putting undue pressure on a quiet man who didn’t care about fame and helping to lead him to suicide, I posted: Did Reality TV save Taylor Armstrong?

Did being on Reality TV– the exposure, money, fame, and power, that came with it– help to make Taylor one of the rare women to speak out? Because she was not invisible but exposed, was she, on some level, more protected against further violence than the millions of other women? As the stats above cite, three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

Obviously, I have no idea what was going on in Russell Armstrong’s head or in Taylor’s. Obviously this is all sad on many levels, but Reality TV’s role in bringing public awareness to the ‘private’ issue of domestic violence is not the tragedy in this story.

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After Russell Armstrong, estranged husband of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Taylor Armstrong, committed suicide this week, the internet was ablaze, pointing the finger at Reality TV, wanting to know: Did it kill Russell Armstrong?

Today on Salon.com TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz writes:

It’s time to get real about reality TV. As your parents may have warned you, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. People are getting hurt.

Armstrong, the estranged husband of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Taylor Armstrong, commited suicide on Monday. Friends have said the show changed him, that the pressure of having his marital strains examined on national TV and the financial stress of keeping up with much wealthier cast members all contributed to his emotional collapse.

Seitz calls Reality TV a blood sport and likens it to a modern day gladiator’s arena. His analogy is brilliant, and I’m no fan of the trainwreck that is reality TV. But I also find it disturbing that so much media commentary focuses on the aberration of Armstrong’s behavior becoming so public. What about his behavior? Is the tragedy here that Russell’s violent past, his “marital strains,” became known? Or is it that Russell couldn’t or wouldn’t get the help he needed to treat his sickness?

Violence against women is epidemic but far too invisible. Most survivors are so mired in shame, they don’t talk about the abuse to their friends, family, or the media. Until more survivors choose to speak up, as I wrote about for Salon in 2002, the public, including our legislators, will remain apathetic about taking any real steps to stop the violence. And of course, as long as survivors stay hidden, so do the perpetrators.

Here are some scary statistics about how common and how secret violence against women is (from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence):

One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

85% of domestic violence victims are women.

Women ages 20-24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.

Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under reported crimes.

Only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.

Taylor Armstrong bucked the statistics. She said she was abused, she said so publicly, and she left her husband. Two weeks after she left Radar online reported Russell had two restraining orders against him and had pleaded guilt to battery in 1997.

Historically, the time when women are most vulnerable to more violence is when they leave their abusive partners. Did being on Reality TV– the exposure, money, fame, and power, that came with it– help to make Taylor one of the rare women to speak out? Because she was not invisible but exposed, was she, on some level, more protected against further violence than the millions of other women? As the stats above cite, three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

Obviously, I have no idea what was going on in Russell Armstrong’s head or in Taylor’s. Obviously this is all sad on many levels, but Reality TV’s role in bringing public awareness to the ‘private’ issue of domestic violence is not the tragedy in this story.

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