The other night during the news there was an announcement for a rerun of the interview done with the Madoff family. I looked at my husband, the question in my face.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“They interviewed the Madoff family???” I asked anyway. Sometimes you can’t help these things. It’s like an emotional Tourette’s.
In any case, I came to learn that recently there was a flurry of media activity related to the release of two new books by Madoff family members.
ABC aired the first Madoff family member interview on October 21, when Mack, the widow of Bernie’s son, Mark, appeared on 20/20. The show scored its best ratings since February 2010, with 7.6 million viewers overall. Surely not coincidentally, The End of Normal, published by Blue Rider Press and another book, Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family, hit bookstores in October.
Now, while it delivered wonderfully high ratings for the media, it did little to inspire book sales.
I’m not surprised by the fact that fewer than expected sales were reported. Who wants to give the Madoffs any more money than they already stole?
But I am—though I shouldn’t be—surprised by the fact that ABC and CBS both took a huge amount of time (and money) with these moguls of misfortune, these scoundrels who are now bleating poverty and victimization.
Why is anyone listening to them?
Why is anyone paying them a dime for their opinions when they haven’t paid a dime in compensation to their victims?
Worse, yet, why are we watching them? Not just once, but in reruns.
It seemed to me to be a form of bizarre cultural rubbernecking, not much different than what we do with car wrecks; a minor fender bender off to the side of the road can cause a ten-mile back up on a major freeway even though all the lanes are actually open. The jam is only because we slow down to look: Is there any blood? Any bodies? Despite all the anatomically correct horror shows on TV (CSI, Bones, Criminal Minds), we can’t seem to get enough of it. We want to see all the bad and awful things that people do.
This is even more pointedly true with famous people. There’s nothing the media or the media generation likes more than watching the crash and burn of a wealthy celebrity. Hence the inordinate amount of attention given to the slow, sublimating near-death experience of one Charlie Sheen. He even had live video to capture his expected demise from alcohol, drugs, and sex addiction and to disperse his rants about being dumped from Two and a Half Men all over cyber-land.
And, as far as I could tell, everyone was watching. It was amazing, but they were watching themselves watch him. And the media talked about it as if it were as important as the impending collapses in Greece and Europe, the epidemics and violence in Africa, or the economic issues in this country. If we measured importance in terms of airplay, I think Charlie won.
What does that say about us?
I am loath to consider the implications.
Because, in my experience, what we look at tends to reflect what we are. What we choose to do tends to be an expression of who we are.
Which says we, like Sheen, are on a slippery slope towards self-indulgent suicide. We, like the cyber-voyeurs who wait for the shape-shifting demise, are caught up in our own “near-life” experience. We, like the Madoffs, are prone to expect something extraordinary for nothing. We too are entitled. We too want our 15 minutes of fame, sometimes at the expense of our good names, even our souls. It may be more a matter of degree than essence.
Not because I am immune to any of the above or because I don’t sneak a peak at traffic accidents, but because I had a momentary lapse of sanity, I turned the TV off and left the Madoffs to their new book-sale travails and to their lonesomes. In fact, the more lonesome the better.