By Maya ’12
Background: Russell Armstrong, the husband of cast member Taylor Armstrong on “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” committed suicide on August 15th.
Though some see Russell Armstrong’s untimely death as a result of his personal afflictions, I believe it was the pressures of a televised lifestyle that prompted his suicide and the dissolution of his family.
Financial trouble, emotional discord and the intense world of the Beverly Hills social scene were not new to the Armstrongs, but constant surveillance and reality show writers were. Personal arguments that would normally fade into the past became topics of national discussion. The negative influence that the show had on Armstrong’s business and personal relationships were not of concern to The Real Housewives brand, as they only boosted on-screen drama and therefore ratings. Armstrong’s slipping mental state was portrayed as a dramatic point of intrigue rather than a tragic downward spiral.
Airing his dirty laundry damaged Russell’s business credibility and propelled his already fragile marriage towards estrangement. In regards to abuse allegations, Russell responded,
“Did I push her? Yes, maybe things happened in the heat of the moment, but it was during a time in our lives that was not characteristic of who we were. This show has literally pushed us to the limit.” Russell’s ex-wife, Barbara Frederickson agrees that Housewives “just ruined him.” Prior to the show, Russell had no record of verbal or physical abuse.
But while I feel sympathy for Russell and Taylor, ultimately their three children stand as tokens of the injury that reality TV can inflict. The Armstrong children had no choice but to be a part of the show and had no say in what they wanted to keep private. Due to the intrusive nature of the show, the poor decision-making of their parents and Bravo’s lack of care for reality stars’ mental health, the Armstrong children’s lives have been unnecessarily and irrevocably altered. The same can be said of the kids of Jon and Kate Plus 8, who no longer have a stable home due to the strains of surveillance and fame.
While Armstrong committed suicide of his own volition, we must place at least some blame on the institution of reality TV, which is a profit-driven, emotionally callous, and exploitative business. Without the pressure exerted by The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Russell Armstrong may have been able to overcome his problems instead of being thrust deeper into their core. To put it dramatically, reality TV has taken its first victim. But the wounded still remain to be documented.