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Give me cable or give me death

On Our Woeful Addiction to ‘Intervention’: Emotional Snuff or Cathartic Empathy? We Say Snuffy Sympathy

08.15.08 by Sarah | 8 Comments | Digg This

Fuck the Olympics. The only teevee I was looking forward to this week was Monday night’s episode of Intervention, A&E’s reality show that films addicts who think they’re part of “a documentary about addiction”; but who wind up facing a gathering of family, friends, and a professional interventionist who attempt to get them to go to rehab. Where amazing things like this are said, irony free.

You’re very generous, I love you, you’re such a cool person to hang out with. You’re like the coolest crackhead person to hang out with. Like, if we could be crackheads for the rest of our lives, I wouldn’t get into fights.” — Alyson, 27, to her friend after her third or fourth hit of crack

Usually the show covers your standard addictions–meth, booze, some eating disorders thrown in for variety–but about once a season they’ll feature an addict with a low-rent drug of choice. We’ve seen mouthwash drinkers and cold medicine abusers, but this week’s episode set the bar just a little lower: meet Allison, who constantly sucks on cans of compressed gas duster, often going through ten or twelve a day.

However, the uncontested gold medalist for batshit crazy behavior still belongs to Cristy, a meth addict and alcoholic from a couple of seasons back who lived in a squalid, torn-apart guesthouse; spat food on the floor and had smeared-off eyebrows; and got into a public beatdown with her sister while she was buck-ass naked.

Why is this show so addictive? I could sit here and mouth feel-good platitudes about educating ourselves; or the frequently uplifting ends where the addict “accepts the gift” of rehab–usually extremely plushy rehabs that cost thousands of dollars a week, and that they’d never be able to afford, were A&E not footing the bill.

But the brutal truth is that most people enjoy slack-jawed gawking at trainwrecks, be they literal or metaphorical. Kevin Crust of the Los Angeles Times called the show a “vile little exercise in debasement” and an “emotional snuff film.” To which I say: Hell yeah it is. And it’s awful. And we feel icky watching. But rather than watching  punishing, prurient blows being dealt to sexual predators on MSNBC by that slippery devil Chris Hanson, we get to witness addicts –the most hypnotically self centered beings on the planet– going through some type of redemption. Even though its in the most exploitative arena imaginable .

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