Caroline Flack and Love Island Suicides Spotlight Reality Celeb Mental Health Issues

Written by: Jason M. Lucia – March 13th 2020, 1:59am pst

The tragic death by suicide of Love Island hostess Caroline Flack is a reminder (if any of us needed reminding) that the shimmering showbiz world of glamour, wealth, and fame casts a dark shadow that is a world unto itself, a painful world that even the strongest souls get lost in.

credit: Caroline Flack Instagram

This has been the case since before Peg Entwhistle threw herself off the H in Hollywood back in 1932, but the modern world and its technologies and the behaviors nurtured by these technologies have given that shadow-world a vicious edge in its hungry struggle against the human spirit.

The bitter backwash of success in the entertainment industry is taking more lives than ever before, and social media is certainly part of the problem. Established stars of screen and song have had their most intimate self-images hacked and circulated as pornography and the storm of ego-annihilating critiques that once afflicted a star through bad reviews of their latest projects is now a 24/7 assault from all directions that extends to their personal lives and personal choices. For decades, the common treatment for such sensitivity was to self-medicate or to grow a thicker skin.

credit: Caroline Flack Instagram

The advent and ensuing omnipresence of reality TV, in tandem with the rise of social media (as a component of society and identity) has created a culture of consensual surveillance in which we are all watching each other’s every move and broadcasting our every thought, constantly dissatisfied as we compare ourselves to others, sublimating those anxieties with instagram binges and tweet fevers, feeding more and more of the time we have to heal into the gaping jaws of the sickness itself.

credit: Caroline Flack Instagram

The one-two punch of social media and reality TV have shattered the barriers between private life and public life forever, and we’ve embraced the process so passionately that there seems to be no turning back. But the body count is mounting. Despite the performative and semi-scripted nature of Reality TV, the stars who rise through that vector have no role and no mythology to hide behind. Every day (if not through their show, than through the public twittergram life that is essential to a media career in the 21st century), these girls and boys next door are offering their lives up for ogling, adoration, and/or judgement to multiple millions of strangers.

credit: Mike_Thasillitis Instagram

And Caroline Flack is just the latest casualty of these cruel modern forms of fame. Love Island alone is haunted by the aftermath of two other suicides (Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis). The obvious psychological pressure created by the very recent and relatively unstudied cultural role of the realty TV star has changed the industry, necessitating mandatory counseling sessions on most of these shows, guidance for people who needed to be seen but who could not anticipate the sensation of getting feasted on all day and night by a million little screens.

As of this date, 38 suicides have occurred in the global world of reality TV.  Apart from Caroline, Mike, and Sophie, these are the names of the lost and the shows they appeared on…

Rachel Brown, Hell’s Kitchen (US), Cheryl Kosewicz, Pirate Master (US), Simon Foster, Wife Swap (UK). James Terrill, Supernanny (US), Paula Goodspeed, American Idol (US), Nathan Clutter, Paradise Hotel (US), Ryan Jenkins,, Megan Wants a Millionaire (US), Neha Sawant, Boogie Woogie (India), Julien Hug, The Bachelorette (US). Melanie Bell, Vegas Elvis (US), Wade Belak, Battle of the Blades (Canada), Joseph Cerniglia, Kitchen Nightmares (US), Russell Armstrong, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (US), Joey Kovar, Celebrity Rehab (US), Joshua Marks, MasterChef (US). Gia Allemand, The Bachelor (US), Mindy McCready, Celebrity Rehab (US), Mark Balelo, Storage Wars (US), Chun, ‘Jjak’ The Mate (S Korea), Charlotte Dawson, Next Top Model (Australia), Thierry Costa, Survivor (France). Simone Battle, The X Factor (US), Adam Moser, Wicked Tuna (US), Mark Constantino, Ghost Adventures (US), Daniel Kueblboeck, Let’s Dance (Germany), Lex McAllister, The Bachelor (US), Pratyusha Banerjee, Bigg Boss (India). Anthony Riley, The Voice (US), Dixon McGlohon, Wicked Tuna (US), Anastasia Tarasyuk, House 2 (Russia), Yukiko Okada, Star Tanjo! (Japan), Sinisa Savija, Survivor (Sweden), Kellie McGee, Extreme Makeover (US). Carina Stephenson, The Colony (UK), Wesley Durden, Next Great Baker (US), Najai Turpin, The Contender (US).

credit: Sophie Gradon Fans Instagram

The technology that has made our world such a bitchy hall of mirrors is not going away. Its reach will become ever more invasive and symbiotic. The marketability of a celebrity’s brand is quantifiable through fame-tabulating algorithms, creating an economy of gossip, but when you’re famous for being yourself, maybe troll toxicity and absolute scrutiny inherently put the sense of self in jeopardy.

How do we emotionally weather the storm of information that rages in our faces every day, conflicting signals from a future too chaotic to be hopeless? It’s a question we’re all asking ourselves and each other in lots of different languages, but the entertainment industry routinely subjects complicated, vulnerable human beings to degrees of psychic assault so unique to this arena that those outside the glare might not ever understand. The screens and the ceaseless newsfeeds turn the people who perform for us into products, commodities that we can shred in the comments section for pleasure, whether we hate them or not.

credit: Caroline Flack Instagram

It seems necessary these days to take daily time-outs and regular vacations from social media, to cultivate oases of silence and reflection in the midst of the twitter storms and catastrophic newsfeeds. A space of stillness where you can slough your false appetites and realize that the feeds are partly so frantic because anxiety drives commerce, an inner space where you remember that despite the hurricane of history that surrounds you and sometimes threatens to consume you, there is an untouchable you that loves the ones you love and a you that dreams and a you that is connected deeply to something bigger than you. Despite the urgencies and media-saturated nature of our times, as humans who are broken in places and here to heal, we need to touch base regularly with the wellsprings of who we are and what we value when no one is watching.

credit: Caroline Flack Instagram

The only positive side effect of this tragic epidemic is that, like every public trauma that defies understanding, it opens up a deeper dialogue about the insecurities and vulnerabilities we all have in common, with each other and with the stars, despite the fame and the wealth and the whatever. So many of us are just barely holding on sometimes, and it’s a breakthrough in the cultural conversation for us to admit that the internet, in some ways, might not be good for us. It’s a bold, challenging statement. But is it enough?

credit: Cartoon Network

At least in terms of media and the people who work and live in its high profile ecologies, your humble reporter has this funny feeling that might, in fact, be HOPE when I see the ever-building wave of television targeted at milllenials, who will eventually be inheriting the earth just by virtue of arithmetic and whose tastes therefore indicate the tone of the culture they’ll create.

Despite the snarky barbs hurled at them reflexively by more streetwise, cynical generations (like mine), the so-called snowflake people exhibit certain preferences in the stories they love: a preference for empathetic problem solving over physical conflict, a preference for engagement and activism over nihilism, and a preference for aspirational virtue over histrionic tragedy.

credit: NBC

Our cultural addiction to violent discourse and anti-hero atrocity and the consumption of the celebrity-as-object are rejected by so many millennial television touchstones: from Steven Universe to Atlanta to This is US. Through a millennial eye, it seems like all that toxic masculine tragedy is the hangover of patriarchy. They find it boring.

Every maturing generation is figuring out how to let go of a confusing world that needs them less and less while the new grown-ups are figuring out the new rules for living in that world. The social media jungle has almost always been part of the lives of generation y, z, etc. It’s the water they breathe and the way they’re learning to breathe it (despite the harsh currents and boomer pollution) seems to have something to do with all of us wanting each other to win, accepting each other and trying to understand each other and cheering each other on and keeping public discourse inclusive, compassionate, curious, playful, and KIND.

credit: Caroline Flack Instagram

It’s always journalistically risky and a little but ridiculous to make such sweeping generalizations, but it seems like the tomorrow people evolving in the often vicious gossip-grind of the hive mind have decided that the best way to live is to look out for each other, call out cruelty, and rediscover kindness.

If a thing like that really catches on (treating other people with respect and support even though we might never meet them), the world wide web and the media that milks it might finally be as good at bringing people together and enriching our lives as it is at selling us things and turning us against each other.

More cooperation. Less competition. Fewer rants. More rhapsodies. More authenticity in all of our confusion and vulnerability, more compassion for the strangers in our lives and on our screens. And no more unheard voices crying out in the dark because the spotlight was driving them crazy. No more suicides. More kindness, please, in that unwavering gaze.

credit: Caroline Flack Instagram

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, there is a caring voice waiting to talk you through the dark.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Remember that there is kindness in this world, that you deserve kindness, and that a life you can’t yet imagine is waiting on the other side of every storm.

About The Author:

Jason M. Lucia is a media critic, columnist, and professional ghostwriter whose work has been published under several pseudonyms.  He was raised in Medford, MA.  He went to school in NY.  He lives to rhapsodize the stories he loves on the page and in the flesh.

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