Thursday, February 19, 2009

To Die For

I've never been a fan of reality TV. I've known some people who never missed an episode of a single reality TV series. If two such programs happened to be on at the same time, they would watch one and record the other to watch at another time.

But Sarah Lyall writes in the New York Times about what may turn out to be the most powerful reality episode of all.

Lyall describes a young English woman named Jade Goody, who is "[c]rude–talking, hard–drinking, overweight, barely educated, in debt, the child of drug addicts [who] appeared on the reality show 'Big Brother' in 2002 as a kind of token lowlife."

Goody is 27 now, according to Lyall, so she would have been 21 when that program began. But, in Lyall's words, there was something about Goody that "struck a chord" with the British public, and she became a "working-class Paris Hilton."

The story took a tragic turn last August when Jade, as she is informally known by her fans in England, learned she had cervical cancer. Recently, doctors told her the cancer had spread and there was nothing more they could do for her. And Jade has said that, since she has spent her adult life talking about her life on camera, she may well die in front of it as well.

Now, she's about to marry her long-time boyfriend, and it seems all of England will be watching. The situation has raised all kinds of ethical and moral questions. Some people think she should keep her death a personal, private matter. Others see it as a way to regain the only sense of control still available to her.

And, as Lyall points out, Goody is having a positive effect in one sense — more young women have become motivated to have regular tests to check for signs of cervical cancer. Doctors call it "the Jade Goody effect."

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