The loss of 80s teen star Corey Haim, to an alleged overdose on Wednesday, did not come as a surprise to many. His admissions of drug use to an extreme degree became part of his personality. As things spiraled out of control, an overdose or early death was likely. But this death could have been avoided.
Haim was the kind of celebrity who would pause and talk with TMZ outside a nightclub—he wanted us to know him, his true identity. And we cared. The media served as a kind of failed therapist.
It was Haim’s honesty about his addictions that will be his legacy. A cautionary tale about fame and excess, his alleged overdose should be talked about and considered by other teen actors as the example not to follow. Living life in a fish-bowl takes its toll, but turning to drugs to cope with the stress is strongly discouraged. The ultimate result is Corey Haim—talent taken from him with every pill, every snort, every drug. And the media covered it, all the way down.
Consider the role of journalism in his demise. Celebrity decline sells. As reality programming has taken off, stars like Haim found themselves the subject of attention not for their acting talent but for how wild they lived their lives. And the wilder the better TV it produced. Although I never took in Haim’s reality show, The Two Coreys, made with his good friend Corey Feldman, such show would not have been possible had Haim’s life been anything other than a disaster. Had Haim settled down and lived a less infamous existence, the show would probably have failed in the pitch stage, and really only become a People Magazine article devoted to “Where Are They Now?” And from my brief exposure to spots promoting the show, the initial hook capitalized on the infamous notoriety of the duo. I’m interested now in watching some of the episodes to see the direction of the show’s narrative.
Clearly, though, Haim’s excess and troubled life was sickly celebrated. Just a Google search of Haim reveals a focus on negative events in his life—his drug use and bankruptcy coming up often. The media loves to write about all the bad things. I’m as guilty of this as any in my field. While the media’s role in Haim’s death is not direct, there is a role none-the-less. And this death should be a word of caution for journalists.
What can we do? Reality programming can be argued to be just a product of audience tastes, just giving the people what they want. But when does that approach become irresponsible? I have no answers, really. A disclaimer on JACKASS, for example, doesn’t prevent kids from trying the same stunts they see on TV. And what about free will? Audiences have a responsibility as well. But the Haim example points up how quickly extreme behavior becomes the story instead of what the consequences are of such behavior and how it can be avoided in the first place.
Let’s not let Haim’s death be forgotten without thinking about the words we write and what we watch. Sometimes bad things happen as a product of audience taste.
Photo credit to Wikimedia Commons user, and the photo page can be found here.