An "honest look at a real problem" or "one of the ultimate acts of consumer nihilism"? Salon readers weigh in on "Intervention."

By Salon Staff
Published March 23, 2005 9:00PM (EST)

[Read "TV on Crack," by Heather Havrilesky.]

Thank you to Heather Havrilesky for a thoughtful article on what could have been an easily dismissed "reality" show.

As a social-work intern currently working with teens who have addiction problems, the ads for "Intervention" immediately raised my hackles. I couldn't find anything immediately objectionable ethically (after all, the addicts do know beforehand that their moves and decisions will be recorded), I couldn't shake the feeling that something was horribly wrong.

Ms. Havrilesky hits the nail on the head. In order for an addict's recovery to truly set in, he or she has to hit rock bottom. To be committed to recovery, an addict must break through to the very depths of personal despair and hopelessness. It is truly one of the ultimate acts of consumer nihilism that we, the viewers, get to be along for the ride to see this destructive path's gut-wrenching end. Because there are only two stops on the path: Either something happens that makes the addict want to fight their addiction, or they die.

The trip down (and, hopefully, for the show's participants, back up) is an intense journey through deep-seated issues and traumas that the addict spends the trip down fighting to get away from and the trip up fighting to conquer. Witnessing that struggle is emotional and challenging for the families, friends and professionals involved. But they experience the pain and struggle up close. I do not know whether a viewer can be affected in the same way and, being that distant, whether we have any place in watching the downward spiral and intervention.

-- James Elliott

I agree with Heather that there are some compelling moments in the "Intervention" show. Speaking as a member of a 12-step program myself, the self-justifications and familial enabling shown on tape are all too common. My problem, however, is not with the depiction of addiction; rather I have problems with the depiction of everything else.

As I understand the premise, the addicts are allegedly fooled into participating in a documentary about addiction; then an intervention is sprung on them. Is this actually happening? For example, in the first episode we see the junkie sneaking into her father's sickroom to steal some of his medication. A horrible sight. But while she's doing it there is a camera crew sneaking in behind her to document the act! Come on, this is ridiculous! The cameramen following these people as they do various illegal acts make the whole exercise very dubious. I would be interested in seeing how the show is really taped, and how much reconstruction is done.

-- Petronius

As a recovering addict, I am certainly in favor of increasing public awareness of both the profound effects of addiction on not only addicts themselves, but especially on those around them, as well as the real hope offered by recovery. Yet, the implication that Heather Havrilesky makes about A&E's show "Intervention" -- as somehow participating in the sharing of addicts' experience with others in keeping with the principles of the 12-step groups -- is misguided. Her analysis ignores the second word in their titles and which binds all those groups operating under the rubric of the 12 steps together: Anonymous.

The 12th tradition of 12-step programs states, "Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities." The feeding of what Havrilesky rightly points out as addicts' disproportionate self-centeredness by passing them through the narcissism of the "reality" mill isn't necessarily doing these individuals a great service. Nor does this show accurately reflect what is infinitely more important than the intervention in recovery, if infinitely less sensational, and that is the long, slow and painful process of extricating the addict from the prison of the self.

-- Anonymous

Thanks for a balanced review of the TV show "Intervention." It is interesting to hear the critics of the show bemoan it based mainly on their interpretation of the producers' intent. Criticism of such a show is really about the fact that it is too gritty, too personal and too raw: the qualities that make it valuable to watch. All too often, critics of television complain about how superficial and meaningless most shows are today. Now, "Intervention," which is a real and honest look at a real problem, gets criticized for delving too deep into the human experience.

I say, let's treat shows like "Intervention" as opportunities to talk about not only what we see on the screen, but also what the show reveals to us about ourselves.

-- Bob Cameron

Salon Staff

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