If reality TV is your guilty pleasure, you are about to be introduced to a whole new level of guilt: a reality show filmed in the home of a man, his mistress and his celebrity wife, who is incapacitated by Alzheimer’s.
Bravo network has reportedly green-lit a reality TV show featuring the former television executive Dan Gasby, who lives with his wife B. Smith, who has Alzheimer’s, and his mistress, Alex Lerner.
After almost 30 years of marriage to Ms. Smith, a former model and TV host, last year Mr. Gasby publicly announced that he was in a romantic relationship with Ms. Lerner and that she lives with him and his wife. Now Mr. Gasby has invited cameras in to record the life he leads with his smiling mistress and his smiling, dementia-stricken wife in order to destigmatize the choice he has made.
Maybe you believe (and I do not) that we should be released from our marriage vows if our spouses no longer please and fulfill us. But even if that is your idea of compassion, Mr. Gasby’s arrangement is nakedly exploitative. People magazine reports, “Gasby has told Smith about his relationship with Lerner, though it doesn’t seem to register.” Just as a sleeping woman cannot agree to sex, a woman with dementia cannot consent to being cheated on, and she cannot consent to be part of a TV show about her exploitation. She is a prop in a farcical theater piece about progressive love, trotted out to illustrate the virtue of the very man who is exploiting her.
When all this shouting of once-private things brings applause, we begin to believe that being quiet is the same as being ashamed.
Marriage as an institution may be public, but the love between husband and wife is, by definition, private. You inside me. It does not get any more private than that. And yet this reality show is part of a push to turn marriage inside out—to publicly share and spotlight that most intimate of betrayals, infidelity.
And that is what makes my blood run cold: how public Mr. Gasby and his mistress have made their deeds. Why have they done this? Because they know the power of the word “destigmatize.”
Destigmatization is a mixed bag. Sometimes, society has unjustly frowned on behaviors that are morally neutral or even laudable, and so we do a brave and selfless thing by making them as public as possible. Mental illness, for instance, should not be whispered about; it should be discussed openly, so it can be understood and treated, and so those who suffer feel less alone. Breastfeeding should not be shunted away under a blanket; it should be part of everyday life. Gay people should not be shamed and cowed; they should be accepted and treated as sons and daughters of God. It can be a true act of love to shout about something once considered shameful.
But the thing about shouting is that it is disorienting by design. It makes it hard, in the sheer confusion of noise, to know what is actually being said. When we want something—especially when we want to do something to somebody else—we intentionally blur the lines between healthy destigmatization and the normalization of perversion, of sin, of crime. It is all just shouting.
Love demands attention to the person in front of you, without cameras, without documentation, without applause.
We are exhorted to shout our abortions, to shout with laughter over porn addiction, to shout with pride at being a racist. To shout about everything. Most especially, to shout about treating each other as objects, objects to have sex with, objects to despise, objects to kill. When all this shouting of once-private things brings applause, we begin to believe that being quiet is the same as being ashamed, that there is something shameful in privacy itself. We begin to judge our actions not on their merits but on how public we are willing to make them.
But true acts of love are rarely public. Love demands intimacy. Love demands quiet. Love demands attention to the person in front of you, without cameras, without documentation, without applause. Sooner or later, love demands privacy. But in the culture of the shout, the intimate heat of the crucible of suffering is replaced by the heat of the Klieg lights, which reveal without transforming.
What happens when public interest dries up? What will the Gasby-Smith-Lerner triad come to when the cameras inevitably lose interest and go away?
We should pray for the strength to let our blood flow now, while we live, for the sake of love. We should pray to be stigmatized.
“I love my wife, but I can’t let her take away my life,” Mr. Gasby said. But there will come a time when his life will be taken away, and he will be alone. Whether we know it or not, we live in preparation to die. Love is all we take to the grave.
What is a stigma? Etymologically, it is the mark left when a body is pierced. When we de-stigmatize sins against love, we shout at the Lord: Do not let me be marked. Do not let me be pierced. Do not allow love to spill my blood.
You want to go public with your love? Look at a crucifix. That is what public love looks like. High on a hill, before a crowd, stigmas flowing. That is what authentic public love looks like.
We can shout our sins all we like, but, eventually, we will once again be alone with them. The parade will be over, the rally will end, the pride will pass, the lights will be turned off, the show will fold. Down we will go, into the ground, into the privacy of the grave. We will be alone with God. And then we will cry out for stigmas, cry out for those pierced hands to save us.
We should pray that they will be enough to save us. We should pray for courage when we are put in the painful crucible of love. We should pray for the strength to let our blood flow now, while we live, for the sake of love. We should pray to be stigmatized.