Asthma on "Reality" TV.

Asthma on “Reality” TV

Every morning I get a Google Alert for asthma news that has popped up in the previous 24 hours. After cleaning out my inbox completely last night (from 1700 unread emails to 4), I am now trying to keep my inbox clean for at least a day, and thus went through the emails that had trickled in overnight this morning.

Amongst these was ‘Celebrity Big Brother’: Omarosa More Fiery Than Ever After Asthma Attack Threatens Her Place in the […].1 Yes, the headline cut off there. Clearly very reputable news source being fished from (read more about finding reputable asthma news! Hint: It is typically not about reality TV). Though I am unsure what I was expecting, it’s Big Brother, after all.
A quick Google today (February 13 for those playing along at home), shows results that Omarosa “played up” her asthma, was questionably hospitalized, and—perhaps most important to any Big Brother fans out there—would be back in time for the elimination round.

‘Playing up’ asthma

Now, here’s where people will maybe get up in arms—the words “played up her asthma”.1 Not me.

Honestly, this was my first thought—that I’m not getting up in arms about the dramatization. I haven’t watched the clip because nooo I am not going down that rabbit hole.

Here’s the thing: we are well acquainted with scenes of people who can’t breathe being used to dramatize things. LOTS of things. If someone is on Big Brother, surely they like the drama just a tad (based on my very poor understanding of the show, of which I know actually nothing other than people live in a house and are presumably filmed 95% of the time, and are competing for something).
So, guess what: it’s TV. People are going to exaggerate everything from their interpersonal dramas to their relatively quirky character traits, to yes, how much their chronic disease sucks.
It makes for better TV than “I took an inhaler and I was fine”.

I’m not doubting her asthma or the severity of her asthma. I know nothing. I’m just saying, if she played it up… so what? Is this not THE POINT of reality TV?

Past exposures: Asthma in Reality TV

I sadly cannot find a clip from the cancelled-in-2002 show No Boundaries, where teams trekked across North America in a race-type fashion sponsored by Ford. I do for some reason, despite that I wouldn’t be diagnosed with asthma for another seven-or-so years, remember a scene where partners Matt and Kirsten were riding along on their bikes and Kirsten suddenly gasps “Matt, where’s my puffer?” in a panicked voice. (It is possible she alternatively says “Matt, I need my puffer,” but the point is the same.)

If I recall correctly, the bikes are stopped, Matt produces the puffer from his backpack, and there is some sort of dramatic slow-motion scene of Kirsten shaking her metered dose inhaler and inhaling the medication. Given I recall no other drama than this one dramatization, I presume she recovered just fine, and the team resumed the bike ride. And (perhaps somewhat unrealistically) asthma was quite possibly never mentioned again on the show.

How have you seen asthma represented?

I don’t watch a lot of TV, reality or otherwise. In fact, if I’ve even turned a TV on and changed the channel it’ll usually be on the Food Network. So, I must turn to you, readers, for your opinions on asthma in the reality-show media.

How have you seen asthma portrayed on reality TV shows? Did you feel it was accurate, over-dramatized, and do you feel it was positive or negative to the asthma community? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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