With Armstrong's death, however, such things seem just one click closer. What is the difference between watching a man's marriage and life crumble before he commits suicide and watching the suicide itself? The younger generation certainly understands one possible trajectory: When author Suzanne Collins imagined a world so broken it televises an annual to-the-death competition among children, young readers sent her to the top of the bestseller list. No doubt discussions of Armstrong's death will appear in publications also busy reporting on the filming of "The Hunger Games."
So what's to be done? Nothing, and perhaps everything. Clearly audiences take pleasure in the divorces and downfalls of reality stars — shows like "The Real Housewives" are, we are told time and again, the new soap operas, only with real people. And that is important to remember. Though the people are real, the situations are not. Casting and scripting create the story and the drama — the overturned tables, the tearful confrontations — and that includes putting the participants in harm's way, either emotionally or financially.