Mackenzie Phillips

I was in a book shop the other day. Amongst the biographies and non-fiction crime was a section called ‘Painful Lives’. I merely sniggered at it and went on my way. A little later, it got me thinking about how the western world loves a painful tale.

This was confirmed with an episode of Oprah Winfrey starring Mackenzie Phillips, daughter of rock star John Phillips (of the Mamas and Papas).

In her interview with Oprah, Mackenzie promoted her new tell-all book ‘High on Arrival’, which effectively meant talking about how her famous dad used to give her drugs and have sex with her.

Mackenzie writes, “I had tons of pills, and Dad had tons of everything too. Eventually I passed out on Dad’s bed. My father was not a man with boundaries. He was full of love, and he was sick with drugs. I woke up that night from a blackout to find myself having sex with my own father. Had this happened before? I didn’t know. All I can say is it was the first time I was aware of it. For a moment I was in my body, in that horrible truth, and then I slid back into a blackout.”

Mackenzie says their sexual relationship became “consensual” and that we all shouldn’t hate her father for what went on.

Grisly reading huh?

As odd and huge as this story is, it serves as a reminder to me that there is a clear commercial-need for painful lives on our box. Many tune in, day-in and day-out, to shows like The Jeremy Kyle Show and re-runs of Rikki Lake on ITV2 to gasp and gawk at those with appalling personal lives.

I’m not entirely sure it’s a healthy thing as I’m a little concerned that it detaches the viewer from the terrible things that happen in the world. By the same token, most people appear on these shows with an agenda because the best place to air your pain is, generally speaking, not broadcast to millions of people.

It’s a very strange phenomena that will no doubt be looked back on in a couple of decades from now as one of TV’s strangest quirks. The wallowing of other people’s misery.

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