On Oprah, Phil, Barbara, Larry, early-morning television, late-night television, all-day radio, any open mike anywhere, Kitty Dukakis, today's celebrity drug addict, is telling her tale of fast-track doldrums. She's unhooked and sober now -- by a matter of minutes, it appears -- so the melodrama of recovery is a large enough rug under which a basic question can be swept: Can't Kitty Dukakis wait five or 10 years to be sure her recovery has taken, and if it has and if the bare-it-all urge is still irresistible, then hit the Oprah-Phil-Barbara-Larry circuit?
Apparently not. The times don't dictate it. A subspecies of celebrity interview has been emerging in which confessions of self-destruction by the seemingly indestructible are blurted to the world for no grander reason than a talk-show booker called with an invitation to come on for a segment of Angst-gab.
These are the Talking Wounded. Kitty Dukakis, on tour promoting her book "Now You Know," follows Richard Berendzen and Marion Barry as this season's celebrated revelationists. In May, Berendzen, the resigned president of American University (and here I should note in the interest of full disclosure that when Berendzen was president, I was involved in a dispute with the university over cancellation of a course I taught there) went on ABC's "Nightline" to tell of his compulsions to make obscene phone calls. That wasn't enough. He went before the cameras again to pose as the cover boy for the Sept. 23 Washington Post Magazine. He provides more details about his dialing days -- stronger bleach for dirty linen -- while dispensing newly gained wisdom: "You just don't know" when personal disaster can hit. That profundity is something Susan Allen can agree with. She is the woman who had Berendzen's calls taped by the police, describing them as "filth beyond your most horrible nightmares."
Mayor Marion Barry, convicted on a cocaine count, declined to run for reelection, but with the good of the masses in mind, now seeks a seat on the city council: "My ego is less now than it used to be. I think I can reach out and be sort of the healer, the love and unity candidate."
While Dukakis, Berendzen and Barry continue trouping before the public to tell of their new lives as Comeback Kids, their quasi-normalcy poorly masks that they are still addicted -- to applause, to attention. A high is a high, whether from drugs, dirty phone calls or cheers from the crowds for being tough cookies who don't crumble during a public catharsis. Why can't these three do what is truly extraordinary -- go back to being ordinary people? Life with no megaphone. A decent interval of saying "no comment" to the media and "no dice" to the bookers.
The fakery that Dukakis, Berendzen and Barry are selling is that getting on the road to recovery equals arriving at recovery. This insults the numberless anonymous people who, after years of hurting themselves and others through addictions and failures, pay the debt off with the restitution of silence and humility -- the essentials for the hard toil of genuine recovery.
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst, understood the process: "Every individual needs revolution, inner division, overthrow of the existing order, and renewal, but not by forcing these things upon his neighbors under the hypocritical cloak of Christian love or the sense of social responsibility or any of the other beautiful euphemisms for unconscious urges to personal power. Individual self-reflection, return of the individual to the ground of human nature, to his own deepest being with its individual and social destiny -- here is the beginning of a cure for that blindness which reigns at the present hour."
The media, with exploitive bents, aren't serving the unrecovered downfallen by taking down their every cliche'. The fact that you have hit bottom and are on the way up does not automatically confer sagacity. If introspection or tales of daring are what the media seek, they would have fatter pickings by telling the stories of victims.
They, too, have recovery sagas worthy of "Nightline" or a magazine cover. These are citizens whose accomplishments range from staying sane in a bonkers culture to volunteer work in the neighborhood. They keep faith with private commitments that the world will never hear about, or would understand if it did. Their energy is in dealing with their problems, not broadcasting them.