Celebrities are a derivative of “celebrate.” Who do we celebrate? Filmmakers, actors, musicians, writers, politicians? They all do something. But in the past 30 years, we’ve started to celebrate people who need no celebration because they haven’t done anything. I point the finger at MTV and it’s bloated use of “reality TV.” Say what you will about the veejays, but many of them had an ounce of journalistic integrity and those that came off as noxious were quickly given the boot.
But as The Real World, Road Rules and Jesse Camp pumped through the channel, it was only a matter of time before other TV stations realized they could take Joe and Jane Nobody and turn them into household names. When I first heard of Survivor, I cringed a little bit. We really had sunk low. People appeared on game shows like The Gong Show, The Price is Right and Press Your Luck to name a few to act like crazy characters, but most of them were quickly forgotten by the next show’s airing.
Survivor touched a nerve as did Big Brother. It was the hype factor. They were being discussed on the news stations as if it was actual news. If you can take a sleazeball like Richard Hatch and make him someone the audience loved to hate, you could have people tuning in each week. It was only a matter of time before Donald Trump would have to jump on the reality TV craze with The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice. Who Wants to be a Millionaire swept the prime time. People were going viral before viral was a thing, when people had to do dial up to check out the latest on the Internet.
So, when Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie became famous for The Simple Life, there was no turning back. After that show fizzled, the Kardashians entered into the realm of TV. We had gone too far. The Kardashians really had nothing going for them except for being off-spring of a lawyer on O.J. Simpson’s legal team and a former Olympiad who tried to act. Say what you will about The Osbournes but at least Ozzy had been around for a while.
Anyway, where I’m going with this is that all it can take is a TV interview or even a picture and the next thing you know, a person is a celebrity. Zeddie Little was running in the 2012 Cooper River Bridge Run and he smiled for a photograph as he and some other participants ran by. He wasn’t even in the forefront. It doesn’t matter. He’s the Ridicously Photogenic Guy. People have YouTube, TikTok, Instragram and so forth to make themselves famous. And for a while, people though a young nomadic man calling himself Kai was the next big thing.
On Feb. 2, 2013, Kai, aka Kai Lawrence, or legally Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, was hitchiking in California when he was picked up by a motorist named Jeff Simmons McBride in the Fresno area. According to Kai, he claimed that McBride was saying he was Jesus Christ and talked about raping a 14-year-old girl in the Virgin Islands. McBride had struck a pedestrian, so Kai got out of the vehicle to assist. A bystander comes to assist at which time McBride reportedly got out of the car and started to assault the woman in a bear hug. Kai said he pulled out a hatchet and began to hit McBride on the head.
Jessob Reisbeck of KMPH-TV in Fresno conducted the interview and uploaded it. And then it exploded with him getting calls, texts and emails on how he could contact Kai. The next thing, the production behind Jimmy Kimmel Live is wanting Kai to appear on the show. But they soon learn there is something off about Kai. He likes to urinate out in public and as one person explained, he smelled of alcohol because he loved alochol. They tried to book him into a hotel but he downed some whiskey and then rode his skateboard through the lobby getting thrown out.
People in the Netflix documentary say they saw warning signs early on that Kai wasn’t just some eccentric nomad skateboarder. He has an erratic behavior that is too much even for L.A. Sadly, Hollywood producers were trying to sign him up before someone else did even if he signed in his own hieroglyphic language. What they didn’t know is Kai had some serious problems.
As one musician he speaks with says, Kai more or less lets it go that he may have laced cannabis that he let McBride smoke that led to his behavior. And even the sheriff’s office has to arrest Kai at the studio where he was set to film for Jimmy Kimmel to get him to appear as a witness at that hearing. The man obviously wan’t what most people thought. And three months after the Fresno incident, he would be wanted in connection with the murder of Joseph Gaffy, a lawyer in New Jersey.
Kai even points finger at his new-found celebrity status as a factor in the murder and recounts how he was abused as a child, buit even that raises more questions than answers. To me it looks like Kai may have suffered from some form of AD/HD, but that doesn’t excuse his actions. I once worked with someone at a call center who would talk rather happily about how he lived out of his car. I understand he had some problems earlier in life but I also think some people in their late teens and early 20s don’t want to have the responsibilities of jobs and bills.
We see more of this today. Not to say that Instagram influencers and OnlyFans creators don’t work hard for their money, but most of what I see online is people just asking for tips or tokens for no other reason than because they are online. We’re seeing more of a pushback now against influencers than years ago. But we shouldn’t look past the Hollywood types who saw dollar signs when they should have done more vetting with Kai. I was watching a video on YouTube of a guy who said he went on several of those court shows with fake stories. People will do anything sometimes to get on TV, even if it’s lying.
However, Kai himself has only himself to blame. He claims that Gaffy, 73. sexually assaulted him and he was defending himself. But that was disputed. Kai was convicted for first-degree murder and sentenced to serve 57 years. The documentary is short, just a few minutes under an hour and a half which is rate for Netflix which draws some true-crime cases out to three or four hours.
Celebrity culture right now is a thing that is getting really criticized. Andy Warhol once said everyone will be famous for about fifteen minutes. And while Kai may have saved someone, people do that all the time and don’t become famous. At 9/11, Steve Buscemi returned to the fire station he worked and helped out for about a week. It stayed quiet for a year. Mark Harmon helped rescue people from a car collision and didn’t speak of it for years. Yet, a woman makes a video of herself in a Chewbacca mask and suddenly, she’s being showered in gifts. We have some strange priorities.
Still, I would highly reccommend the documentary because it’s one of those stranger than fiction stories.
What do you think? Please comment.