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News Commentary: An Unpleasant aspect of British Culture

Years ago, more in fact than I really care to think about if I’m truthful, after watching an evening programme on TV I switched channels to watch something else later and caught a programme I’d never heard of partway through. What caught my eye was the camera focussed on a single individual whose looks were somewhat vampire-like.

I’ve never been one to think ill of somebody simply because of how they look or what they choose to wear, indeed quite the opposite. I like the variety of style and the differences we have – life would be very boring if everybody looked the same, talked the same, thought the same way and did the same things. This particular individual however, was rather eye-catching so I carried on watching.

The programme was one of a multitude of US imports that have been seen on British TV for decades and this one was the Jerry Springer Show. I’ll admit to being a little fascinated by the idea that some ordinary people like those shown on Jerry Springer, could appear on nationwide TV and bare their souls over their personal lives, so I watched a number of editions of the show. Morbid curiosity perhaps but I watched them for a while. One of the more bizarre aspects to it was the end credits, where a number of audience members appeared briefly to sing ‘We love ya, Jeery!’

What was there to love? An unknown (on this side of the Atlantic) TV presenter fronting a programme in which the dysfunctional and disadvantaged outlined their troubled personal existence, often with outbursts of violence – quickly it must be said, suppressed by very large, beefy-looking bouncers who pulled the flailing combatants apart. Having confessed to watching some of them, in my defence however I never became a devotee, addicted to a weekly fix of somebody else’s difficulties.

Still, why should we care? We British don’t go in for this sort of thing and this came from, after all, America. As somebody once said to me, ‘I don’t want to go to America. America’s full of weirdoes.’ A very inaccurate statement and shown to be so by my own visits to the USA - it is not ‘full of weirdoes’ and never has been. Like everywhere, the USA has millions of good people and it is a country that has given much to the world that is for the good.

It has also given some things that are not so good. Just as the UK has, just as everywhere has. One of the not-so-good was The Jerry Springer Show and the concept, the idea behind it. What happens in the USA often finds its way over here however so we should not really be surprised that having been broadcast in the UK the UK must thus have its own version. Hence the appearance of The Jeremy Kyle Show.

For Springer, read Kyle and for the last fourteen years, Jeremy Kyle has been following the Springer format of bringing into a TV studio a lengthy succession of people who have problems of one kind or another and making a show of those problems. I do not for one moment suppose or believe that either Jerry Springer or Jeremy Kyle are bad people but I have to question their moral compass, along with those of the production crews behind them.

Where is the justification for having somebody on TV querying why her teenage sister is a prostitute? Why do we need to know whether or not somebody’s brother is having an affair with their other brother or their wife? Most of all, why is it that so many people, all of them daytime viewers, are so engrossed by the problems of others? Must we really gawp at and apparently enjoy what one court judge called ‘a form of human bear-baiting.’

And just as much to the point, why are there so many people wanting to appear on such a show? One episode, entitled ‘You brought another man into our bedroom but are you a cheat?’ concerned a threesome and the husband involved has been reported as saying: ‘The threesome was all fiction. My wife was reluctant but she wanted to go on the show because she watches it and they said they would give us money.’

Ah, one might say. Money. MONEY! Give people a sniff of what appears to be some easy cash and the chance of getting themselves on the telly and wait for the rush. Because there will be one. The result, in the UK, the USA and elsewhere, is shows like Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle. The Jeremy Kyle Show came along in 2005 and a run of fourteen years doesn’t happen without an impetus behind it. That impetus comes from, in the case of ITV who broadcast it, advertising revenue which is gained from viewing figures. Viewing figures thus must be maintained, no matter what the cost, a cost that is paid by the lives of those who appear on shows like Jeremy Kyle. And the success of such a show is an indictment of many of those viewers; for nearly a decade-and-a-half The Jeremy Kyle Show has been a success because it panders to the lowest and oldest form of human entertainment; the shameful thrill of watching someone else suffer. The Jerry Springer Show was almost tame compared to what Jeremy Kyle’s version became.

The Jeremy Kyle Show has now been pulled permanently from the airwaves but that it existed to start with is also a judgement on British society. It may be the Germans who invented the concept of schadenfreude but you need to cross the English Channel in this direction to experience it at its nastiest and most reprehensible.

© Kevan James 2019.

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