I’ve spent a couple of mornings this week watching The Jeremy Kyle Show. If you don’t have the luxury of being around during daytime TV hours, you might not have seen it, but you’ll almost certainly have heard of Kyle and his show.
It’s a variation on the Jerry Springer formula. And why not, Springer’s show was a huge success – you bring on people from the lowest echelons of society and let them rip into each other. The topics are usual fodder – DNA tests, lie detector tests. Drug addiction, boozing, bad parenting, crime, men who try to sleep with every female in a given family. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the down-and-outs and council house dwelling masses were no better than animals.
That’s the thing about the Kyle show. There always seems to be a ready supply of scoundrels and scumbags for Jeremy to point his finger of justice at. Physically, these people are in bad shape – buckled teeth, cross eyed, often seriously obese. I say this, because the physical is surely some indication of their mental condition – when they come out on the stage shouting insults at each other, pointing fingers and snarling.
A couple of years ago, Carole Cadwalladr wrote an insider piece for The Guardian showing what goes on at a Jeremy Kyle show. It’s essentially a kangaroo court in which Kyle himself is the judge and jury.
Without rehashing that article in its entirety, it claims the Kyle show is a mess of sensationalism, that its real goals aren’t to help the people who go on the stage, but to point the finger at them and ridicule them. It alarmingly points to a lack of support facilities for those who go on the show: from mental health screening to aftercare.
Before I leave the Guardian expose, here’s a brilliant quote (that bizarrely might apply to a lot of ITV’s programming involving the public):
When I describe to Hodson the scene that I witnessed, he says: ‘Do you know that they closed Bedlam precisely on the grounds that they thought it was unfair to laugh at the patients? And that was back in 1770. These programmes – Kilroy, Trisha, Springer in the States, and now Kyle, stand or fall entirely on the quality of the research. And I think there is a place for them. But there is no place for exploitation of the vulnerable and the mentally challenged.’
For me, this hits the heart of the matter – Jeremy Kyle presides over a bizarre kind of theatre (like Springer, who calls himself the “Ringmaster”). I find myself revulsed by the piss-poor examples of humanity. These people exist in the real world? And there are so many of them, breeding out of control, because the only activities open to them are telly, booze, drugs and sex. Watching Kyle is proof positive that natural selection is dead.
And yet, we laugh at these people too – I watched a guy on the show the other day who did a DNA test to prove whether his girlfriend’s baby was his or not. He was white. She was white. The baby was cute as a button, but undeniably black. And yet the woman declared with a straight face that she thought this man was the baby’s father.
But my biggest problem with Kyle’s presenting style? That he joins in with the heckling. He’s all about blame, not about solutions. There’s a whole sub-culture out there watching this show. Rather than help his guests move beyond their current predicaments, Kyle prefers to choose a ‘goodie’ and a ‘baddie’ to star in his theatre.
The thing is, I applaud his moral messages when he chooses to make them – take responsibility for your actions, your children, be a better parent, be a better husband, wife, whatever. It’s just that The Jeremy Kyle Show could be so much better. OK, establish that someone has failed, but teach them to move beyond their failing. Help them find counselling, help them rebuild relationships. Offer advice packs to other viewers who may be experiencing the same situations!
I don’t understand how blaming someone and bringing them low is helping. If you knock them down, you have a responsibility to build them back up again. Especially if they’re your viewers and your stage guests.
If you’ve never seen the Kyle show, here’s a snippet from YouTube. You be the judge…