What follows is something like a typical scene from the ever popular Jeremy Kyle show – if its enduring appeal mystifies you then consider my theory…………..
“You two don’t have any simple human respect for each other”
“Yes but we came on the show to try and fix….”
“SHUT UP!!! I HAVEN’T FINISHED TALKING AT YOU YET”
“I’m not sure this really was the best forum for trying to reconcile our difficu….”
“I SAID SHUT UP! SHUT YOUR POISONOUS MOUTHS AND LISTEN TO ME!!!!!” BLACK T-SHIRTED HENCHMEN RESTRAIN THEM!!! FORCE THEIR FILTHY MOUTHS CLOSED WHILE I CLIMB UPON MY HIGH HORSE AND EXPATIATE!!!”
Firstly, it doesn’t have to be Jeremy Kyle, you could really put any angry, sneering, self-righteous, disapproving ringmaster into that circus and they would appear, relative to their on-stage participants, well dressed, successful, intelligent and moral.
It’s what we perceive as Kyle’s moral compass that’s meant to link us to him, that connects the audience at home with the audience in the studio and sets us, as a collective, apart from the scrapping sub-human scum on stage. In the real world we know that Jeremy Kyle isn’t any more “moral” than us because he stole from his ex-wife to fund a destructive gambling habit. He met his current wife after she “won” a competition on his radio station to marry a complete stranger – not very surprisingly, this didn’t last. But hey, all that was before he was canonised by ITV to referee human bear baiting – so that’s all right then.
No, it’s the poor people on stage that keep so many tuning in. Poor in every sense of the word. Because here’s the thing: seeing the morally destitute, airing their dirty laundry in front of a studio audience on a daily basis is, for millions, oddly comforting. It plays a very important role in the ongoing pacification of the lowest social strata, because this show and others like it are the social counter-balance for the abiding culture of celebrity.
Consider that comfort is measured by humans in terms of relativity: a billionaire and a homeless person could describe exactly the same bedsit and their perception of its merits would, no doubt, be polarised. Bearing this in mind is important in realising how the satisfaction of a normal person could be adversely affected by continuous media exposure to the social elite: Hello, OK, Cosmopolitan, a plethora of TV shows mistakenly labelled “reality”. Young, beautiful and rich people are constantly paraded before your eyes, people whose concerns appear to be limited to matching stilettos to super-yachts, deciding on the name of their new aftershave or being vocally ungrateful about the contents of their after-show party gift bag. Their ubiquity normalises their concerns and their conduct, even though it bears no resemblance to normal life.
Understandably, if you’ve been lugging-2-kids-and-a-week’s-shopping-back-through-the-rain-because-you-missed-your-bus-because-you-had-to-put-something-back-because-your-benefits-have-been-cut-but-you’re-still-trying-to-not-let-the-kids-know-just-how-close-to-desperate-life-really-is, then reading about Posh’s “struggle” to settle down in Los Angeles could make you feel just a bit unsatisfied with your position in society. When literally anyone can be famous, just for being famous, who is to say what’s normal? Where the focus of the TV and popular press is all about the social elite, the fact that you haven’t shaved your legs yet this year and you won’t be going on holiday again and there is catshit on the front lawn again even though you don’t own a pet, can really put a crimp in your perceived level of comfort. The phenomenon dubbed “status anxiety” means that your perception of your place in society can be drastically affected when you unconsciously reconfigure what is “normal”.
The Jeremy Kyle show, under the guise of helping its victims, shines the spotlight at the gutter rather than the stars, parading the under class of society through your living room and letting you know that, whilst you won’t be going to the Oscars this year, at least you don’t have an electronically tagged son who is stealing from you to pay for his alcoholic girlfriend, who is also your half-sister and your mum, to have a backstreet abortion so she can continue her porn career. It doesn’t matter that the conflict has been carefully orchestrated and edited for your viewing pleasure because all it needs to do is put a smelly and stupid Ronnie Corbett next to your Ronnie Barker to distract you from the well dressed John Cleese.
It re-establishes the norm.