14 October 2007 | bob the moo
Judge Berg was wrong, actual human bear-baiting would be a life-affirming, positive experience compared to this
I should probably be honest and say why I bothered to watch a week or so worth of episodes of the Jeremy Kyle Show. Firstly I did have it in my mind after reading Charlie Brooker gleefully ripping into some time ago; Brooker has such a way with words and his passion for what he hates is so raw that I find myself wanting to feel that strongly about something myself and check out what has riled him so much (which is probably the opposite of what he is trying to do as a critic but in fairness he is also the reason that I watch The Wire, so it all balances out). Secondly last week in the UK we had the court case of a man who assaulted another man on the show. In his remarks Judge Alan Berg referred to the show as something along the lines of being akin to "human bear-baiting" and was a "morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people". So with these glowing recommendations I thought I should at very least see it for myself.
Well, after a week or so, I cannot help that feel that the judge's comparison with bear-baiting was off the mark. I have never seen bear-baiting or a dogfight or a cockfight but I imagine when you go to one you know you are at one and that it is not being dressed up as something else or put forward as somehow being good for the animal so, bloody and cruel it may be, but at least it is honest in its aims. The same cannot be said of Jeremy Kyle's approach which doesn't even have the decency to allow the viewer to laugh at the subjects as weird chav-culture circus freak shows hell, at least Jerry Springer kicked back and enjoyed the car crash of other people's lives. But no, Jeremy Kyle never does that because, I suspect, it would be felt as lowering the tone.
There is no real risk of this though and, while I am not saying we need more Springer shows, at least it would make the relationship between subjects, producers and viewers an honest one. As it is though, the show tends to have a couple of settings but yet all of them are just as insincere as the others, the only difference being the approach and atmosphere of the specific episode. The show does the usual stuff that Trisha and countless others cover, so we have domestic abuse, broken relationships, cheaters confronted etc bl00dy etc. It all goes the usual way but what makes it significantly meaner than Trisha is Kyle himself. Knowing we are in a sea of this rubbish, he knows he has to make a mark. So where Jerry Springer will gently mock his guests and let the audience do the "you are trash" remarks, Kyle occasionally looks like he should have a bouncer restraining him such is the strength of his verbal assaults.
He goes after these gormless people, asking leading questions that he surely already knows the answer to given he is the host of the show (he isn't told what the show is about as he waits in his dressing room). So young mothers get gently asked about their drink problem and gently get asked "do you work at the moment", until the tempo changes and Kyle goes on the attack. IMDb reviewer davideo has commented that Kyle puts him in mind of Trisha crossed with Ray Liotta but at moments in the show all I can think of is Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, brimming with menace despite having just been your friend (just waiting for the show with the title "Tell me - what's so f**king funny about me"). Kyle really does go for it and I think it is him that makes the show such a lie in its presentation. I'm not suggesting that any of this type of show does actually "help" but somehow seeing Kyle "call a spade a spade" in a harsh and judgemental way, taking the audience with him removes any possibility that this show is about help.
But yet we still have to listen to the audience politely applaud at the end as if it has been of benefit and not just about Kyle laying into people. Shockingly at times it is easy to enjoy it, but only because the majority of the guests seemed to have been reached by producers flipping over flat rocks in swamps. Any parent with a child who wants piercings or tattoos should make them watch this show; tattoos still seem cool? No, thought not. Likewise, the various stories of offspring and DNA testing would have young people gladly wearing condoms even to hold hands. Slating these people further is too easy but ask yourself what sort of people would you expect on shows with titles such as "Prove I'm the Grandmother of your son", "Has my boyfriend been sleeping with men?", "Mum & sister, stop treating our home like a brothel" and the wonderful "If I stop drinking and hitting you, will you take me back?" or "You got 3 women pregnant at the same time but today confess you're gay!". Of course this is part of the approach of the show and makes Kyle's job so much easier it isn't hard for him to judge these people, we're all doing it. It is hard to fathom what makes them sign up for this but then I suppose in this day we are nothing if we are not on telly and the only people who matter are the famous people.
Overall this is nothing we haven't seen before but yet Kyle manages to take this formula and make it just so much more demeaning, voyeuristic, cruel and pointless. And when you look at his genre peers you have to admit that quite something.