My freshly illumined telly presented me early this morning with the catchily monikered “Wife, mom, bounty hunter”. Let me stress I wasn’t channel-hopping, but had gone to bed after watching Boulting Brothers’ “The Wrong Arm of the Law” on ch 133 last night. I wouldn’t want you to think that I deliberately sit and watch programmes such as the above, although “Judge Judy” is the exception to my televisual Puritanism, given that she has a carte blanche to be publicly and openly offensive to petty criminals that our magistrates courts could adopt to the country’s benefit. And to public gallery entertainment.
However, I watched “W, m, bh” for a few minutes, sitting literally slack-jawed as a skinny 13 year-old coloured girl, wanted for whatever minor misdemeanour, was handcuffed prior to being taken to jail. The authorities there refused to take her in since she wasn’t well, which had to be demonstrated to us by close-ups of the child out of her skull on Rock…pinprick pupils, lolling mouth, drooling, passing out on her feet….. this after the blonde bounty hunter had had the gall to whine to camera that this was the first prisoner she’d ever taken to jail who’d been refused on medical grounds. Bad mark, Sandra Scott, former female wrestler and porn star, slap on the wrist for you. Meantime, in the background, the youngster had fallen down, near comatose.
That this graphic footage of a deeply distressed child can be presented on TV at all is offensive. That it’s offered to us as entertainment is vile. That it was shown at 8.30 in the morning, around 12 hours before what is now nostalgically called The Watershed, is irresponsible at best. That there are many many people, presumably, who watch this programme tells us something unpleasant and disturbing about the society that the US of A has become and which we are, as ever, aping. I mean the leprosy-like spread of what I call “humiliation TV”.
It’s not as though this is confined to morning TV either. On CBS and other US-led channels you can enjoy the obviously mentally ill eponymous “Hoarders” until 4pm. Judge Judy will humiliate wrongdoers all day until 10pm. The murderous “Wives with Knives” (yes, really) arrives quite late in the day, as does “Cheaters” where double-crossing boy/girlfriends are set up to be caught on camera by the other partner, and a mass of verbal and physical violence and tears ensues. You can also gape at “Evil Twins” or “Pretty Bad Girls” (pretty…geddit? OK, “gals with more than killer clothes in their wardrobes”, in case you didn’t) whose only saving grace is that they’re shown at 10 at night.
Why is there today in an allegedly civilized First World this wish to see people hurt, humiliated, belittled, assaulted, derided? My instinct tells me that this is almost US backwoods redneck TV, but even were this so it doesn’t excuse the fact that in our own self-righteous smug way we too are now producing programmes which are as loathsome in their vicious prurience as anything from Across the Pond.
Top of the Slops is the appalling Jeremy Kyle Show which, in fairness to our American cousins, is the vilest piece of hypocritical bullying theatre on the box today, better even than Jerry Springer, I gather. It’s good to know we can still beat the USA at something. I don’t need to tell you of the disgusting creep and genuinely cowardly verbal thug that Kyle is: you’ve watched his show, even if, like me, only for ten horrified minutes. We all have – just like we’ve all watched porn. Which, in a way, is what Kyle is – moral pornography. Just as simulated BDSM acts on film excite viewers via wish fulfilment of a sort, so we’re able to gain smug satisfaction in watching selected physically ugly, socially inept, inarticulate, educationally challenged people “get their comeuppance” via cruel words and confrontational humiliation rather than leather and whips.
And one mustn’t forget “Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away!”, a jolly jinglette of a title with that neat touch of exclamation mark to add an extra dash of admonishment to it. Relax with a cup of soup in front of the fire as High Court bailiffs go into homes and businesses to have large debts repaid there and then. If you enjoy watching traumatic footage of a single mother and her children put out on the streets at an hour’s notice, unable to pay back rent because she’s never had enough money, not because she wouldn’t pay, then this is the show for you. “Serves her right – shouldn’t take on what she can’t afford” (like living in a squalid rundown 2-room flat), “should pay her way in life, not have children”- (all together now) “No better than she should be!”
And to my shame I’ve often watched this. Certain of what will inevitably come I’ve nonetheless switched over to see the humiliation, the fear, the shock and anger that accompany every one of these visits. Why? I’ve been hypnotised by the spectacle of human misery, by the feeling of “There but for the grace of God…”. No, no, I really can’t excuse myself via that last get-out; here and to a large extent with “Judge Judy” I’m no better than the many millions who watch all the series I’ve named for pleasure of the most perverse kind, and it does me no credit at all. That these shows are freely available here to anyone with a TV or tablet does this country’s moral standing no credit either. I thought myself a fairly decent man, but I’ve allowed myself to be contaminated and it’s not nice to know. That there are similar millions of others in “this other Eden, demi-Paradise” bodes ill for my grandchildren and their values.
The Roman Mob is reborn. That’s showbiz.