The Sensible Knave

"I do not see that we are further along today than where Hume left us. The Humean predicament is the human predicament." - W.V.O. Quine

Monday, January 09, 2006

Did You Know that Talk Shows are Exploitative?

A leftist critique of daytime reality programming. You can make this stuff up:

The worst is probably Jerry Springer, who loves to pit cheating lower-class couples and their lovers against one another. On a typical Springer episode, audience members leap “Jerry, Jerry” while the freaks chase each other around the stage. Security personnel are carefully positioned to prevent excessive violence.

Then there’s the real-life judicial shows, wherein small-claims and divorce justices likes “Judge Judy” and “Judge Joe Brown” preside over dysfunctional poor people who can’t stop bitterly arguing with each other. These television judges lace their proceedings and judgments with lectures on proper behavior and values, accompanying their legal verdicts with cutting comments about the rabble’s insufficiently middle-class comportment and conduct and instructing them in the virtues of work, fidelity, family responsibility, and the respect for authority.

What’s going on here? Beyond their profitable (for broadcasters) appeal to the public’s most base and voyeuristic instincts, these and other “real—life” television shows play a neglected ideological role in the corporate-crafted “popular culture” of parasitic late capitalism. They are part of an elitist thought control project: the cultural engineering and enforcement of mass consent to social hierarchy.

Along with numerous other corporate television productions they propagate at least two central authoritarian ideas. The first such idea maintains that poor people –--- it is practically always working- and lower-class people who get held up for ridicule in the human cockfights staged by Maury, Jerry, and the rest –--- deserve their own poverty and related isolation and criminalization in America. A college student who has been mass culturally weaned on Jerry (Springer), Jenny (Jones), Sally (Jesse-Raphael), Judy (the judge), and Maury et al. is not a good candidate to follow his left-liberal sociology, history, or English professor’s discourse on the role that structural forces and elite agents of class, race, and/or gender oppression play in creating mass inequality and misery in the United States. The endless army of stupid, hateful, alienated, and hopeless poor people paraded across her television screen by Maury and his friends strike the student as being oppressed by nobody or nothing so much as themselves.

Of course, Maury and Jerry don’t do shows about the rampant social injustice that produces the people who show up on their stages. Judges Judy and Joe Brown and the authorities on Divorce Court don’t adjudicate on the political-economic abandonment of the inner city or the corporate globalization that destroys jobs, families, and communities.

I just can't believe that I've lived a lie for so long. I really thought that the Springer show was dignified. Now I see that it isn't, as the host and the writers fail to address the root causes of dysfunction.

I doubt that these shows really want to focus solely on the poor and lower middle class; domestic drama involving the well-to-do should be just as scintillating. I take it that the well-to-do just aren't as willing to air their dirty laundry on national television. Go figure.

As for the court shows, they clearly do address a root cause of conflict: personal irresponsibility. Watch Judge Judy and see. These judges promote individual responsibility through education and shame. A question for the academics: don't you wish you could read dishonest or manipulative students the riot act like Judge Judy does as she deals with an unscrupulous party? I suppose that some of you do that already. If so, shame on you for failing to address the root causes of their personal issues.

Wait, never mind. Shame has no place in a society where government can address every personal issue.