I wrote the piece below about four or five years ago. These days, Jeremy Kyle styles himself on a waxwork of a waiter from the Titanic, and has taken his hectoring talk-show to the States, its spiritual home – Jamie
His long-running show serves us up a daily dose of poor, stupid and ugly people with which to satisfy our voyeurism, and generally make us feel better about our own pathetic little lives. Jeremy and his production team like to pretend that each edition is a sort-of pseudo trial, designed to expose dishonest behaviour before a furious Jury of the People, an act that will surely take away the need for any real social work, and possibly save the world. It’s all about reclaiming lost dignity, punishing the sinful, mending fences and repairing lives. Is it? Is it really? Then why does it seem that all Jeremy – and, by extension, we the viewers – are interested in is humiliation on a grand scale, with the added bonus of the threat of violence?
The typical guest is from the north of England, or Scotland, possesses little in the way of teeth or intellect, and has usually been – despite resembling a walking tumour – shagging their entire home town. Paternity and lie detector tests are the order of the day. The results of the latter wouldn’t be admissible in a court of law, but anything goes in Jeremy’s daytime Kangaroo Court. That’s why there are so many big, bald men with tattoos on stand-by as security; just in case any of the big, bald men with tattoos featured as guests decide to pop Jeremy’s head off and use it as a football.
The episode I watched featured the usual slideshow of human sputum, tears and tantrums. One of the segments told the beautiful story of an adolescent male who had met and ‘romanced’ a young lady, only to find out after their brief relationship ended that his ex-beau believed herself to be pregnant with his child. He disputed the accuracy of this claim, and thus demanded that she submit to a DNA test. Once his neckless, feckless, and dietarily reckless ex-partner thundered out on to the stage, I too was pretty eager for a DNA test: to prove she was human.
The ex instantly endeared herself to the audience by free-style swearing, and nervously yet aggressively hitting her shoe. I know it’s become something of cliché to describe an inarticulate, chavish girl as being like Vicky Pollard, but Neckless really is the closest match I’ve seen; in looks, speech and mental processing abilities. She couldn’t see any connection between her outright refusal to submit to a simple test that would prove she was telling the truth about her pregnancy, and Jeremy Kyle’s mounting disbelief at her story. As guests often do on the Jeremy Kyle Show, she stormed off backstage. He followed her, changing his tone from hectoring, Hellfire Baptist minister to wise, understanding uncle. ‘Never mind them out there, it’s just you and me, now,’ he said to her, or words to that effect, refusing to let the fact that millions of eyes were on them both destroy the sense of intimacy he was cultivating.
‘Why don’t you want to take the test?’ he asked her softly. Her response almost had me rolling on the floor. ‘I’m not going to go down to his level,’ she said, rolling her eyes and continuing to batter her shoe.
Some might say that once you’re sitting on Jeremy’s backstage sofa it’s a little too late to worry about dropping a level or two. This is it, Neckless. This is rock bottom.
Let’s put aside our role as collaborating spectators for a moment (yes, I’m talking to you) and ask ourselves why anyone in their right mind (I think I’ve just answered my own question) would want to appear on Jeremy’s show. I see it as a venal circus, from which few emerge with even a shred of dignity; and that’s true even of the protagonists who initially approach the producers to get their pound of flesh from someone who’s done them wrong. Why don’t the guests see it that way? I can perhaps see why a cuckolded husband would want to see an angry audience screaming at his scrawny, cheating wife; but why would the wife want to subject herself to this treatment, and vice versa where the sexes are reversed?
Who gets a phone call from the Jeremy Kyle Show and thinks, yes, yes, I do want to have a middle-aged man shouting at me in-front of two hundred people, who will also be shouting at me, while the people watching at home hiss things like ‘scum’ at me. Well, perhaps you would consider doing it if you were dirt-poor, trapped in a life you couldn’t escape, ill-educated, desperate and sincerely believed that the Kyle show was an institution primarily concerned with helping people and not with exploiting and humiliating them for advertising revenue. Or if you were getting an all-expenses-paid trip to London, and the chance for your fifteen minutes of fame, however grizzly.
Certainly one thing you won’t see on the Jeremy Kyle show is a top-hat-wearing male doctor arguing with his Gucci-clad lawyer ex-wife about who’s going to get custody of their Shih Tzu, Phillip. How do the producers sleep at night? I’m sure the Nazi doctors salved their consciences by assuring themselves that their work was for the good of mankind. Maybe that’s what they do.
Our society, and care industry, must be in one Hell of a shape.