Why Jeremy Kyle Represents the Worst in Our Society
About 5 summers ago I was in the throes of a pretty big bout of insomnia, most nights would begin with three or four hours of trying to will myself to sleep, and end with me finally going to bed at 8 a.m. (6 a.m. on a good day). Anyone who’s ever been up watching TV past the 5.30 a.m. mark will know that that’s when ITV2 usually starts it’s morning broadcast, usually with a pretty heft dose of Jeremy Kyle re-runs. So it’s fair to say that over the course of those six sleepless weeks I’d seen more than my fair share of ‘Jezza’ wearing that snidely scowl across his smug face, quipping people from on high.
For those of you that are somehow unaware of the show’s format, ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’ is, at face value, a talk show for people who want family issues resolved. But in reality, it’s a show that exploits the struggles of, 90% of the time, working class people, in the name of light entertainment. Jeremy Kyle, lovingly referred to as ‘Jezza’, parades these people onto a big open stage, and into the big red seats of despair. From here he grills his guests on the feud in question, arrogantly says things like “Do you know what I think?”, delivers his intentionally simplistic opinions, and sends them on their way, with the countless hours of strategical and manipulative production going mostly unnoticed. All the while, in front of a live audience; who sit, who stare, who laugh, who gasp, who boo. They are the braying jackals, the mob, feeding their insatiable lust for conflict, this is the colosseum of Rome re-incarnated within the walls of an ITV studio.
It’s pure British reality TV at it’s ‘finest’, the righteous degrading the immoral, wrapped up in the snug blanket of a hierarchical class system; a safe haven, where we can all sit and say ‘Thank god we’re not like them’. But have we ever taken a step back from it all? Have we ever noticed the villainy of the mob consciousness we experience whilst watching an episode of Jeremy Kyle? When you’ve watched four straight episodes at 7.30 a.m. on no sleep, it’s enough to make you wish it would just stop.
In 2007 a guest on ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’ was appearing in court to be sentenced for head butting a love rival in the aftermath of a show. Upon sentencing Manchester District judge Alan Berg delivered the following assessment: “I have had the misfortune, very recently, of watching The Jeremy Kyle Show. It seems to me that the purpose of this show is to effect a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people who’s lives are in turmoil.” Before going on to say: “It should not surprise anyone that these people, some of whom have limited intellects, become aggressive with each other. This type of incident is exactly what the producers want. These self-righteous individuals should be in the dock with you. They pretend there is some kind of virtue in putting out a show like this.”
Jeremy Kyle paints a harrowing picture of the working class, it’s poverty porn packaged as therapy. From the first minute to the last every facet of this lurid broadcast exists to demonise the people appearing on it, and to give you a sense of security, to tell you that you’re better than this, that this is what low-income families are like, and you should treat them relative to their economic status: worthless. The show’s archaic purpose blocks the enhancement of any true social consciousness. For as long as it remains popular, it will purvey the idea that drug addicts and low-income families are the scum of the earth, rather than the idea that they simply need some help; and that national television is not the place to receive it. It is the embodiment of our selfish, judgemental and stigmatising society, a black stain on British culture.
I’m not saying that Jeremy Kyle is literally the Devil, but somewhere around ten years ago the depths of Hell cracked through the surface of this world and out popped Jezza and his production team. We need to get beyond the idea that being poor means being a piece of dirt. We need to get beyond the idea that low-income families and substance abusers exist for our self-gratifying degradation. And most importantly of all, we need to move beyond the idea that other people’s private family problems are materials of entertainment.