Let’s All Humilate the Weak Together. What Fun!

Bear Baiting

I enjoyed reading this little bit in the Times about a judge in Manchester getting stuck into some goddamn awful talk show because it provoked one of its guests into nutting someone on air.  The quote from the Times piece is here:

“The circumstances of this case are exceptional and the provocation involved seems to be paramount. I have had the misfortune of viewing The Jeremy Kyle Show and I feel bound to make some observations.

“It seems to me that the whole purpose of the show is to effect a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people who are in some kind of turmoil. It is for no more and no less than titillating members of the public who have nothing better to do with their mornings than sit and watch this show, which is a human form of bear-baiting under the guise of entertainment. The people responsible for this, namely the producers, should in my opinion be in the dock with you, Mr Staniforth.”

Good.  Fuck the producers of these things and fuck the audiences too. This must be one of the most utterly unedifying sights in modern culture, how we get together to mock, deride and humiliate the weak and the foolish in our society.  I am not saying they aren’t entertaining because I find them compellingly awful myself – they are the very epitome of car crash TV.  But I do not and will not watch them.  Circus talk shows, the love of reality TV, the mobs who gang up to attack paediatricians, the howls of self-righteous outrage that accompany press witch-hunts – they’re all part of the same ugly instinct and I really wish we knew better than to indulge it.

The people who watch shows like this remind me of the outraged mob who formed when the children who killed James Bulger were released in 2001.  Most of those people were dreadful human beings going about making threats and getting on their high horses about something for no other apparent reason than to simply manage to give their own lives a sheen of validity by forcibly making the point that no matter how worthless they were as individuals, at least they weren’t as bad as  those two Evil Child Murderers.  It had nothing to do with the issues at hand, it was just personal validation through facile, hysterical self-righteousness.

With talk shows the mechanism seems to be similar: part of the enjoyment of watching is intrinsically related with boosting our own self worth by claiming acres of distance between our own normal, banal lives and the freaks that are on the telly.  With Venables and Thompson, at least they actually did something bad.  The reaction to it was disgusting to behold, but they at least were responsible themselves, although given they were ten at the time, the extent is debatable.

In the talk show scenario all the exhibits need to do to deserve our vicious taunting and ridicule is to be dysfunctional.  Or stupid.  Or weak.  We are rounding up the lame and the impotent, putting them on show like animals and then provoking them to do something humiliating so we can all laugh at them.  How is this different from the early years of boxing, where some folks would ’round up a couple a niggers’ and make them batter each other to a bloody, comatose pulp for the entertainment and sport of the white audience?  This is the level at which the producers of these shows find themselves.  Congratulations.  You must be very proud.  How is this any different from dog fighting?  The only difference is that neither being mentally deficient, rather than actually brain damaged, nor emotionally crippled are currently recognised as being part of a neatly defined ‘minority’ deserving of protection or pity.

If you watch this shit you are essentially enjoying the humiliation of the weak to make yourself feel better and you should be abjectly fucking ashamed of yourself.  Is it any wonder bullying is on the rise in schools?  This is why I hate the Pete Doherty Tabloid Circus.  That is why watching these idiotically vain celebrities and pseudo-celebrities make fools of themselves for us all to laugh at on reality TV turns my stomach.  That’s why I felt such a dick for posting that Britney rant the other week.  Yes, they are culpable themselves and yes, it is compelling in a rather gut-wrenching way.  But we should have some fucking dignity and have our fun at the expense of someone capable of defending themselves for a change.

So, erm… Christ.  What songs do I put with that little honey, then?

Radiohead – Karma Police
Daniel Johnston – Like a Monkey in the Zoo
Eef Barzelay – Ballad of Bitter Honey
Bob Dylan – Who Killed Davey Moore?
Pearl Jam – Jeremy

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