In Defence Of…Jeremy Kyle

The Jeremy Kyle Show. A Cultural phenomenon? Anne Harris investigates.

 

Right, Jezza K. Before I say my piece, let me clarify two things:

1. I’m a fan. So sue me, it goes perfectly with my morning oatmeal and tea, and much like those other oatmeal-and-tea aficionados- the elderly- I don’t have much to do most mornings except complain about my backache and wait for those ‘all-important DNA results.’

2. With that in mind, I’m not going to take the angle of ‘Ok, so it’s horrible, but it’s a guilty pleasure!’ The term ‘guilty pleasure’ suggests that shame is an inherent part of the enjoyment. Much like waking up on your couch with a half-empty bottle of Lambrini on the floor, a few Maltesers stuck to your face, and an email from Amazon saying that the complete discography of N-Dubz has shipped, there’s just no reason to try justifying it.

What I’m going to do is defend Jeremy Kyle on merit; not as an embarrassing-but-innocuous bit of British telly, but as an actual, possibly positive, cultural phenomenon. Or at least try, anyway.

There are plenty of arguments against me. Since the show’s inception in 2005, accusations of exploitation, class insensitivity, and general bad taste have followed The Jeremy Kyle Show like a bad lie-detector result. In 2007 a Manchester district judge condemned its ‘bring ’em on, tell the tale, berate wildly, then wrap it up’ format as “human bear-baiting,” after ruling on an assault committed by a former guest of the show. Martin Samuel of The Times eviscerated Kyle’s guests as “a collection of angry, tearful and broken people” who likely feel “intellectually inferior” to the well-spoken Kyle. Critics can also point to Kyle’s personal failings beneath his self-righteous armour. The man had an admitted gambling addiction, and more damningly, a series of affairs that led to the demise of his first marriage. Beyond that, there almost seems something, well, non-British about the program, a certain crude entertainment in the revelation of deep secrets that seems almost Springer or Maury-esque. Could the nation have developed, God-help-them, American tastes?

Let’s knock these arguments down from bottom to top. While The Jeremy Kyle Show does take some format elements from Jerry Springer, there is an element of restraint seen in the British show. For example, at least at press time, Kyle has resisted doing an episode dedicated dwarf alien abductees getting paternity tests. As for his personal issues, Jezza’s too shrewd to smother them. He instead trumpets his problems as personal victories: I beat the gambling/womanising, and so can (and should) you. So all that’s left is the biggie: is The Jeremy Kyle Show exploitative? And what does it say about the British public that we seem to love this exploitation so much?

The obvious response is one of free will: having seen the show the guests know what they are getting into, and for whatever reason – a genuine desire to iron out problems, receive counselling, or just earn some notoriety in their local pub – they choose to participate in the browbeating/redemption cycle. In that sense, it really isn’t any worse than a Big Brother or Come Dine With Me type show. After all, making fools of ourselves on as big an arena as possible, and/or mocking those who do it, is one of the nation’s long-cherished pastimes. It’s not the whole answer, though.

The guests on Kyle generally fit within the stereotype of the worst examples of modern Britain: the council-house-living, dole-abusing, alcohol-swilling, and now mass-rioting working class. It’s worth asking; are the allegations of class warfare coming from those who would rather forget that such a disaffected working class exists? That despite years of New Labour and coalition policies there are still a significant amount of people out there with minimal education, career prospects, and numbers of teeth? Is Kyle merely looking under the nation’s milestones of progress to expose a teeming mass of inequality and frustration?

Or maybe, the ‘they just like to make tits of themselves on TV’ argument really does about cover it.

Looking back I’m not sure how good my arguments were in actually defending Jeremy Kyle to be a positive cultural influence. In closing, then, consider this: there are more than enough prospective guests for the show, their problems are real, and they receive counseling afterward. Or at least consider how much longer Lorraine would be on without Jezza K.

 

Anne Harris

Image Credit – lloydi

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