Sunday, November 16, 2008

today : I watch daytime TV

Having been bedridden and/or housebound (due to recovering from an operation) for the last three months I have had little to do but watch TV- something that I do normally but not in such huge amounts.

Daytime TV is mainly extremely boring to the point of making you feel like you are actually in a coma. Part of this effect is the sheer repetition. Houses, antiques, people arguing, DNA tests, lie-detector tests. Houses, houses antiques, people arguing, DNA tests, lie-detector tests. Houses, houses, antiques, people arguing, DNA tests, lie-detector tests. Houses, houses, antiques, people arguing, DNA tests, lie-detector tests...what day is it?

Although one show fascinates me. I was never ever a fan of Jerry Springer, and always feel defrauded when Jerry turns up on British TV wearing his serious intelligent liberal persona. It's as if he didn't make his fortune from a TV show that was all about humiliating the poor, mentally ill and socially inadequate, and nobody ever calls him on it.

Steve Wilkos, whose show is from the same stable as JS, takes this both a step further and a step back. I am fascinated by the fact that nobody seems to think this is abnormal behaviour. With his tough love template and his backstage counsellors, Steve purports to help people with their problems (like, for example, Montell Williams) whilst simultaneously parading them in a freakshow. Here's the thing that grips me about the show. Much of it is taken up with Steve and the studio audience bullying, name calling, humiliating and threatening nonentities. In short the bullies get bullied back.

I don't know how much these people are paid, or how true their stories are, but they seemingly are all willing to appear on TV and take a dose of abuse from Steve and his audience. Often the pressure is too much and they storm out. This gratifies me. We (Steve, the studio audience and the watching audience) have won. We have exposed the bullies as cowards unable to face any force even a degree tougher than themselves. They stand on what Steve calls rather territorially 'My Stage', and are forced to jump through hoops of aggressive humiliation. people. But in many cases the recipients are lowlife wife beaters, drug dealers, child abusers and selfish irresponsible chaotic nature of the show, I find it oddly thrilling. Who hasn't thought of giving some back to a bully? I certainly have. Like lots of people, I was bullied relentlessly at school (and sometimes at work) and found that the only real way to stop a bully is to punch them on the nose, or find some way to wrest power from them. On the other side, I can't say that I ever proactively bullied, but have sometimes found myself caught up in it by joining in the jokes and name-calling - especially as a schoolboy. In fact, I still worry that I may have inadvertently caused more damage than I ever realised at the time and wish I could apologise to the people involved.

Yet when it is all over I feel sordid and awful, a bit like I do when I finish a James Ellroy novel (except with Ellroy, it is because he skillfully and superbly draws you in to his imagined histories of 50s and 60s LA until you start to inhabit the obsessions of the plot and character. In other words, it is a consensual act of immersion and one which is 'pleasant' in the way fiction can be) , and cannot wait to turn over and watch nice middle class British people wallpapering their hallways and buying Clarice Cliffe salad bowls at auction.

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