Never once did I watch more than a passing clip of The Jeremy Kyle Show. The prospect of deriving entertainment from the public humiliation of people who’ve been damaged by the free market barbarism that holds sway in Britain never appealed to me. I grew up in it and am the product of it, the so-called underclass, and thus for someone like me to find anything funny or captivating about people from my background and class being routinely and ritually humiliated on national television would have constituted a craven act of betrayal, desertion even, and thus out of the question.
But what does it tell us about Britain in the second decade of the 21st century that it takes a man to commit suicide after appearing on The Jeremy Kyle show, this anti-working class theatre of cruelty, before common decency prevailed and the show’s broadcaster, ITV, pulled the plug?
It tells us that in certain environmental conditions base medieval values of attacking and punishing those who only crime is to be poor and uneducated or miseducated can and do supplant our capacity for compassion and empathy. It tells us that Thatcher did her job well, shaping not only Britain’s economic system but the dominant cultural values that have also been shaped thereby.
They are the values of rampant individualism, greed, narcissism, and the exaltation and apotheosis of cruelty as a defence against sympathy or solidarity with the victims of the society cultivated as a result.
Defenders of Jeremy Kyle (because such people do exist) do so on the most dismal and shallow of terms, arguing, mutatis mutandis, that his show was popular, that those who appeared on it did so of their own volition; and of course, reflecting the onward march of the libertarian right, we’ve been regaled with the usual declamations in support of free speech.
On the level of popularity, consider that in past times in our history public executions draw large crowds and ask yourself if ‘popular’ is always a failsafe unthinking metric of worth and validation? People are generally attracted to spectacles, to anything that allows them an escape from the fetters of the normality and banality of everyday life with its stifling social obligations and responsibility to maintain a level of decorum and respect towards others.
On a Freudian level, being afforded the opportunity to laugh and sneer at the demonisation and dehumanisation of other people without incurring a penalty or censure of guilt can be tantalising on a purely emotional and psychological level. Spectating at the public humiliation of others and finding it funny is a symptom of relief that we are not ‘they’ and that as long as there are such as ‘they’ exist the walls of our fortress of own self-worth will always be safe and impregnable.
The guests who’ve appeared on The Jeremy Kyle Show over the years did so of their own volition in the same way that a fly lands in a spider’s web of its own volition. Money talks, especially for those who have little, and of course let us not underestimate the extent to which the ability to make rational decisions and weigh up their consequences is impaired by poverty and all of the psychological and emotional maladies which flow from it, such as addiction, nervous breakdown, and relationship dysfunction.
For far too many daytime reality tv shows are all that’s left to provide a measure of titillation and escape. Escape to what, though, surely is the question? To something better or to something worse?
The worst transgression committed by Mr Kyle was the dehumanisation of the poor in such a way as to normalise poverty as a badge of human unworth. “Look at them, those reprobates, listen to how stupid and disgusting they are. No wonder they’re so fucked up. Morons.”
It goes without saying, however, that totally lost in the midst of this public flagellation is any notion that the state and condition of those being assailed and derided on The Jeremy Kyle Show on a regular basis may somehow or in some way have been connected to the spiritual battering they endured as a result of economic and social immiseration. Such a callous inversion is the very stuff of Thatcherism, though, isn’t it — i.e. the inference that the issue lies with the poor and not their poverty. Under said ideological inversion, we are invited to believe that their condition is self inflicted, a function of poor character, morals and discipline, nothing more.
Steve Dymond did not kill himself, he was killed — killed by the ritual humiliation he endured in the name of entertaining the masses.
The Romans couldn’t have done it better.