Beast of the Month - May 1998
Jerry Springer, Trash TV Talk Show Host
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
"My Daughter Is a Teen Prostitute!"
"I'm Pregnant by My Brother!"
"I'm in a Bizarre Love Triangle!"
"Online Strippers and Escorts!"
"I Won't Let You Sell Your Body!"
"Pregnant Bad Girls!"
"Guess What... I'm a Man!"
Actual titles of real Jerry Springer shows.
April's showers are gone, leading of course to... May's showers, courtesy of El Nino. That isn't all that is here, however, as May Sweeps period has left The Konformist bitten with boob tube fever. And, as The Konformist staff prepares to sit its collective duffs on the couch, bowls of popcorn, tortilla chips and salsa in front of us to stuff down our throats as we share a tearful farewell to four annoyingly neurotic New Yorkers who hate each others guts, another Jerry has captured our attention, and won a very special award in the process.
The Jerry Springer Show is described as a "talk show," but there doesn't seem to be much talking on his slugfest. Guests and topics are picked specifically for the hopes of a fight to break out, seating done in a manner that encourages this goal. Egged on by a slogan-chanting frenzy-whipped crowd, as well as Springer's manipulative questions that are designed to incite hatred, sooner or later, one (or more) guest inevitably explodes, the crowd celebrating the manufactured chaos in an orgy of wrath. A better comparison would be to pro-wrestling, except that, in the case of Jerry Springer, the fights are real.
Or are they? One of the many recent "scandals" involving the show involves alleged claims that many of the fights on this show are staged, and that the absurd tabloid-esque quality of many of the topics on the show are manufactured frauds. Maybe this is the case, but perhaps it says something about our society that we are so messed up that Jerry Springer could be 100% real.
Real or fake, Jerry Springer is riding high. In the last February sweeps period, the show became the first syndicated talk show to beat Oprah in over a decade, winning even more decisively in key markets and demographics. Along with kicking Oprah's ass, his video Too Hot For TV, filled with the best - or worst, depending on how you look at it - of the fights (plus tons of normally edited obscenities and nudity) has been the hottest thing on VCR this side of Pamela Anderson sucking Tommy Lee's salami. For his success, Jerry has been rewarded with a $2 million dollar movie deal, not to mention another million-dollar book deal that's in the works. Springer also recently signed a contract to continue hosting the show for another five years. All this peaked with one of the ultimate pop-culture awards: being a featured cover story on Rolling Stone.
Of course, with his success comes the flip side of criticism. And for Mr. Springer, there has been many critics. ABC's 20/20 and NBC's Dateline both chimed in, feigning moral disapproval at Jerry Springer's daytime demolition derby. Finger-wagging moralist - and former "drug war" kingpin - William Bennett has bestowed on Springer a "Silver Sewer" award for supposedly destroying the moral fabric of our society. Even the Rolling Stone cover had him with drawn-on horns to make him look like a devil.
The criticism and controversy has apparently affected the makers of Jerry Springer, as they announced the elimination all physical violence from the series. "We are getting out of the fighting business," claimed Greg Meidel, Chair and CEO of Studios USA (the producers and distributors of the show.) "It will still be confrontational, it will still be unpredictable, you will still sense the conflict. You will still see yelling and screaming. But we're not going to show anyone getting hit."
All of this means perhaps The Konformist is jumping on the bandwagon here, joining in a korporate media bashing of someone who defenders claim is really a populist icon. After all, isn't this a "free-speech" issue? And come to think of it, does The Konformist really have any right to look down on anyone for crass, depraved, anti-social behavior?
Maybe not. But the claims of "populism" and "free-speech" are easily shown to be more fraudulent than any fights on the show. Far from being a lone voice in the wilderness, Jerry Springer was a mere follower of the sleaze-a-thon bandwagon created by the likes of Morton Downey, Jr., Geraldo Rivera, Jenny Jones, and Ricki Lake. When, in late 1996 there was a backlash against the mindless drivel due to the Jenny Jones murder, all the other trash-fests began faking the high ground (Rivera going so far as wearing dorky glasses to "prove" how much he had changed.) Shrewdly, Springer held his ground (or perhaps just decided to remain wallowing in the muck), and suddenly found a power vacuum that needed to be filled. This is hardly a celebration of free speech, it's merely a championing of the Alvin Toffler analytic system and the free market, which is why media baron Barry Diller (reputed inspiration for The Simpsons evil nuclear power plant boss Montgomery Burns) recently bought up Studio USA. While Jerry Springer may be the current Omega of the depths of the vast wasteland, it is hardly the Alpha.
Still, the question must be asked: is that all that is going on here? Look again at the titles to the episodes listed at the top. In tone and style, they match up perfectly with the headlines presented in The National Enquirer and Weekly World News. As noted in Jim Hogshire's excellent expose of the supermarket tabloids (Grossed-Out Surgeon Vomits Inside Patient!), the tabloids have a long history of being intertwined with the Mafia and/or intelligence operations. They are often full-blown propaganda mills, shoving a racist, sexist, and reactionary political philosophy down the throats of its readers. As anyone who has the stomach to watch a full episode of Jerry Springer will tell you, the show celebrates in stereotypes that makes all whites seem like white trash, and all blacks seem like black trash. Which perhaps explains the show's multi-racial appeal, as it allows all types to chuckle in self-satisfaction at the proof for their own prejudice. Commentator Norman Solomon notes, "The people on stage are carefully selected to fit a script that stereotypes rather than illuminates. Relatively few Americans are 'qualified' to make it onto Jerry Springer's stage. The producers work awfully hard to find them."
Yes, Jerry Springer is certainly a slick opium for the masses, an attempt to channel the many frustrations of the people into the worst of scapegoats, rather than focus it on those with real power. Furthermore, as the episode "Online Strippers and Escorts!" will readily attest, it is a purveyor of paranoia, a willing collaborator in an attempt to equate the internet with out-of-control wild sex, all to urge cretins like William Bennett on as they attempt to stifle real free speech.
Yes, far from being a celebrator of free speech, Jerry Springer is the ultimate korporate tool in it's attempt to make open communication appear dangerous, which is one of the reasons why they are pumping so much money into it. It is the classic bait and switch, with the real target being not the Jerry Springers and his lobotomized worshippers but the kind of stuff you're reading at this moment.
For all his craven greed, Jerry Springer really does seem like a nice guy. As Sigmund Freud would note, his best and worst qualities both come from his childhood, when he barely escaped the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust that ensued, perhaps giving him a life-long sense of loneliness and despair. How ironic that the fascist cries of "Seig Heil!" are echoed in his audience's shouts of "Jerry! Jerry! " One wonders if Mr. Springer even realizes this irony, or, for that matter, if he even cares at this point.
He is a small man who needs attention, and is probably tickled pink that he's finally getting some. In fact, he'll probably be utterly thrilled that he's received this prestigious award. Well, Mr. Springer, The Konformist won't disappoint you. Here is what you always wished for, Jerry. Enjoy it while it lasts.
In any case, we salute you, Jerry Springer, as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Jerry!!!
Grossed-Out Surgeon Vomits Inside Patient!
An Insider's Look at Supermarket Tabloids
Jim Hogshire, 1997
The Drudge Report (That's right, The Konformist nemesis)
ALL HAIL JERRY SPRINGER, THE LATEST MEDIA BAD GUY
Post Office Box 24825
Los Angeles, California 90024-0825
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