I was listening to Bob Dylan when the news broke that ITV had axed The Jeremy Kyle Show. The song, Chimes of Freedom, was a reminder of how far times have changed since the great man’s heyday.
His Bobness was in his prime when, 55 years ago, he recorded one of his lesser-known tracks. It was written in the middle of the 1960s’ civil rights movement and expressed sympathy for “the luckless, the abandoned and forsaked”.
It occurred to me that in today’s popular culture the tendency is to pour scorn upon, rather than show solidarity with, “the countless confused, accused, misused, strung out ones and worse”.
Or, as in the case of The Jeremy Kyle show, to shout and scream at them in front of a sniggering studio audience.
It delivered good ratings, regularly attracting 1.5m viewers. And, as the BBC media editor Amol Rajan noted: “There is a massive disconnect here, between those who don’t like what Jeremy Kyle does, and want him off the airwaves, and millions who tune in. Those who want it off air generally don’t watch it.”
Except that I did watch it. Being a freelance writer who works from home, I occasionally tune in to the odd melodramatic soap opera, repeat of an Alan Partridge-esque game show and mind-numbingly bland auction programme.
Yes, I’m that sad. So sad I was transfixed when a This Morning presenter cut up a psychic banana to work out the gender of the royal baby. Or maybe that was just another one of my strange dreams.
Kyle’s show was a byword for voyeuristic, exploitative TV, but it was an undoubtedly entertaining format. I was once a fan of the genre.
As a “cub reporter” I wrote a fly-on-the-wall article in praise of Vanessa Feltz. Back in the day I used to enjoy Jerry Springer, Trisha and even the bombastic and improbably-tanned Kilroy.
But, as Vanessa herself put it this week: “The net effect of utterly smashing someone to smithereens in public can’t be to make them feel great about themselves. I think the success of The Jeremy Kyle Show really has been predicated on the snarling and the shouting and the attacking and the security guards and also (his) pugilistic, argumentative, very often hectoring and often entirely domineering and condemnatory personality.
“He has certainly riled and inflamed his guests and he’s flourished on the back of that.”
Serving up various guests’ – or should that be victims’ – infidelities, addictions and mental health problems for the delectation of the viewing public is a kind of misery porn.
Following the death of one of the guests in a suspected suicide, a 60,000-strong petition calling on ITV to axe the show – accusing it of making “entertainment out of suffering and humiliation” – proved that a large section of that public could no longer tolerate such a daily diet of humiliation.
“His tearing at his subjects’ exposed wounds, often class injuries,” wrote the academic Richard Seymour, “is the emotional crescdo of the programme; the ‘feckless poor’, the ‘underclass’, and ‘chavs’ – those in the bottom 20 per cent of society with no mortgage, no jobs, and no future. They were scapegoated as the vector of all social ills.”
It was worrying to discover that, on the same day this Theatre of Cruelty was finally closed down, an Institute for Fiscal Studies report revealed widening inequalities in pay, health and opportunities and warned of rises in “deaths of despair”, such as from addiction and suicide, among the poorest people in Britain.
Still, some loyal viewers were nevertheless shocked that the programme was culled. A few went on to Twitter to express their outrage.
A chap called Piers Morgan called out “the snobbery & hypocrisy being spewed by his critics” and reasoned that his mate Jeremy was “a great guy, an excellent broadcaster, and hugely popular with the vast majority of people who watched & appeared (voluntarily) on his top-rated show.”
I, too, was shocked...that this 21st century version of bear-baiting had not been pulled sooner. And I was outraged that such a vitriolic show, which profited from creating a public spectacle out of private trauma, had been allowed to run for 14 years.