Like many modern offices, the one I work in has a whole host of plasma screens around the walls, all of them tuned into one of the countless 24-hour news channels. Every now and again, when there is a sporting contest of national importance or interest taking place, the powers that be decree that to boost morale it is acceptable to switch the channels over to whatever regular station is showing the event. As a result I was sitting at my desk when London was awarded the 2012 Olympics, Usain Bolt smashed the 100 metres world record in Beijing, and when Rob Green ended his own England career by allowing Clint Dempsey’s daisy cutter slip into the net during the last World Cup.
One side effect of this is that the televisions are often left on BBC1 or ITV for the duration of the tournament. This means that every now and again ‘Bargain Hunt‘, ‘Loose Women‘ or ‘The Weakest Link’ will play every day for a month on multiple TVs in virtually every room and corner of the building. For visitors to the site this must make for quite an odd experience, especially when you consider that all of the televisions are muted. Come to my place of work during the summer months and the chances are that everywhere you turn you’ll be greeted by either David Dickinson, Sherrie Hewson or Anne Robinson silently going through their respective range of gurns, winks and smirks.
The strange effect this merciful silencing has on the programmes is most apparent when ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show‘ is on air. With the sound on, it’s one of British TV’s most shamefully dreadful shows with ridiculously stereotypical working class members of the public (none of whom appear to dress up for their day in the spotlight, doubtlessly due to instructions given to them by production staff) air their dirty laundry for viewers whilst Kyle wanders around the set tutting, goading and generally judging them. the contempt he shows his guests is so uber-Daily-Mail that it’s gone beyond parody. It’s amazing that Kyle manages to keep up his act as a disgusted moral guardian as the thought of how many Marks & Spencer ‘Autograph’ suits he can buy with all that advertising revenue.
With the sound taken away Kyle’s show takes on a different life. In fact it resembles a modern staging of a classic opera, something that is still apparent on every subsequent viewing whether the sound is on or not.
Kyle enters the stage like the narrator from Stravinsky’s ‘Oedipus Rex‘ and sets the scene of what we are about to witness. As the show goes on he takes on more of a fatherly role towards his guests, though admittedly a highly critical father like Melchthal from Rossini’s ‘William Tell‘.
The majority of episodes feature large, scowling women shrieking at each other at length over some crisis involving either variations on wife-swapping (‘Cosi fan tutte‘ by Mozart), a villainous love-rat (‘Rigoletto‘ by Verdi), a child with two possible fathers (‘Le filibustier‘ by Cui) or just a general disagreement between neighbours (Gounod’s ‘Romeo et Juliette‘). All the while the audience, like the chorus, howl their opinions from the sidelines. In the end there is normally some uneasy resolution that pleases only one or two of the participants (Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘Mikado‘).
I am not alone in noticing this of course. Just a few years ago there was uproar over the perceived blasphemy in Richard Thomas’ and Stewart Lee’s ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera‘ and the principal is somewhat the same. What it all signifies is really that for all it’s claims to be about real people in real situations ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show‘ follows the oldest dramatic concepts. Good versus evil, affairs of the heart, threats of financial ruin, dysfunctional family life – these ideas are at the centre of infinite works of entertainment, literature and music. There really is nothing new under the sun.
The admission by production companies that ‘reality’ television has nothing more to do with real life than an episode of ‘Doctor Who‘ has reached its peak with programmes such as ‘The Only Way is Essex‘ where young people who are not actors are recruited from nightclubs or high street shops and are put into staged situations and encouraged to behave as idiotically, chauvanistically, or promiscuously as possible. Somehow, despite the obvious choreography, these people’s lives become something to aspire to for many.
The attraction of reality TV seems to be almost limitless, but I don’t really see the point in it all. As Jerry Seinfeld once said “if I want a long, boring story with no point to it I have my life”.