Monday, September 08, 2008
Salem's heirs. posted by Richard SeymourMoral panic can be a cosy affair. It brings us together on the side of right, and excludes those who are, not to put too fine a point upon it, arseholes. You know the sort I mean: gyppos, druggies, 'chavs', fat bald men with tattoos, asylum seekers, the unemployed, beggars, 'feral' youths, alcholics, the mentally ill. And the number one topic of such moral panic over recent years: paedophiles. Whatever the subject is, whether there is a creditable fear or grievance behind it or not, the point about moral panic is to identify oneself as virtuous by mere contrast with some example of untermenschen who is responsible for our decline. This heart-warming sensation can shade into a sort of genocidal sentiment, as in: "I think we should round em up and shoot em all." But most people don't want to do that, or even say it. Even the occasional mob frenzies are only briefly violent, as when a group of people firebombed a home in the West Midlands in the belief that paedophile was living there, but only succeeded in murdering a fourteen-year-old girl in her bed. No, moral panic is mostly passive, and generally a form of infotainment. It is contrived to keep people pissing and moaning in isolation, to drive them crazy with inaccurate claims and give them something to talk about that keeps them tuned in, or buying the paper. Page 3 gives you lovely Sarah, only just legal, exposing her breasts, while pages 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9, plus the editorial, gives you torrents of wind and fury about stranger danger. Your ire goes up, your defenses go down, and - bam! - the ads for unsecured personal loans, debt management schemes, cheap holidays, medium-priced technology and gambling scramble into your subconscious.
Well, The Jeremy Kyle show is just this kind of deal. By manipulating desperate, depressed, mentally unstable people into appearing on their shows to discuss their moral failings and have the former salesman-cum-presenter Mr Kyle pile scorn and abuse on them, ITV Productions has hit the mother lode. Many of the topics of traditional moral panic are combined in an intoxicating daily hit of hatred and sanctimony: unemployment, fecklessness, alcoholism, child neglect, spouse abuse. Kyle vocalises your bigoted, dumb-ass reactions for you too. You think it, he says it. You're screaming in your mind, at some poorly dressed geezer on-stage: "Get off your arse and get a fucking job, you wanker!" He's saying: "Get a job! Get off your backside and get a job!" Every day, they put some heretics and lowlives on the scaffolds, and every day the witchfinder fucking general conducts a thoroughly sadistic attack on some one who was conned into appearing on the show. Here's the testimonial from a former producer:
"They're very careful with the legal stuff - you can't mention who hit who if it's going to court - but if they truly screened for mental health issues, there would be no one on that show. Almost everyone who goes on it has some sort of issue. Normally they're at the very least depressed.
"The really heart-breaking thing is that these people, with massive real problems in their lives, honestly think that Jeremy Kyle is going to help them. I really I can't stress enough how callously I feel these people are treated. They don't care about the guests. They are absolutely the lowest priority."
And yet, and yet... because the show is so addictive, and because it sometimes finds the 'right' kind of arseholes to abuse and berate, it has its fans:
He found a champion in Johann Hari, the Independent columnist, for example. Hari wrote: 'Who are the villains of these shows, the people the audience find abhorrent? Men who treat women badly. Homophobes. Misogynists. Neglectful parents. Exactly the people who deserve to have an audience booing them.'
That's nice. As long as they're manipulating and abusing the right kinds of people. As long as she really is a witch. As long as the trial is aimed at real commies and not just nice liberals. As long as the firebombing is aimed at a real paedophile and not some poor girl lying in her bed. That's okay then.