Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Pole Dance of the Stars

I suppose the purpose of a vacation is to relax, but it's a very specific kind of relaxation one gets at 17 Spruce Gate Drive. The crustiest of the upper crust tend to relax by polar methods. Some choose to stay at luxury hotels in the most cosmopolitan cities, specifically the kind of hotel that heaps on amenities like massages and free iPods and separate suites for pets. On the other end of the spectrum are the affluent vacationers who choose to retreat to the remotest of tropical isles for a week, a month, or however long it is you get when you're paying with a credit card named for an element beyond gold or platinum on the periodic table. You know, the ones that only exist for nanoseconds under experimental conditions.

The beach cabin my family rents in Cape Cod is an interesting combination of the two. Rustic remoteness asserts itself in the form of sheetless mattresses and ant traps under the beds, though the visitor is still afforded the high class luxury of twelve TV channels--three of which are home shopping, one of which is religious in nature, and another of which is community broadcasting.

Mornings during last week's vacation were slow to start. Aside from the general inability of anyone besides my parents to get themself out of bed before ten o'clock, there was one (indoor) shower to be shared by the entire house. As six people who had spent more than eight hours under sweaty blankets in breezeless, un-air-conditioned bedrooms, we all took our sweet time when we finally got our turn. However, this left five people at any given time with one television and approximately three viable channels for their entertainment.

Not that we are television dependent or anything, but, you know. We're American. We need our flashing pictures and laugh tracks to get us going.

Every morning, Good Morning America and the Today Show rolled to a close with one of my brothers still in the shower. Those of us already scrubbed and dressed were left stranded on the last island of morning programming before the vast and unswimmable ocean of afternoon soaps: the Jerry Springer show.

I remember watching the Jerry Springer show while home sick from school or during middle school summer vacations. It's safe to say it was never a classy production. I recall "KKK Family Thanksgiving," complete with a food fight so fierce I'm not entirely positive there's enough Clorox in the world to bleach those hoods back to lynchin' white. There also a number of episodes exploring the taboo romance that can grow betwixt a mother and son, or son and daughter, or father and uncle, or any other pimply, webfooted combination one can make in the swampy shallows of a gene pool.

But back then Jerry Springer wasn't the trash TV archetype he has since become. His ratings were low and there was still a caught-masturbating-shame associated with even intimating you had watched his program. At some point he exploded into popularity and though I can't possibly explain why, I believe the phenomenon was akin to the way a bacterial colony can increase its population exponentially under the right conditions.

I haven't seen the Jerry Springer Show more than once or twice since my home sick, Strep throat days. Though I had previously thought it impossible, the show has gotten trashier. Like, I mean, seriously trashy. It's so easy and so trite to rag on Jerry, but I don't think people have truly watched this show evolve since it became the go-to joke. I admire the minds behind this latest incarnation of the Jerry Springer show because they have an uncanny ability to turn criticism into a marketing point.

"They might as well have a stripper pole on stage," cry the critics.

"Uh...guys...maybe? I think that might...I mean, I could rig something up out of PVC pipe for like fifteen dollars," says the producer.

"Those guests will fight at the drop of a hat! They're like trained seals," scream the censors.

"We'll ring a bell and they'll come out swinging, even if they're in mid-sentence," answers the producer.

There are so many liberal artsy ways to attack the Jerry Springer show. It's racist. It's sexist. It stereotypes based on sexuality and class. It exploits its guests for cheap laughs and its audience by staging many of the situations it explores. This is all pretty much a given for anyone who has ever heard the first two lines of the "I have a dream" speech, or even know the chorus of "I'm Every Woman" by Whitney Houston.

The entertaining part of watching Jerry Springer this past week wasn't in dissecting it for a future dissertation, but rather in watching my parents watch Jerry Springer. They're a little loopy. I say this with the utmost love. But, you know, the weirdest things set them off. The first time my dad heard the audience break into the GET ON THE POLE! chant was enough to send him into his Ricky Ricardo laugh until the next commercial break (inevitably comprised of slip and fall law firm or sixteen month technical institute ads). My mother clucked her tongue at the exploitation of poor, uneducated people, but lost her breath laughing at the unwed teenage mother flashing her pale ass to the audience.

I suppose the moral of the story is that the Jerry Springer show brings people together in feeling superior to southern people who draw on their eyebrows. It also facilitates the difficult conversations one dreads having with ones parents. If it wasn't for Jerry Springer, I would never have been able to tell my mother that I am heartily disappointed she never wrapped her cooch around a pole on national television when I was in high school. Then I would've had a date to the prom, Mom.

Oh, what could have been.


Blogger katy said...

During one of our moves cross-country my husband and I spent a few days with one of his boot-camp buddies in a Trailer Park in Alabama.

While we were there I got the grand tour which culminated with a shrine in a really beat up trailer. The centerpiece was a "script" from a Jerry Springer episode that the family had performed in. Right next to the plastic statue of the Virgin Mary.

They were very proud of the fact they'd been on the show and so was the rest of the park neighbors. They were cele-bre-tees! Real true actors who had scripts and had to learn lines and even - gasp - rehearse.

It was sorta sweet and innocent. Well it was until they recreated the make-out scene between brother and sister...that's just uncomfortable.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous stupidboy said...

Did you know Jerry Springer made some shows in England? Not on the BBC, they're way too snooty for that, but it's rival channel ITV. The guests were uneducated poor people and all that, but also exceptionally well behaved. As if they were on Dr.Phil.

6:00 AM  

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