The Pole Dance of the Stars
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.