The Jerry Springer effect
By: Jim Longworth
Earlier this month, infamous television personality Jerry Springer turned up at the Dixie Classic Fair and was asked by a reporter from the Winston-Salem Journal what kind of food he liked.
“I like everything that’s not healthy,” he replied.
It was a fitting response from the man who almost single-handedly turned television into a repository of raw sewage, and American society into a laboratory for dysfunctional discourse.
Springer came to national prominence in 1991 at a time when Merv and Mike had retired, and when traditional daytime talk shows featured entertainers, authors, and politicians who engaged in thought-provoking topics. It was a format that Phil Donohue and, later, Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O’Donnell would embrace. And though Donohue had his share of controversial guests, there was almost always something constructive to glean from his interviews. Not so with Springer, who didn’t just push the envelope of good taste, he tore the envelope open with unashamed aplomb.
It may be difficult for anyone under the age of 40 to fathom, but there was a time when certain things just weren’t discussed on television, or anywhere else for that matter, and we were emotionally healthier as a result.
Jerry Springer broke those norms with topics such as:
“Bizarre Sex Jobs”
“I Slept With 251 Men in 10 hours.”
“I’m Pregnant by a Trans Sexual”
“I’m Pregnant by My Brother”
“Secret Sex Fetishes”
“I Married a Horse”
“Adult Babies: Grown Men Who Dress in Pajamas and Stay in a Baby Crib”
“I’m Happy I Cut Off My Legs”
“The Man Who Cut Off His Own Penis”
“A Pimp Who Thought He Was the Pope,” and my favorite,
“Man Wants His Leg Back From His Mistress”
But it wasn’t just Jerry’s daily circus of freaks that had a negative impact on our collective psyche. It was also the way those dysfunctional folks communicated while the cameras were rolling. There was shouting, screaming, slapping, punching, kicking, and, of course, foul-mouthed cursing which was not very well disguised by Springer’s bleep machine. That kind of violent discourse gave rise to today’s angry Town Hall confrontations, and to pundits screaming at one another on cable news panels. It also sent a strong message to his viewers that it is OK to display loud, obnoxious behavior in restaurants, stores, airplanes, and other public venues.
Finally, we can thank Jerry for giving birth to every dysfunctional reality show on T.V. today, including every Kardashian, every desperate housewife, and every contestant who’s ever been naked and afraid.
Fortunately, Jerry Springer’s nationally syndicated show was canceled earlier this year, but by then, he had already done incalculable damage. Taking Springer’s toxins off the air after 27 years and expecting Americans to be more civil to each other is like giving up a five-pack-a-day habit for the past 27 years, and hoping that your lungs will be free of scarring. The fact is we will never completely heal from the scars that Springer wrought because his disciples, descendants, and imitators are still around to re-open the wounds. And then there’s Jerry himself, who continues to do his thing, even if it’s not in front of the camera. Case in point, Springer’s recent visit to Winston-Salem, where he emceed micro-wrestling matches at the fair. Micro-wrestling is the politically correct name for what used to be known as “midget wrestling.”
“As long as it’s all taken in fun and people enjoy it, that’s cool with me,” Springer told the Journal.
Yes, sir, there’s nothing more fun and wholesome than a bunch of big people watching little people being tossed around. Maybe next year, Jerry will referee a bout between an adult baby and the mistress who stole her boyfriend’s leg. The three of them will deserve each other.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).