So. It has finally happened. Someone who has appeared on Jeremy Kyle’s show has died, apparently as a direct result of being on the show and what happened to them whilst there.
The only surprise to me is that is has been fourteen years since the first edition of Jeremy Kyle and this is the first time this has happened.
To anyone who has watched the programme (I admit, I have watched it more times than I probably should have done) it has always been clear that the line between what is exploitation and abuse of the guests, and what is morally acceptable in the name of entertainment, has always been very blurry indeed.
I have watched on many occasions, Mr Kyle ranting at vulnerable and clearly unwell (often physically as well as mentally) people as if he was on some kind of moral crusade to clean up and install his value system into those he obviously viewed with contempt.
Horribly, that was the hook on which he caught me many times as I flicked over onto ITV, saw a salacious tag line and then spent the next thirty minutes desperate to know who the father really was, or whether the person with no teeth is really cheating on the other person with no hair. I could sit back in judgement on these people and laugh at their difference and lack of self-respect and the fact they were willing to share their 15 minutes of fame with a million other people who were all judging them and laughing inwardly at their abject humiliation.
Fourteen years ago, I was still on my first year of training to become a psychotherapist and counsellor. I can excuse the person I was then as being rather unaware of why this sort of ‘reality TV’ is exploitative and dangerous to anyone who has any form of mental health, physical health or sociological problem.
Jeremy Kyle grew up alongside its more popular yet somehow more awful big brother, Big Brother. A programme that really made an art form of exploiting the vulnerable, vain and wounded souls who believed that they would be able to develop positive self-esteem and confidence through a process of public flagellation and humiliation. The people on Big Brother were generally prettier and more able to cognitively use their experience for short-term gain, but their lack of any form of authentic talent or self-esteem has likely left most of the ‘contestants’ in some way emotionally or mentally scarred by their experience on it.
Whilst Big Brother has disappeared from our screens, (hopefully never to return) Jeremy Kyle has been a constant for the last fourteen years. He has been flying under the radar of most people, on the wings of the banal and awful beast that is daytime television. Daytime TV as a whole seems designed to act as a form of self medication for the depressed and anxious mass of people who have already seemingly been cut adrift by society, wounded by their past and maybe feel written off by themselves and the wider world around them. Jeremy Kyle’s show was the epitome of this and the jewel in the crown of the angry, alienated, hurting and insecure, as they could always put on Jeremy’s show and say to themselves, ‘well, at least I am not THAT bad (I have some self-respect)!’.
One million people a day watch Jeremy Kyle. One million people watching Jeremy rant, judge, humiliate and get rich off the backs of other people’s illness and distress. Mr Kyle found the gaping wound in British society and instead of using his talents to heal this wound, he has widened it, made it more angry and sore through a process of what he would call I imagine, ‘tough love’ and ‘telling it like it is’. The problem with this is, and this is something a first year trainee counsellor is taught, is that if we judge those seeking help, if we allow our own feelings, beliefs and morality to impact the way we feel and behave towards the other, then we are likely to display behaviours that will mimic the negative people in the other person’s life that have wounded them, hurt them, abused them, destroyed their self-esteem and self-image. In short, the counsellor, or Jeremy, can quickly and easily become the abuser in the eyes of the other person and they will respond as such.
So, if someone is told that they have failed a lie detector test – something so inaccurate that no court in this country, or even in America, would allow its results to be used as evidence – and they are not actually lying, they are actually telling the truth, and they have now been humiliated and verbally abused in front of millions of people. How will that impact on their mental health?
If it transpires that this person also has a history of people in their lives disbelieving what they say, and they would often be punished for things they did not do. How might that add to their levels of distress, anger, anxiety, confusion, powerlessness?
If they feel that their past experiences of trauma – abuse, neglect, undeserved punishment, humiliation – have been triggered once again in front of millions of people, what might this do to an already vulnerable person’s psyche and sense of self?
I am postulating here, I have no idea of any of the background of the person who has died, or anything about what happened to them on Mr Kyle’s show, other than they failed a lie detector test and now they are dead.
My point is that we should not use other people’s vulnerability, insecurity or mental health as a form of entertainment under any circumstances. As a society we should not encourage voyeurism of any sort. We should be ashamed of ourselves for laughing at those less able, less aware, less educated, less well of, less lucky, less privileged, less loved, less appreciated, less cared for, less understood, if that is what we have done (and I include myself in this).
If it is shown that Jeremy Kyle and his show is in any way connected to this person’s death, then it should never be shown again on any channel, ever. As a society we should also take a good look at ourselves, our children and the people we share a country with and decide what kind of values and morals do we hold as important and how do we express them and share them positively.