Let the bifurcation begin: Jeremy Kyle and audience needs

Credit ITV with some sensitivity

Every weekday the country divides into the 9-5ers and the rest of us.  And after a small delay, after they’ve checked that all the workers are gone, ITV draws the curtain, and decides that it’s safe to schedule The Jeremy Kyle Show.  When I worked at ITV we would arrive at 9.30 and queue for the interminable lifts, entertained by the opening minutes of this programme on the sur-lift Television screen.  I never felt good about this.  The programme is entertaining stuff: real stories and passion, sparky characters and genuine cliff-hangers which are resolved (or not) based on actual science (DNA tests to determine the parenthood of innocent children, and lie-detectors to expose the fibbing cheats who often bear them).

But The Jeremy Kyle Show does nothing to offer hope about the state of humanity and helps to reinforce an image of the unemployed as unemployable pond-scum who lead lives of squalor and chavvish cliche.  Owen Jones was right, in Chavs to blame the programme for not only scapegoating the welfare class, but contributing to a sense of the working class as a whole as a feckless lump.

It paints a dystopian image of a modern Broken Britain Dickensian nightmare.

But Claire Tomalin’s recent biography found that Dickens wasn’t just writing about the poor, he cared about their fates and how they had come about: ‘fired with anger and horror at the indifference of the rich to the fate of the poor [who…] could consider themselves lucky if they were only half starved’.   Improving the lives of the people featured in the Jeremy Kyle show doesn’t seem to be top of the motivations for ITV, but the decision to schedule at 9.30am does at least show some sensitivity.  Bifurcation sounds like a portmanteau word for all the biffing and furking that carries on in a typical Jeremy Kyle programme (‘Tomorrow, join us for ‘Myocardial Infarction, so is it REALLY my baby‘).   It’s actually the splitting in two of a population.  A programme about unwaged losers upsetting each other and SHOUTING would be too much for professionals and other ‘hard-working families’.  It might make the ‘squeezed middle’ hate the world too much.  So better that the programme is delivered only to the people stuck at home.

What’s our motivation to watch?  That’s straightforward. Apart from the passionate stories, the programme allows its viewers to feel a sense of uneasy satisfaction that they haven’t fallen so far.  They may be retired, looking after small children, unemployed, working shifts, or just watching Jeremy Kyle while holding down a respectable job as a brain surgeon, but they haven’t fallen as far as the guests on this programme.  And if they have, well, they can apply to take part because, and don’t tell the social, apparently there’s a fee.

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