All Articles Tagged "Jerry Springer"
Springer Taught Me: Why It Doesn’t Make Sense To Blame Mona Scott-Young For The Downfall Of Black TV
Picture it: Richmond, Virginia, around 1996. It is Monday, mid-morning, and students on the campus of Virginia Union University are trying to figure out ways to pass the time between classes. While the library would be the most productive option, instead, dozens of students squeeze into the activity room at the Henderson Center and huddle around the television. With so many of us in the room, the temperature always managed to climb to a stifling degree, but whatever discomfort was felt from the heat paled in comparison to what was heating up on the small screen.
You see, between the hours of 11 a.m and 12 noon, it was known campus-wide as Jerry Springer hour. It was the time where we squelched our hunger for the shenanigans. There were public spectacles like a Nazi family reunion with a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner twist; a deceitful lesbian, who tricked a straight exotic dancer into believing that she was actually a dude; and a love triangle involving an amputee man with no legs. It was crass, lewd and very ludicrous. It was the embarrassing part of America, of the community and heck even our own families. And yet here we were, W.E.B. Du Bois’ dream, sitting together in the hollow halls of a prestigious HBCU, hooting, fist pumping and booing every time someone manages to break free from the arms of Steve Wilkos and throw a fist or chair across the stage. Yes, it was shocking and appalling. But in between the tomfoolery, some discussions would happen; sides would be taken, and suddenly the real show was going on inside of the activity room.
Watching Mona Scott Young moderate the reunion episode for the third season of Love & Hip Hop on Monday, I realized how much she reminded me of that golden era of talk. I mean, that reunion episode had it all: lie detector tests, screaming matches, surprise twists, love triangles…and that was in the first 20 minutes. I watched as Mona was a referee between Raqi and Rashidah, who bickered over which of the two was a bigger industry “h*e” (I’m not being facetious; that was the actual conversation). My inside dialogue was like, well that’s just like debating Golden Delicious apples versus Granny Smith apples. However, Scott-Young took a different approach: She had respect for her guests, in this case, her cast mates. She didn’t mock them or make light of their petty disagreements. Instead, she tried her best to get to the bottom of their conflict by giving them the stage to air out their grievances. If the two wanted to deflect or skirt around the elephant – or should I say Joe Budden – in the room, well, that’s on them.
That’s why the whole, “she is bringing down the community”-talk just doesn’t work for me. Or if it does, I feel like this is a conversation we should have been having years ago when we were soaking up Donahue, Morton Downey Jr. and of course Springer. It’s so funny because so many people say that they don’t watch these type of shows and yet the numbers do speak for themselves. I don’t see why we folks have a hard time admitting to liking that there is something more realistic and pessimistically relatable about the people we see on her shows. It’s more than identifying with the characters themselves and what they do (very few of us can put video vixen on our resume), but rather an acknowledgment of the imperfect world we live in, where obscenity-laden screaming matches (with the occasional fist fight) and accusations of being h*e are pretty common. You don’t even have to be at the center of the drama. You could be standing in line at the supermarket or on the train and the drama will pop off around you. Believe me, I have been around some smack downs before and not once did anyone stop watching. Truth is, real life is messy and people can identify more with the emotional roller coaster (should I leave him or should I stay?) of dealing with a cheating partner more than they can the watered down, and often patronizing adversity we get from the Cosby Show-esque clones we have come to associate with more positive representational television.
It just seems like to blame Scott Young for the downfall of black television is a cop-out to all the not-so-kind images of black folks on television before her arrival. There was reality television, there was daytime television, and before that there were soap operas, or as the women in my family would call them: “stories.” No one ever complained about how black women looked on television when Drucilla Barber Winters was getting her Granny Golden Delicious Smith apples on with brothers on the Young and the Restless. Scott Young has just managed to find a way to combine all the melodrama of the soaps with the tomfoolery of daytime talk and call it reality.
We are all bound to be naive about one thing or another, many times over. After all, naivete is the natural companion to “no one knows everything.” For instance, I have no idea how many licks it really takes to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop. And quite frankly, I don’t give a damn.
Ignorance, furthermore, is more debilitating. What’s fascinating is that you don’t have to do anything to be ignorant. In fact, the less you do, the better you get at it. It’s a popular choice for many. Which is why ignorance is one of the most debilitating human qualities plaguing life on the planet.
But if you’re a television executive, there’s money to be made in showcasing the depths of character that exists in all the blissfully ignorant people out there. Who else would sell their privacy and their good name for a ticket to New York to appear on Maury Povich.
Here’s a roundup of TVs guiltiest pleasures:
I’m a high-school educator by day.
In the teacher’s lounge, where I spend the menial amount of time I’m allowed for lunch, the Maury Povich Show is almost always playing. Before two months ago, I was not at all familiar with his signature “You are NOT the father!” refrain; now, it’s a running gag among the teachers. Though Maury, along with Jerry Springer and talk show hosts of their ilk have been around since I was my students’ age, the subject matter has apparently not changed very much: the show still champions the cultural detritus of the lower-middle class. Even when I was 14, I never understood the type of person who would allow themselves to be scrutinized in such backwards ways. It’s as if there’s a whole cross-section of America who has no problem letting the world know just how trifling their families really are. Today, the issue takes on a more sobering perspective: I look at my students and worry that many of them are itching to be a part of that cross-section.
Yes, I teach underserved, underprivileged black kids in the big city. My students are good kids, by and large, but I definitely see a number of them on the path to The Jerry Springer Show if no intervention is put into place. These are students who experience a dearth of positive male role models and are not taught the importance of education outside of school. I had my first parent-teacher conferences a couple days ago, and it was made crystalline to me why some of my students are who they are: their parents ain’t about a dollar.
So, for all you mothers out there, a simple request from a humble educator: Do everything in your power to keep your child away from daytime talk shows. Raise them to understand what most reasonable people do: that Maury, Jerry, Jenny, Ricki, Montel (the last three have come and gone) and all the others bereft of soul don’t have your best interests at heart when they exploit you and your problems. Teach your spawn that dirt is best kept under the family rug. Problems will exist, as they do in every family, but dammit…appearing on a talk show is the best way to make oneself incapable of being taken seriously, and of getting good employment.
Well, maybe second to getting a Mike Tyson face tattoo, but you understand what I’m trying to say.
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