Poll Results: 74% Yes (135 votes), 26% No (48 Votes)
Yes – Matthew Leighton
I can’t say that I have ever been an avid follower of the Jeremy Kyle show. I would like to think that I have hobbies, interests and important work to be doing, and therefore I don’t often find myself watching ITV One at 11am on weekdays. I do however have one distinct memory from my childhood concerning Jezza which formed my opinion of him and his television programme.
Having successfully skived from school one day, I settled down in bed to watch sweet, normally elusive daytime television. ITV that day had decided to screen the 1980 historical drama ‘The Elephant Man’, the heart-breaking true story of John Merrick, a severely disfigured man from nineteenth-century London. Treated as a monster for most of his life, Merrick was paraded around in freak shows in order to make money for the greedy, exploitative people who controlled his life. The film goes to great lengths in making the point that we should not judge people for things which they cannot control about themselves, a timeless and powerful message. However, as the credits rolled, an oddly cheery voiceover without a hint of irony piped up to declare that ‘next up is the Jeremy Kyle Show!’.
While Victorian-style freak shows have long since gone out of fashion, and miscreants are no longer locked into the village stocks for their punishment and humiliation, the Jeremy Kyle Show has managed to fill this void almost perfectly for the last fifteen years. Jeremy Kyle each week features guests who express concerns about their personal problems, with the hope of finding some sort of solace or resolution. Based on older, more sedate programmes such as ‘Trisha’ and ‘Jerry Springer’, the producers of Jeremy Kyle set out to create a more outrageous, dramatic, and therefore entertaining show for the masses. Therefore, since its inception, the show has aimed to find those with the most complex and embarrassing problems possible. This has led to a TV format where Jeremy Kyle screams at sinful people as if passing divine judgement in a slightly nasal home-counties accent.
This has led the show to run into some problems, chief among which is that most people would rather die than have their personal life examined on telly. For a long time, I wondered why anyone would ever agree to appear on such a show. However, believe it or not, Jeremy Kyle is filmed in the same studio as University Challenge, and even shares much of the same film crew. This means that, as a contestant on University Challenge, I’ve actually met a couple of people with insider knowledge of the most controversial show on daytime TV, and the insights that they shared were gloomy, if not downright depressing.
Surprisingly, no one who appears on Jeremy Kyle is paid. The main attraction of the show to its guests is therefore the opportunity to have a DNA test carried out for free, which they could otherwise not afford. Considering that a paternity test can cost less than a hundred pounds, it is clear that the show targets people from the most deprived sections of society. Jeremy Kyle has also been accused of giving false hope to its guests, resolving incredibly painful issues through lie detector tests despite the fact that these have been proven to be inaccurate. Steve Dymond, the man whose death lead to Jeremy Kyles’ recent cancellation, had failed a polygraph test during his appearance on the show. This is not even to mention allegations that the producers of Jeremy Kyle had been ignoring the mental health conditions of the show’s guests.
Regardless of these facts, I think it is obvious to anyone who has seen the show that it represents the worst aspects of human character. Laughing at others’ misfortune, especially those who have not had real opportunities in life, is something I find morally suspect. However, what’s really new about that? It’s not as if every TV show is Songs of Praise.
Switch over to ITV2, and you can watch the hardly Shakespearean ‘Love Island’ to your hearts content, a show linked to the suicides of two contestants despite having only been on TV since 2015. Cast your eyes to Channel Four or Five, and for many years you’d have been able to see ‘Big Brother’, where participants were often denied food or cigarettes in order to rile them up and cause arguments. Even the children’s channel CBBC used to regularly feature episodes of ‘Dick and Dom in da Bungalow’, a show which was the subject of criticism in the House of Commons due to its perceived promotion of bullying and anti-social behaviour.
I don’t support the cancellation of Love Island, I actively enjoyed seeing George Galloway pretend to be a cat on Big Brother, and I nearly cried when Dick and Dom was canned. Therefore, it would be a tad hypocritical of me to want Jeremy Kyle cancelled for moral reasons. But let’s not pretend that’s at all why the show was taken off air in the first place; if we started banning TV programmes for moral reasons, there wouldn’t be many left.
The real reason that the Jeremy Kyle Show should have been cancelled is that it no longer serves its intended purpose. When the average viewer sits down to watch daytime television, they want something light and nice, and which makes them feel good about themselves. For years, the show achieved this goal perfectly and was a great success because of it. However, with news of suicides, issues of mental health and the general air of controversy surrounding the show, it is hard to watch Jeremy Kyle without feeling a little bit guilty. The show walked the fine line of acceptability for many years, and following recent events most have concluded that Jeremy Kyle finally went too far. My only surprise is that it wasn’t cancelled sooner.
No – Andrei Gheorghe
I’ll confess that prior to taking on this article, I had never watched The Jeremy Kyle Show. But after just 20 minutes, despite the farcical nature with which the poor and vulnerable are paraded, I felt a palpable sense of pain. Appearing on The Jeremy Kyle Show is a step of desperation and difficulty, arising from deep personal anguish and a series of wrong turns. Whilst it is easy for those of us who are detached from these situations to offer only disparaging remarks, the show offers a glimpse into people’s genuine difficulty. The harsh, often cold light Mr Kyle shines onto these situations is subtly derisive, taking advantage of the vulnerable in comical displays such as the notorious ‘lie detector test’. This is the truth behind reality TV, but it is certainly not exclusive to The Jeremy Kyle Show.
The 1998 Peter Weir film, ‘The Truman Show’, portrays a dystopian version of reality TV that consumes the title character’s life. For over 20 years, people have been wary of the direction which reality TV is heading in. On 15 March this year, the ex-Love Islander Mike Thalassitis took his own life after media harassment stemming from the show’s disdainful narrator giving him the nickname ‘Muggy’ Mike. Why then has the Jeremy Kyle Show been promptly condemned and removed from air, whilst the producers of Love Island are gearing up for the next season? Love Island is a show that similarly takes in people who have become desperate, albeit in finding love rather than reconciling personal issues, and portrays them in a sarcastic light. Whilst both shows have experienced success stories in their respective aims, the public is less than willing to acknowledge the stories of reconciliation and ending of substance abuse brought about by Jeremy Kyle, and all to keen to stay informed with the latest updates from Amber and Kem. It seems that the media too are dismissive towards the successes of Jeremy Kyle, apathy which stems from the lack of glamour exhibited by most of these stories, particularly in comparison to the gym hunks and personal trainers that grace the screens of Love Island viewers. Reality TV needs to be improved, and the duty of care that producers have towards attendees should be made clear and enshrined in law. We have a long way to go in that respect, but taking problematic shows off air, rather than fighting to secure improvements, represents a step backwards. The producers may think that taking the show off air allows them to wash their hands of the impact they’ve had in the past. Now that the show is off air, no further questions can be asked about the show’s conduct and no more questions can be asked. This is wrong.
Mr Kyle opens deep and personal wounds and lets them bleed on national television. That this seems artificial, snide and contemptuous is not up for debate, but the wounds that lead people to The Jeremy Kyle Show, long preceding the show itself, are often entrenched in their personal and family histories. Watching the show is indeed painful: the situations it exhibits are often tragic and indicative of a low point in the attendee’s life. Those from well-off backgrounds have long turned their noses up at this pitiful display and have now jumped at the chance to take the show off air. The simple fact, however, is that these situations are the stark reality for thousands of people. On or off air, the vulnerable will continue to suffer. Discontinuing the show is akin to putting a plaster over these deep and hideous wounds; it simply masks a situation that is allowed to bubble over and worsen underneath. Taking Jeremy Kyle off the air won’t fix these issues but will instead remove an outlet which has, for many people, worked as not only a catharsis but as a solution for many people.
Should we be outraged at the Jeremy Kyle show’s lack of care to its contributors? Sure. Should we fight for this to be changed? Absolutely. However, will taking it off the air do the most good possible on the whole? Absolutely not.