The Truth About Jerry
Such is the point of discussion at a recent taping of current pop pariah The Jerry Springer Show.
A Springer apologist I am not. On the contrary, I attend to hold an experiment in mob rule: Am I able to go an entire hour without cheering, without waving my fist, without even smiling at the outrageousness on stage, even while those around me go totally nuts?
The answer, gentle reader, is yes. The extent of my applause is a modest golf clap at breaks. Is it willpower? If only. Either the show isn't all that outrageous, or, worse, I've become too jaded to notice.
The day starts with a queue at NBC Towers, downtown. Dozens of Springer loyalists anxiously wonder what the subject will be. Will it be sex, violence or, dare they dream, both?
At noon, security herds us to a waiting room on the second floor, where a TV is tuned to NBC soap operas. I take a trip to the restroom, where I find a nervous young man washing his hands. Faster than I can say "I wonder if he is a guest; I should strike up a conversation," he is gone, and an opportunity is lost.
When we are finally retrieved two hours later, a young woman whispers to her boyfriend on the way to the studio: "We're so close, Ryan! We're so close!"
A TV news crew from Miami is filming a commercial as we enter. The broadcaster, who refers to himself as "the talent" without a hint of irony, wants to film two women fake a fight with him. When he asks for volunteers, nearly every female hand shoots up. Indeed, who wouldn't want to get into a fight on the set of Springer? It would be like taking batting practice at Wrigley Field. One of Jerry's producers helps out and seems remarkably adept at staging fights.
Jerry comes onstage. A recent Rolling Stone story said Jerry warms up the crowd with the same jokes each show. Sure enough, he uses the same one-liners. The crowd eats him up.
He engages in some Q and A. One woman asks about the fights. She is very concerned, because she has read somewhere that they are going to be edited out. "We will lessen the violence," Jerry says, all the while shaking his head, side to side. Wink, wink.
He speaks about his desire for accuracy, and how he doesn't understand why his show is such a big deal. It's just entertainment. "How do people have problems with a little wrestling on my show but not with the guns on the nightly news? Get the guns off the news, that's what I say!"
After this defense of truth and honesty--wink, wink--Todd the stage manager instructs the crowd in the science of ooohing, whoo-whoo-ing and booing. He'll be in the corner, coaching us when to "ooh," "whoo-whoo" or "boo." Todd reminds us that whether a show actually gets broadcast is determined by how vigorously the crowd gets into the action.
The people we see on TV, then, shaking their fists and hollering, do so only partly to celebrate the violence. Most are motivated by something a little more understandable if equally base: They just want to be on TV. Heck, this is why I'm here.
Todd issues a few rules: No swearing, no taunting and no "raising the roof." Raising the roof doesn't make any noise, and the producers like noise. And no whispering to neighbors. Microphones hang from the ceiling and pick up any murmurs, so, please, keep it to yourselves.
The lights go up. Jerry gets ready. When his mike doesn't work, he mutters, "This never happens to Oprah." Self-deprecation. Wink, wink.
The show begins. It takes all of ten seconds for the first breasts to be exposed. They are not ordinary, these breasts. They are the size of taxicabs. I have had apartments smaller than these breasts. As their owner flashes them for God, Jerry and the world to see, Jerry falls to the floor in horrified--wink, wink--shock.
The breasts belong to Katrina, a large woman in black lingerie. The disapproving glares belong to the young man from the restroom, Robert, who wants his friend out of the porn industry. Katrina isn't budging, not without a forklift, at least, not even when Robert offers to marry her.
And so the hour goes: Five enormous women, four friends who want them out of porn, and one woman-to-woman kiss. No fights.
The crowd feels cheated. During one break, a man yells, "We want violence!" He's not the only one. Todd the stage manager is visibly frustrated, too. When the crowd has the gall to keep its cool during a lap dance, he screams into his headset, "Why aren't they standing!?"
The whole afternoon recalls Orwell's 1984. The chanting. The manufactured anger. The rows and rows of people forced to watch NBC. And the microphones hanging from the ceiling. Big Jerry is listening.
Is it fake? Who knows? Who cares? But it does look suspicious that the guests' anger switches seem to be on the same circuits as the cameras. When the cameras roll, emotions run high and manners run. But during the breaks, the guests are cordial and jovial. Even Robert laughs it up with his friend Katrina, whom he had earlier called a "fat slob."
For the final segment, Jerry tapes his Final Thought, in which he tells us what is to be learned from all this mess. This day's lesson is, Be happy with who you are and what you do, but realize that actions have consequences. I suppress a yawn.
Then Jerry signs off with the signature message for his flock: "Take care of yourselves, and each other."
It's so sincere, so believable. You simply can't fake that.
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