Off you fuck then, Jeremy Kyle, and kindly take the whole brood of vile, exploitative, prole-bashing ‘talk’ shows with you…
There was a stage, in the mid-to-late 90s, where I was doing a fair bit of Being On Telly. Don’t panic, I was never so famous that you ought to know all about me and most of the shows were forgettable by dint of being pretty much interchangeable. A lot of them were what we – myself and the handful of colleagues who also did a few of them – called ‘regionals’ when we were being polite and Friday Night Punch Ups when we weren’t. There were several of these shows, put out by companies such as Granada and Central, in the days when ITV was divided into several separate regions. One of the reasons I was always happy to do these shows was because my family, who lived in London, would never see the wretched things and complain about me swearing or looking tipsy or whatever. The basic format was always the same: a contentious topic (for me, invariably, some aspect of porn, recreational sex, feminist attitudes towards either, or BDSM. There would be people with views profoundly opposed to mine, and there would be an audience which always seemed to be made up of pissed students and bemused pensioners bussed in for the night. Much yelling and stamping would usually ensue.
Overall, though, to be honest, they were fun. i would get paid, often £100 or so; my train tickets would be provided, I would usually get a night in a reasonable hotel, and there would be plenty of food and drink laid on. Sometimes I would be doing the whole thing with a couple of colleagues; sometimes, particularly once I’d been on the circuit for a while, fellow speakers would be other people I knew and liked.
Now and again, some of the disputing would get a little bit nasty, but it never really bothered me. I am one of those people who relishes a good scrap anyway and, perhaps more importantly, to me this stuff was more about work than about my own personal life. But I do recall the whole business becoming a lot less enjoyable around the turn of the century. It started being less about ‘experts’ and ‘professionals’ or media-trained Z-listers with product to promote, and more about ‘real’ people. But ;real’ people always seemed to mean those who had suffered some trauma, were unused to public speaking, were desperate for money or some sort of validation, and not exactly much cop at thinking on their feet. For a time, the show-hosts still seemed to have a classic concern-troll persona, but that didn’t last too long, either.
The whole business became more and more about public humiliation and mockery of unhappy, troubled people who would struggle to stand up for themselves. The arguments were less about different ethical or professional positions and much more about ‘proving’ that someone was a bad human being, a failure or a liar, as brutally and sensationally as possible, and Kyle, with his lie detectors and DNA tests, his lack of professional understanding of mental health,
neurodiversity or marginalisation and his own sneery, self-righteous meddling, was the worst of the lot.
More than once, in my talk show days, I would have to deal with someone who insisted that porn of any kind was inherently degrading. I would, of course, dispute this. Someone once asked me what, in that case, I did consider degrading. I think, obviously, that being pressured to expose deep personal pain for cackling, ignorant TV audiences is degrading, exploitative and unethical. I think it’s a lot more harmful than sucking dick on camera, or participating in negotiated, consensual BDSM. I think these shows do far more damage to individuals and society than porn in general, not least because they reinforce heteromonogamy as the ideal and uphold assorted nasty ideas, such as slutshaming, the treating of diverse sexualities as something to pathologise, and the out-and-out manipulation of people who think they are going to be helped.
Ever done any of these shows yourself, or got another view? Leave a comment…