Home Life Bits and Pieces Celia Iannelli: Way-way-way too much information— parsing the popularity of ‘Trash TV’

Celia Iannelli:
Way-way-way too much information— parsing the popularity of ‘Trash TV’

A brawl on the long-running Jerry Springer Show.

My boyfriend (yes, we gals of a certain age have them too!) guided me up my walk, through the front door and straight into the TV room. I felt like I had been on a long bender — although I’ve never been on one, I’ve read enough about them. After undergoing a minor surgical procedure that morning, I felt as if I was floating on air and listing to the left. Obviously, I was still under influence of anesthesia. My very nice boyfriend handed me the TV remote and proceeded into the kitchen to make me a cup of tea.

And that’s all folks! It was lights out for the second time that morning. That is until I was rudely awaked by shouting coming from the TV. I distinctly heard, “Michael, you ARE the father!” This declaration was followed by a series of ear-splitting boos and catcalls from the audience. A hefty gal, who was sporting a bizarre outfit and displaying bizarre behavior, was in a frenzy screaming something intelligible through a series of bleeps. I watched in fascination as she catapulted herself over to a skinny guy who was sitting on the couch. She proceeded to punch him out. During this exchange, the audience went wild; the show’s host did nothing and I doubted my sanity.

This can’t be happening, I thought. I blinked a few times trying to clear my brain. I figured I was having a drug-induced drug hallucination — I’ve read about that too. My boyfriend heard me mumbling something unintelligible (there was no series of bleeps involved). He glanced at the TV and started to shake his head and laugh. I asked him if this was really happening or was this some kind of surreal reaction to drugs.

“Ceil, you never saw this show?”

Relieved that I hadn’t entered an alternative universe, I said, “Never! Who would watch this crap?”

He volunteered that there is a similar show that follows this one — and another spin-off from the second show. Through my brain fog, I continued watching all the shows. I confess that I was mesmerized — and then became traumatized.

One guest said that a psychic told her that her boyfriend cheated on her. One guy hit the jackpot: he claimed one wife, one mistress and four kids. He WAS the daddy. Another guest’s claim to fame was that he had sexual relations 30,000 times (he was 21) and has yet to get a gal pregnant. And the piece de resistance — one gal thought her grandmother was sleeping with her boyfriend.

I suppose one could get hooked on tabloid talk shows, aka trash television or freak shows, for their sensationalistic subject matter. The “host” invites a group of guests to discuss a personal situation or a provocative topic. The topics can range from marital infidelity to outlandish topics with much “who’s the daddy” stuff in between! And get this — guests are encouraged to “tell all” and I mean “ALL.” These shows are comprised of bleeped profanity and guests who aren’t afraid to hang out their dirty laundry or embarrass themselves.

Trash TV focuses on lurid trysts — often between family members. As things heat up, fist-fighting seems to be the norm, along with chair-throwing, crude language and discussing ad nauseam who is sleeping with whom. The audience is encouraged to participate fully and eggs on the foul-mouthed guests. What do these guests get for their 15 minutes of fame? They are treated to a free flight, a night or two in a hotel, meals and few bucks to spend.

Obviously, some folks enjoy watching shock TV. I was stunned to read that these are long-running shows and are viewed by millions of people. I put my brain into high gear and tried to figure out why.

Maybe folks enjoy watching the guests being ridiculous because it makes their lives seem much better.

Maybe folks don’t feel connected to the guests or their fates, it’s just entertainment.

Maybe these shows are viewed as a type of voyeurism; folks can’t stop themselves.

Maybe some folks derive great pleasure from making fun of the “awfulness” of it all.

Maybe some can feel superior and dub themselves as being cultured.

Maybe… I just don’t know.

Sociologists have criticized trash TV, claiming that it has blurred the lines between normal and deviant behavior. Ya think? Seems to me it’s a celebration of failure — failure of our culture. We are creating fertile soil for the dumbing down of America. I wonder, are we, as a society, guilty of exploiting these pitiful folks who appear on these shows? If so, it’s a sad commentary on society as a whole.

After I went on my morning bender (my one and only) watching this stuff, I had my fill. I’m no prude, but I will never again degrade myself nor add to the degradation of those poor folks who revel in their 15 minutes.

I’m gonna blame my descent into this lunacy on the drugs!

Celia Marszal-Iannelli
Celia is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.