It all started innocently enough, my epiphany did, when my tire went flat on a Sunday. Occupied with items of B importance, I deferred to triple-A. Change came and cost me nothing, like an Obama promise. The replacement tire was one of those ersatz wheelie things slangily dubbed a donut, so I got the obligatory spiel how it was only good for 2 miles and 5 minutes or thereabouts. My busy life being what it is, I made it to the shop the following Wednesday, 300 miles of gadding about later.
Waiting for some tires can be tiresome. Usually I bring a notebook to such automotive anteroom afternoons, and dash off reams of the wit for which they pay me the small bucks. This time I had a crossword puzzle, entertainment for only one eye. The other found itself glued to the television which weirdly could pick up but one station. Ah, Jerry Springer was on, a former Cincinnatian like myself, one who had served as Mayor of that burg. A man of savoir-faire, I thought, as I sought to savor the fare.
Some of you may have waded through this cultural cesspool before and can dispense with my services as tour guide. For the rest – who have jobs — I shall describe the indescribable.
TODAY”S THEME WAS LOVE TRIANGLES, but these corners were so sharp as to defy even the Pythagorean theorem. First we are introduced to a pretty and articulate black woman, whose initial gestalt bespeaks gainful employment and self-respect. Then she begins to explain her objection to her cousin’s live-in girlfriend. She is white, you see; in fact, at a recent family reunion she was the only white among two hundred relatives.
But that is not the problem, of course, because there is nothing wrong with being white. Except you have to admit that white people and black people are just different. They eat different foods and enjoy different activities — why, they even clean house differently! (If anyone knows what this means, please drop me a line; I’m dying of curiosity. Do they have Mister T instead of Mister Cleen?)
You really need to stay with your own kind, this genius continues to opine. Jerry does not challenge any of this wisdom before it is time to bring out the offending pale paramour. The girl comes out and seems fairly together, although a clear notch below the other. She is more likely to be behind the counter at Walgreen’s than behind the reception desk at the doctor’s office. Still a nice and decent person, no criminal or druggie vibe.
No discussion ensues. Not even an attempt at one. The black girl immediately calls her a bitch and yells at her to leave the cousin alone. Then she starts swinging and a fistfight follows, punctuated by periodic halfhearted attempts by burly Security staff to step between them. The language escalates to the point where the bleeping begins and clothing gets torn enough that the screen must be blurred in spots to hide sensitive body parts.
“You want to be black?” the enraged cousin shouts, fists flailing. “You want to be black? I will make you black… and blue!”
Most obscene of all is the fact that as the fracas escalates the studio audience begins chanting, “Jerry! Jerry!” Somehow the host has excelled by facilitating this degree of hostility. To top it off, the producers of the show add a musical background: the tinkling bell which conveys the opening of a round in boxing. After a while, the boy is brought in to utter some platitudes, which set the girls off clawing again.
The Maury Povich Show followed with more of the same. How could this be happening? Here we were getting racism, human sexuality, desperation, pornography, violence and a complete breakdown of everything which builds a society. No effort was being made to mediate, to ameliorate, to edify, only to witness man at his crudest, negotiating between appetites and impulses without the benefit of any elevating overview.
Instead of throwing gladiators to be consumed by lions, we are throwing starving people into an arena to squabble over the little bit of nourishment they can find. People like me live and die by the First Amendment, so I am not arguing for government censorship. But for networks, the same ones who are fond of touting their broadminded liberalism, to sell tickets to witness human squalor – that is something we may fairly despise.
My rubber back on the road, I left the grime of the garage behind. Yet I feared that I had seen our culture punctured and losing air rapidly. Our public spectacles should bring light into our lives, or at least healthy amusement. There is no joy wallowing in Mudville.