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Who will help the working classes now that Jeremy Kyle has been axed?

PUBLISHED: 11:10 22 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:10 22 May 2019

The Jeremy Kyle Show has been cancelled. Was the decision too hasty?, a reader asks (C) ITV

The Jeremy Kyle Show has been cancelled. Was the decision too hasty?, a reader asks (C) ITV

ITV

Our ethics expert, Robin Herne, from West Suffolk College, considers a reader's concern that Jeremy Kyle has been made a scapegoat...

Robin Herne who runs the religious studies and ethics degree at the University of Suffolk at West Suffolk CollegeRobin Herne who runs the religious studies and ethics degree at the University of Suffolk at West Suffolk College

Dear Robin,

I might be about the only person left willing to admit they really liked The Jeremy Kyle Show. Whilst I understand that the suicide of that man who had been on the show was a terrible thing, it seems unfair to blame it on Jeremy. There must have been other stuff going on in that man's life. Is it just snobbishness from all these people wanting to end the programme, because the people on it are working class? What other shows are there on the telly featuring people like me?

Sam

Dear Sam,

In the time since receiving your email, the Jeremy Kyle Show has been cancelled. Undoubtedly the man who died, Steve Dymond, had serious issues in his life and several media outlets are reporting that none of the suicide notes he left for his nearest and dearest blamed the TV programme for what he was about to do.

It might be suggested that many people despise shows like this and this tragedy has provided an opportunity for them to demand that a head should roll.

Many people are driven to suicidal despair by the actions of uncaring institutions, but it seldom leads to those institutions being shut down or their leaders being held accountable. Numerous people may feel outraged by the actions of those with power, but such outrage is seldom acted upon unless it serves a wider agenda.

Call me jaded, but I am only echoing the arguments made by French sociologist Louis Althusser who suggested that public protests and campaigns invariably fall on deaf ears unless it suits the agendas of a powerful elite to feign sympathy.

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I've never watched the Jeremy Kyle Show - the trailers are off-putting enough! If I wanted to see angry people bellowing at each other I could wander into town of a Saturday evening when the drunks are tipping out. Various complaints have been raised against the programme and ones like it over the last few days, chiefly centred on the idea that vulnerable or unstable people are being exploited - encouraged to expose their griefs and miseries as a form of entertainment.

I am sure there is some truth to this, and certainly former guests are coming forward with their tales of exploitation. Whether any of them are getting paid for giving interviews, I don't know. I am reminded of a point made by the German philosopher Georg Simmel that power dynamics are seldom if ever static or clear cut - the person being taken for a ride today might be the one manipulating you tomorrow.

Other people, like yourself, are pointing out that there are very few shows on TV in which they can see individuals whose lives mirror their own.

Some former guests are praising Mr Kyle for helping them through their problems. There is clearly a social class dynamic at play in that the assorted people parading their miseries before the public are almost entirely in low-paid jobs or chronically unemployed.

I'm not sure how often, if ever, they had middle class people (much less members of the aristocracy) hurling chairs at one another whilst disputing the parentage of their offspring.

It's obviously not because people with money don't commit adultery, sleep with their in-laws, turn to drugs, rob from their families or do other equally unpleasant things.

The wealthy do all these things (and more), but they seldom go on TV shows to argue about it. The closest viewers will get to that is seeing celebrities genteelly trot out their problems to Oprah Winfrey but only when they have a self-help book or autobiography to peddle along. The tragedies of the rich are a much more commercial commodity.

Those objecting to what is sometimes termed "poverty porn" probably see the working and underclasses as intrinsically more exploitable than the better-off members of society. Maybe they are right, but it's worth reflecting that it is perhaps too easy to assume that people behaving in public in ways that we would never wish to are being misled or manipulated and do not really know what they are doing. Andy Warhol's oft repeated sentiment that everyone craves their 15 minutes of fame may still hold true, and perhaps some think getting on the Kyle Show or Benefits Street is worth it even if some viewers laugh at or look down on them.

That said, some people may feel they are often ridiculed by snobs so may as well get some advantage out of the experience. Returning to the claim that some people were happy with the way Kyle helped resolve problems in their lives, maybe this is a rather bleak issue that many of the people filling column inches and social media pages with 'good riddance to Kyle' messages might want to reflect on.

There may be many people in society with major problems in their lives who could never afford a therapist or be able to resolve their crises with yoga, or any of the other techniques favoured by the well-heeled. There may be so few people around to help them that becoming a public spectacle on a TV show might seem - or actually be - the only realistic route to effective help. Everything we do has a cost, and for some going public may be the price they have to and can afford to pay. For those of us who are not admirers of these kinds of programme, the question becomes: if not that, then what? So far as I know, nobody is rushing forward to offer alternative assistance to sort out the marital breakdowns, family estrangements, addictions, and bizarre behaviours that were weekly trotted out before the viewing public.

People with major problems and despairing lives still need help, whether Jeremy Kyle is on the box or not. All that said, it is rather depressing that about the only time cameras are ever turned on people at the bottom of the financial heap is when they are screaming at each other. It would be nice to see shows in which such people are having a nice time, being kind and caring to one another etc. Maybe some TV producer needs to come up with a new format?

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