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Dr Alistair Brown
Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more


Jerry Springer: The Opera

Abstract

With its juxtaposition of cultural media, Jerry Springer: The Opera has the potential to shock by exposing the always-voyeuristic predilictions of an intellectually elite audience. However, it feeds for its satire parasitically on the bizarre sexualities of those who perform on the screen.

Essay

This Christmas, Auntie put her foot in it again. Credit to the BBC: with its charter up for review, it would be easy to slip into a mode of comfortable, unchallenging family entertainment; but Pretty Woman - pretty unspectacular. That it has been prepared to screen Jerry Springer: The Opera now, in full consciousness of the hackles it would raise, is a bold avocation of its continuing independence and it refusal to be cowed by a politician's particular idea of moral or artistic norms. In spite of the fervour from Christian sub-groups - an anger which was not shared by all Christians - the BBC was justified in promoting an award-winning and popular show. Indeed, those same voices who claimed the BBC was undemocratic in its decision to go ahead anyway forgot that against the 45 000 complaints (of which half were about the level of swearing, rather than for offended religious sensibilities) were several million viewers. But at the same time as defending its right to broadcast, it seems a shame that the BBC has courted wrath for a venture which was artistically revolutionary only in a very limited sense.

Jerry Springer is compulsive viewing not because of any sympathy we feel for the participants, but because observing the Gordian Knot into which they have wound their relationships enforces our sense of superiority: whilst the participants feel the resolution of their problems to be vital, and the best mechanism to be to engage with them on live television, the viewer is aware of the irony that actually placing their problems in the public eye, to be exposed and manipulated when the subject of the affair is brought in from the wings in front of millions of viewers, decreases dramatically the possibility of a successful resolution.

Thus Jerry Springer: The Opera satirises something that is broadly interpreted as mocking satire in the first place. For its humour, it exploits (as the original show does) the bizarre participants, attacking their weirdness: lesbianism, submissive sexual fantasies, obesity. There is therefore very little distance between the voyeuristic experience of the television show, and the experience of watching of the performance in the more traditional medium. The juxtaposition of cultures and media - locating Jerry Springer in the context of that bastion of high art, the National Theatre - creates the opportunity, opens a shutter, for a socially and culturally disquieting exposure: Jerry Springer: The Opera could reveal the fact that the prurience of the audience of Jerry Springer is not that far removed from the prurience of the audience of Jerry Springer: The Opera, who naively position themselves as being more cultivated, more educated. Instead, the two modes coincide, and the audience laughs at the deviant objects presented in Jerry Springer: The Opera with the same mechanism as it laughs at Jerry Springer. The opera's comedy, therefore, relies not on subversive and understated irony which exposes the double standards of a cultural "elite," but on the parasitic exploitation of those in unfortunate social or moral states.

Similarly, it is difficult to sense how the religious imagery of the second half contributes to any loosely moral project. By replaying the spiritual battle as the sexual conflicts of the first half, is it suggesting, controversially, that Christianity, the ambiguous, complex, master-narrative of Western culture is now interpreted, through televisions dedicated to Hollywood versions of binary morality, in a reductio ad absurdum to a battle between the bizarrely, unattractively good versus the outrageously, humorously attractive evil? Here, again, the problem is that there are no self-reflective devices which expose the fact that the audience who watches the self-consciously obscene presentation of religion is the same audience who the next day will visit the cinema and absorb mechanically the simplistic diagram of hero and anti-hero, American gun-slinger versus Islamic terrorist, Christ's passion against the blood frenzy of the Roman ruler.

The referent for this religious and social mockery is not the culture of television as a whole (potentially a double-irony when screened on the BBC rather than staged), but a particular brand which is isolated as a peculiar part. By drawing its libretto solely from the idioms of Jerry Springer speak, rather than also from the conventions of reportage, from action films, from the language of "terror," from the cliches of politics, Jerry Springer is isolated as a case, rather than extended as a paradigm.

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This page was published on January 10, 2005 | Keywords: Jerry Springer The Opera, religion, satire, BBC

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