Talk Show Therapy:

A Look at Disfunctional-Family Freakshows

I got sick and had to stay home from work for a few days, and between using my computer and cleaning up around the house, I got a chance to watch all the daytime talk shows that people have been talking about. I have to admit, between watching Phil Donahue talking with feminist spokeswoman Gloria Steinham and watching an audience on the Gerry Springer show put down and villainize a transvestite for cross-dressing, I think the show with the most entertainment value is definitely the Springer show!

What's amazing to me is the fact that so many of the guests on these programs are using the talk show in place of real therapy that might help them; they opt for public humiliation that will be remembered by millions of strangers and probably haunt them for years to come, instead of a real solution to the problems that they have. Whether it's pregnant teens, parent-child enmity, brothers who hate each other, or abusive families, it's obvious that many people who could otherwise afford a good conventional therapist, are choosing America's newest form of group therapy -- TV Talkshows.

I find it infinitely amusing to watch otherwise well-behaved, normal people turn into screaming, hooting frenzied animals. As I enjoy watching Klansmen, Skinheads, and religious nuts make idiots of themselves publicly, it's even more funny to watch an audience of seeminly normal folks sick their incisors into the throats of people with problems beyond their control, or applaud others for rude and antisocial behavior.

On the Gerry Springer show, for example, a young woman was engaged to be married to a man who had recently taken up the hobby of crossdressing, and going to transvestite entertainment clubs. The audience behaved as though they came from Klan-land. Instantly, the audience jumped on this poor guy, castigating him just for being a crossdresser! The family of his fiance made it seem like he tortured her just by having an unusual hobby. The man repeatedly explained that he was not gay, and never engaged in homosexual activity before, but again and again, audience members kept asking him if he was gay, or accused him of being a closet homosexual. The audience even demonized the poor guy, making it seem as though crossdressing was akin to sleeping around on his fiance. A family member blamed his crossdressing on his fiance's recent weight-gain.

On the next day, Gerry had on a program entitled "I Hate My Mother", in which the audience applauded the crude and insensitive behavior more than they encouraged any positive attempts at reconcilation. A daughter and her mother who had some serious anger to work out snapped at each other, and each time one made a clever crude remark, the audience cheered. Springer showed backstage scenes of near-fistfights and obscenity-hurling matches between other reletives. Fortunately, for the guests, there were few questions from the audience, but who wanted to hear what they had to say? You know exactly what they would have said. They have a series of predictable one-liners that every audience shouts at talk show guests.

"You're sick", "You need to see a shrink", "How could you be so stupid/cruel/insensitive", or "What a lousy parent/child you've been" are the vocabulary of the low-life talk show audience that we have come to expect from nearly every talk show. Why, they could put Mrs. Cleaver on the spot on one of these shows, and they'd put her down as savagely as the next person, for any quirks, even if her quirks are commonplace and harmless. "You fed meatloaf to the Beaver! That's SICK!!!" "Why didn't you ever smack the kid when he screwed up!"

It's almost as if the audience is specially instructed to behave as rowdy and degenerate as possible -- as though they are trained to instigate and insult. At least it's obvious that the shows don't discourage such behavior. Where would the ratings go if guests and audiences behaved calm and collected. The producers know, after Geraldo's infamous "Skinhead Nosejob", that rowdy shouting matches will always garner more ratings than polite intelligent discussions.

The people who watch these shows are probably all closet pro-wrestling fans at heart, who wouldn't mind curling up with a big bowl of popcorn to watch a no-holds-barred street-fight between the guests -- a Thunderdome for family therapy on national television! Now That would be entertainment! Who wants to watch people kiss and make up when they can see blood?