As you might imagine, having a job that entails going to an office means that, even if I had the inclination, I wouldn't have much opportunity to watch daytime TV. I don't exactly rush in the morning, but I'm almost always at my desk by a little after 9am with my first americano of the day. Today was different: I had an appointment for a checkup at the dentists at ten past nine, and wasn't actually seen until after half past. This meant that I had ample opportunity to sit in the waiting room and to watch the end of GMTV (Lorraine Kelly talking to someone about a green tea diet) and to catch the beginning of the Jeremy Kyle.
I'm aware of Jeremy Kyle, and I know that he hosts one of those shows that is a pale shadow of the Jerry Springer show and the kind of programme that tries to stir up controversy and gets its kicks by raking over the ashes of other people's lives in the name of entertainment. I only watched about ten minutes, but it was still more than I could stomach. The theme of the show was based around a young couple. The girl was a couple of months pregant and was convinced that her partner was no good and was sleeping with other people behind her back. The boyfriend in turn wanted to take a lie detector test to prove that he wasn't lying. So far, so tawdry. It turned out that the stress of it all had driven the girl to drink, and she was downing two litres of cider. That was all the information that Kyle needed to pause the show, climb up onto the highest of moral high-horses, and to lecture the girl that she had NO RIGHT to be drinking when she was pregnant. THAT WAS FACT. She had TO STOP. It wasn't so much what he was saying, as the tone of vast supposed superiority he used to deliver it, to sycophantic applause from the audience. Once that was out of the way, we could meet the suitably pasty and incoherent boyfriend and hear his side of the story. Kyle wound him up, of course. He assumed a sort of crouching position in front of the couple on the stage, and fired in provocative question after provocative question. Eventually, the guy onstage started to shout, and he stood up and moved towards Kyle. Kyle stayed crouched and still exuded superiority as security came onto the stage. I was called up to the dentist before I saw the results of the lie detector test, but before I left I heard the boyfriend confess, before being strapped into the machine, that he had been unfaithful once... but he stressed it was a one off, as if that made things any better.
My teeth are fine, but my faith in humanity has taken something of a knock. I couldn't decide which was worse: Kyle's reptillian hunt for entertainment from someone else's tragedies, or the fact that this couple seemed to genuinely think that the answers to their problems could be found in a daytime TV studio.
My mood wasn't improved by the news either: a three month old baby and his two year old brother were found stabbed to death in their home in Manchester, with the crime having apparently been committed by their own mother. This story comes hard on the heels of the horrible story of "Baby P", the 17 month old child who was found dead in his blood spattered cot in August last year. Three people will be sentenced next month after two men were convicted on Tuesday of "causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable person". During the course of his short life, "Baby P" was horribly abused. The post mortem revealed eight broken ribs and a broken back, with another area of bleeding around the spine at neck level. There were numerous bruises, cuts and abrasions, including a deep tear to his left ear lobe, which had been pulled away from his head. There were severe lacerations to the top of his head, including a large gouge which could have been caused by a dog bite. He had blackened finger and toenails, with several nails missing. The middle finger of his right hand was without a nail and its tip was also missing, as if it had been sliced off. He had a tear to the strip of skin between the middle of the upper lip and the gum, which had partially healed. One of his front teeth had also been knocked out and was found in his colon. He had swallowed it. Horrible. It's almost beyond comprehension. Worst of all is the revelation that the child and his parents were visited 60 times over eight months by social workers, police and health professionals. Sixty times.
In October, at exactly the same time that the nation was working itself up into a froth about Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross and really important issues like that, a man was convicted of murdering his malnourished 16 month old daughter by placing her over his knee and snapping her spine in two following months of painful abuse. The prosecution at the trial noted how the child's injuries indicated she must have been in extreme pain for weeks prior to death, and the policeman in charge of the investigation was quoted as saying that "the catalogue of horrific injuries have been some of the worst I have seen in 30 years of policing". The mother of the child, and this is the bit that's really stayed with me, was given a suspended sentence after admitting to child cruelty, but was said to be in the bottom 1% of intelligence levels for this country.
We live in a world that can sometimes seem unbearably brutal. Do we really need "entertainment" like that provided by Jeremy Kyle and his ilk? Or perhaps you'd prefer to watch a celebrity having a breakdown in public, like Kerry Katona the other week on This Morning? Well, "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here" is back on soon, so perhaps we'll get to see someone falling apart at the seams on that. Perhaps it will be one of Kyle's predecessors, Robert Kilroy-Silk.
We disdain the Ancient Romans for the brutality of their chosen entertainment. From our lofty perch of irreproachable moral superiority, we wonder how they could have been considered civilised when they got their kicks from feeding people to wild animals and to watching men hack each other to pieces in the arena.
Are we really so different? We're screaming for blood every bit as loudly as those audiences in the Flavian Amphitheatre, and our society is every bit as morally corrupted as theirs.