THERESA May joined the tutting chorus over the Jeremy Kyle Show. Perhaps she was genuinely alarmed at the programme. Or maybe it just reminded her of something: all those people cruelly mocking one friendless person, the shouting, the insults – and a man called Jeremy leading the catcalls.
This morning the show was axed by ITV after the death of a guest, Steven Dymond, 63, who is thought to have killed himself a week after failing a lie detector test on an unseen episode.
Criticising TV programmes you don’t watch is a bad habit, but everyone is at it this morning. So, having glimpsed a few gory minutes once or twice, I’ll join the braying crowd and peer at the headlines, written before the show was cancelled.
The Sun has “Kyle on trial” and that line about May being “deeply concerned”. The i-newspaper has “Jeremy Kyle show faces ITV axe over mental health concerns”, while the Daily Mirror goes for “Theatre of cruelty.”
The Daily Mail and the Star draw strikingly different conclusions after speaking to Steven Dymond’s relatives. His son complains to the Mail that the Kyle show “ripped into” his father, while his stepdaughter tells the Star that he was a “selfish serial liar” who had made many previous suicide attempts.
All this is to peer through a smudged lens, it is true, but that last line makes a point the stepdaughter might not have intended. If Dymond had indeed made earlier suicide threats, it suggests he should never have been allowed anywhere near a TV camera on such an exploitative show.
Going along to a public hanging once counted as entertainment. As you can no longer join the queue at an execution or a flogging, instead you switch on the television and bray at the gruesome mess a stranger has made of their life.
The Spectator website, not a naturally stopping off point for me, gets to the grubby heard of the matter, decrying all that shouting and screaming and fractious arguments, and saying that “our desire for reality TV has led us down a dark and twisted path” to a “programme on which contestants are mocked by viewers based on their class, background and appearance”.
ITV maintained it had a duty of care to all Kyle’s guests – a corporate statement that unties itself before your eyes: if it had a real duty of care, it would never have placed such potentially vulnerable people before the cameras in the name of mass entertainment.
In other news, yesterday I walked out of the local Sainsbury’s. Three young men were standing around, each with tough-looking bull terrier-type dogs. One of the dogs started off crying or panicking or something. Soon there was a fury of barking and snapping, as the men clung on to the leads, straining to hold the dogs apart.
And there, quite by chance, was a perfect metaphor for the Jeremy Kyle Show.