In the Victorian era, if you were different, disabled or did not fit whatever society at the time deemed normal it was likely you could end up in a freak show. Travelling circus-like events put on public display the less fortunate of society. There were many disturbing factors about freak shows, primarily the cruelty by which people who had physical disabilities were paraded around for others to stare at. The fact that the owners of these shows made good money from their exhibits showed society had an appetite to pay cold hard cash to belittle those who society should have been helping.
Hundreds of years later and one would like to imagine that British society has moved on, the disabled are no longer shunned and being different is celebrated. Freak shows are a bad memory of the past and a lesson to be learnt about putting profits before the welfare of the less fortunate. However after the recent death of a guest on the Jeremy Kyle show, questions are being raised again about using the vulnerable for entertainment and profit.
For those old enough to remember the American founding father of the Jeremy Kyle-esque genre, is the Jerry Springer show. The one question that always came to mind whilst watching the programme was “Why would anyone go on this show?” Surely if Jerry Springer requested you to appear on the his show the chances were the outcome was not going to be positive. The same can be said about the Jeremy Kyle show which was the embodiment of washing one’s dirty linen not only in public, but in public after having gathered the whole town to watch. But yet the guests kept coming onto the show with producers taking advantage of vulnerable people often suffering from difficult social problems and seeking some kind of closure, even if it meant appearing on TV.
What the suicide of Steve Dymond, a guest on the show (and other former guests) has brought to light is the lengths to which TV producers went to, to ensure they got their product right. It would not make good entertainment if Jeremy acted simply as a middle man in a civilised discussion about differences between people. What sells this format is snarling, angry and irrational guests ready to get physical with those who were often their dearest and nearest. TV producers have been accused of encouraging guests to be angry at each other, making them dress in a manner that portrayed a stereotypical image of certain sectors of society such as the working class. Add to this the immorality of conducting lie detector tests on stressed out guests over life changing issues: it created the perfect storm for mental and physical meltdown.
Just like the freak shows of the past Jeremy Kyle felt it perfectly OK to take advantage of those in society that required support. The sad fact is that back in Victorian times and today, people are willing to watch and enjoy the misfortune of others. The whole situation exposes the underbelly of the entertainment industry under capitalism. Human beings are treated like cattle to be prodded and poked to conform to what an ever more spectacle hungry audience requires. Humiliating guests on the Jeremy Kyle show was part and parcel of the show. This is such a stark contrast to how Islam obliges Muslims to deal with the faults and shortcomings of their brothers and sisters.
On the authority of Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) who said, “Whoever relieves a believer’s distress of the distressful aspects of this world, Allah will rescue him from a difficulty of the difficulties of the Hereafter. Whoever alleviates [the situation of] one in dire straits who cannot repay his debt, Allah will alleviate his lot in both this world and in the Hereafter. Whoever conceals [the faults of] a Muslim, Allah will conceal [his faults] in this life and the Hereafter” [Muslim].
Islam encourages the reconciliation of two people and not the tearing apart of families like Jeremy Kyle. Islam has even allowed the telling of lies to reconcile the hearts of people.
It is narrated by Umm Kalthoom bint ‘Uqbah ibn Abi Mu’eet that she heard the Messenger of Allah (saw) say: “He is not a liar who seeks to reconcile between people and says good things” [Bukhari].
Whilst public pressure has resulted in the cancellation of the Jeremy Kyle show, the real problem still lingers. Reality TV shows such as Love Island and more all expose ordinary people to the limelight of fame, whilst not preparing them for the negative outcomes this brings. It is a miracle that only so few people have resorted to ending their lives to escape the negative effects of TV companies immorally pushing their guests to feed the appetites of their audiences. The spotlight should no longer be on the guests that appear on these shows, but on the TV Industry that produce them and the attitudes of society that watch them in their millions.
Under capitalism five minutes of fame results in a lifetime of pain.