by R.U. Sirius & St. Jude (Wired magazine, 1994)
She’s permed, chubby, hose ‘n’ heels… Mom. She stands up when Phil or Sally Jessy or Oprah aims the microphone. Her voice rises. Her face tumesces. She’s outraged by somebody’s sexual behavior. Oprah’s eyes register $$ – the big score. This is the very essence of daytime talk TV.
In fact, this G-rated money shot is set up for you many times every single weekday. It works like this: The sacrificial “guest” is somehow off-center – not quite your married missionary heterosexual. The host announces the deviant’s category – say, “Men Who Love Shoes Too Much” – then turns to the camera and wonders gravely about this group’s impact on society, arming the audience for attack. Then audience and guest have it out over whether or not the guest should exist. After an hour, the shoefucker is led off, back to the Green Room, bleeding profusely. Then everyone is thanked. Commercials play. Credits roll. I imagine cigarettes being lit all around by audience, guest, and host – as most shows seem to build, then climax.
The ritual being observed here on talk television, and on television at large, is a mapping of classic small-town dynamics onto the media global village. Remember the small town – that tiny-minded, busy-bodied, bully-fisted little burg? No you don’t, because your grandpappy scraped it off his shoes in ought-six so he could get himself a life.
In this century the urban drift became a stampede. Why? The bright lights were calling, but your ancestors and mine were ejected out of Hickwad by the peer pressure.
I Get to Be Me
Now, in the TV global village, rites based on small-town traditions like “conform-or-die,” “shut-up-and-take-it,” and “you’ll-braise-in-eternal-torment” are being celebrated just like in the old days. Now the targets offer themselves freely, cheerful as volcano virgins, because these bad boys and girls – criminals, perverts, or cultural dissidents – are working for their camera time.
Camera time is the irresistible bait of a media culture. The victims get to be themselves, get to flaunt being themselves – can even try to make converts, before the little red light goes out. After the hatefest, lighting up, the armchair lynchmob can catch the cleanup actions: see the arrests on Fox’s Cops, follow the trial on Court TV and get the smirking denouement on A Current Affair. Read more “The Medium is the Message and the Message is Voyeurism (1994)”