“_________, you are NOT the father!”
It doesn’t really matter whose name is being said, you can practically anticipate the man’s reaction. He will jump up and cheer, maybe do a dance in front of his sobbing ex-girlfriend (who probably has her hands in her face), as the audience cheers and jeers. And just like that, viewers at home are likely on their feet as well, laughing at the debauchery and stupidity of people less fortunate than them.
Yet even if the tables were turned, with the woman celebrating and the man in despair over the child support he now has to pay, our reaction as an audience would be the exact same. One way or another, we feel schadenfreude, the joy of witnessing the pain and humiliation of someone who quite frankly deserves it.
This is the magic behind Maury, a tabloid talk show that has been on air since 1991. The show is hosted by legendary TV host Maurice “Maury” Povich, and covers a variety of issues. You never know what’s going to happen on any given episode. It could be “out of control” teens, sexual infidelity, rare mutations, physical disorders, bullying or maybe domestic violence. Who knows? But whatever it is, one thing is certain though: you are going to enjoy what you are about to watch.
With its endless variety and universal appeal, Maury is the best show on television.
Right now, with the popularity of shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards, we have forgotten what TV was like before HBO and Netflix. Before Maury, TV was a lot tamer—there was little mention of sex, scandal or violence. But now, these shows are commonplace. Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. To compete with the ridiculous ratings of Maury, networks had to experiment with their programming. New TV genres were born in the form of reality TV (Big Brother), tabloid news (Hard Copy) and other tabloid talk shows (The Jeremy Kyle Show).
Yes, in order to beat Maury, TV had to become Maury.
So why is this kind of programming so popular? I brought up the inevitable feeling of schadenfreude that comes with watching Maury, and how we find entertainment at the unfortunate circumstances of other people. But despite this supposedly cruel vantage point, Maury is entertaining because these people are not unlike you or me. It would not be surprising to see someone we once knew on an episode of Maury.
This glamorization of the lower middle class life has sent a ripple throughout other popular TV shows, like How I Met Your Mother and South Park. Sitcoms and prime-time television try to recapture the shocking ridiculousness of Maury by simulating its content, and in a way, they manage to find some of the same humour.
But I don’t know, Cartman emulating a dumb teenage girl just isn’t the same as a real dumb teenage girl who does whatever she wants. It’s just not the same.
Snooty critics have been up in arms since Maury’s inception. They accuse the show of being raunchy, exploitative rubbish, and lacking in both sincerity and empathy. As Whitney Matheson wrote in a column for USA Today: “Povich’s talk show is, without a doubt, the worst thing on television. Period. Don’t be fooled by the pressed shirt and pleated khakis; Maury is miles farther down the commode than Jerry Springer.”
How dare she compare the great Maury Povich to the shoddy likes of Jerry Springer. Beyond her inability to see Maury for its true artistic value, The Jerry Springer Show creates its drama by sacrificing any attempt at authenticity. Unlike Maury, Jerry Springer rarely breaks down into anarchic bouts of swearing and fighting, probably because the episodes are staged by the producers of the show.
Some of you may be wondering, “Big Time, you criticize Oscar winners for not following through on their artistic function. Meanwhile, Maury is such obvious daytime TV trash. What on Earth are you talking about?”
Now more than ever, anyone can be critic. All you need is a channel to communicate through: a newspaper, a YouTube channel, or even a blog like this one. However, many amateur critics simply evaluate art and media using their own social and political values. Of course, there is also always a sociopolitical dimension to art, but any self-respecting critic would understand that, whether you like it or not, a large majority of art is garbage.
Yet even when an artwork is objectively bad, there is probably someone, somewhere on Earth, who enjoyed it. People can develop an emotional connection with anything, even complete trash. And as we enter an era where everyone is a critic and everything is criticized, I encourage you to look beyond your horizon and think about the way other people enjoy movies, TV and art.
Because with the right words, you can make anything sound good. Even Maury.