When I was nineteen, I wrote a blog post called 'The Church of Jeremy Kyle'. I argued that if the Church were more approachable, there would be no need for programs like Jeremy Kyle. It was perhaps a little idealistic, a little naive and over the decade that’s followed since and the news this week that all filming and showings of the program have been halted, the answer is a little more complicated. The Church can’t be expected to provide DNA tests and lie detector results as part of it’s outreach, but it certainly can be more proactive in the way that we respond to mental illness and addiction.
The problem is, The Jeremy Kyle Show is not a public service. It’s not a charity, nor social enterprise designed to help people. It is an entertainment show, the guests are merely characters that the eponymous host can pass judgement on and the audience can revile.
Many of these guests are seeking answers to life-changing questions; to find out the identity of their father, or secure treatment for a devastating addiction. It seems that the promise of help is one powerful enough to propel people to air their grievances to a TV host and submit to the mercy of his judgement and a baying audience. It’s true of course, that some go on the show to seek notoriety (some guests have appeared multiple times), but the majority are seeking help they are unable to access from anywhere else.
Simon Wessley, the former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists described the show as a "theatre of cruelty". The journalist Carole Cadwalladr wrote in her column a decade ago about the participants who received little or no aftercare and were whipped into a frenzy by production staff before going on stage.
The fact that a man has taken his life after appearing on the show, and that we're talking about this during Mental Health Awareness Week throws the situation into a sharper light. What is it that drives us to watch others crises for entertainment? It’s nothing new of course, throughout history people have flocked to enjoy someone else’s pain for entertainment.
But as we become ever more aware of the prevalence of mental illness, surely it’s time we brought this kind of entertainment to an end? What we feed ourselves in terms of media does have an effect on us, and we’ve seen that participants in that media also have to deal with the consequences - perhaps it’s time to make more mindful choices in what we consume.
The Jeremy Kyle Show is not the only programme involving members of the public which has been tainted by suicide. Two former contestants of Love Island have taken their own lives since their episodes aired - and yet I did not see the same calls for the show to be cancelled. We cannot deny that there is a class issue at play, people look down on guests and viewers of The Jeremy Kyle Show, and yet they aspire to be like Love Island contestants.
What has become clear over the past few days, is that production companies need to rethink their offerings when it comes to reality TV and we all need to rethink our consumption of programs which dine on suffering.