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All the World Is a Stage:

1999

Last week I had an afternoon off from my job. I was pretty bored so I switched on the television to see if anything interesting was on. I happened to catch the middle of Ricki Lake. They were discussing certain things that the guests felt that they were lied to about. Later in the show, Ricki introduced the supposed liars and had them take a lie detector test and revealed the results on the show. I got absorbed into the hoopla so much that I stayed tuned in for three more talk shows. I can’t say what drew me into it for sure, but I have a few theories. I think it makes me feel a little more normal when I watch people with these outlandish problems like bizarre love triangles, extreme obesity, and violent racism. I also think I find the shows to be humorous at times.

People tend to look to television and other resources of media for guidelines as to what is permissible and what is not by society’s standard. It has recently become more acceptable to reveal private information on shows such as Ricki Lake and Jerry Springer. For many of the people who get into these shows, television serves as their link to the outside world. I think these types of shows initially used the shock value as a hook to snag more and more viewers. As these formerly shocking revelations get accepted as norms, the producers of these shows must search for excessively ostentatious stories that practically no one can relate to in order to retain the viewers’ interest.

This concept has itself become so much a normal part of our primordial mold that it has crossed over to other types of media such as film. A few weeks ago, I went to go see Jerry Springer’s new movie, The Ringmaster. The movie had a plot, much to my surprise. I thought that they were just going to show all the edited stuff from his syndicated talk show. The story was fictional and involved what I like to call a "bizarre love triangle." The characters included a mother, a stepfather, a daughter, and her boyfriend. The daughter was sleeping with the stepfather and the mother had suspicions of this, but refrained from doing anything in accordance with them until one day when she caught them in bed together. She went out and found her daughter’s boyfriend and had sex with him as revenge. That was when she called The Jerry Springer Show. They were invited to be guests as a result. The reasons they gave for revealing this private testimony of their lives was the free plane ticket, the stay in a fancy hotel, and the opportunity to be on television.

As it becomes standardized in our society to dispel personal information, these shows serve as a conduit for this release. People are trying to elicit some kind of response or simply obtain justification for their predicament. Perhaps they are trying to receive assistance to help them make their ordeals more bearable. Probably the underlying driving force to make appearances on these shows is for the pure sensationalism of it all. The pampering they receive, such as free plane tickets, temporary stardom, and a stay at a nice hotel, is an additional attractive incentive, as in the rationale behind the characters in Jerry Springer’s movie.

Paradoxically, this sensationalism can be seen as having a positive effect. Subjects that were previously taboo can now be discussed in public settings. However, some things are still much too personal to be revealed. Many people would prefer to persist in the illusion that these situations do not exist. As these taboos get broken down into mere cliches, the process begins anew with the search for more outrageous stories to fill the void. Thus, these shows turn themselves into cliché factories that force lonely housewives to retrospect the lives of individuals portrayed on the shows. This either makes them feel inadequate or compels them to reveal things that they have done, providing yet more fodder for public consumption.

To quote Shakespeare, "All the world’s a stage" and everyone wants their part, along with an audience to bear witness to it. The underlying question is, to quote Madonna, "Say your lines, but do you feel them, do you mean what you say when there is no one around?" To answer that question, I’ll use another quote from Madonna, "Hide behind your smile, all the world loves a clown." If you have any doubts about this, just consult the ratings for daytime talk shows.