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Jerry! Jerry!

May 9, 2009 | by Richard Rabkin

The guests aren't the only fools: You can actually feel yourself getting dumber when you watch humiliation fests like "Jerry Springer Show".

Last night I found myself in front of the TV munching on
some popcorn while chanting JERRY! JERRY! I was cheering while two midgets who
were covered in wedding cake were beating each other silly on the "Jerry
Springer Show". The episode was called "Attack of the Little People"
and the two small men were fighting because one of them -- who had planned to
get married on the Springer show -- had just found out that his best friend, also
a little man, had been sleeping with his bride to be. When the affair was
revealed to the bridegroom, he threw his best friend into the wedding cake
provided free of charge by the magnanimous "Jerry Springer Show".

Although I am embarrassed to admit that I was even
watching this fiasco, my shame is dulled by the fact that I know that everyone
else was watching also. Jerry has surpassed Oprah to take the coveted number
one position in the "talk show" ratings, and so although no one likes
to admit it, someone has to be watching.

I was cheering while two midgets who were covered in wedding cake were beating each other silly on the Jerry Springer show.

 As I was
watching these midgets score blows on one another, I could actually feel myself
getting dumber. The frequent camera shots of the audience cheering them on with
glee were equally depressing.

The audience brought to mind the haunting image of a Roman
Coliseum where people would cheer as gladiators fought to the death for the
enjoyment of the spectators. Was I any better, cheering while these people were
being humiliated and their lives ruined on international television?

Judaism teaches that embarrassment is, in a sense,
equivalent to death. Therefore, getting enjoyment from the embarrassment of
another is like getting enjoyment from watching his death. Indeed, according to
the Talmud, if you embarrass someone you have an obligation to compensate him
monetarily, just the same as if you injured that person or damaged his
property. (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kama)

The Talmud cites a specific example in which a man
embarrassed a woman in the market place; the rabbis declare that his behavior
was tantamount to a grave sin and that the man was required to make
restitution.

As I was watching these midgets score blows on one another, I could actually feel myself getting dumber.

This is what we TV-watchers tell ourselves so we won't
feel guilty when we are sitting on our couches at home munching popcorn and
laughing as two midgets throw each other across the set of the "Jerry Springer
Show".

Now, I know what most people probably think -- these poor
fools who go on the Springer show are embarrassing themselves voluntarily.
They want to get in fights with one another and have their wigs ripped
off before Steve, the off-duty Chicago policeman/enforcer comes to break up the
fight. They want the question-answer segment of the show to turn into
the "audience insults the guest until he cries" segment. They want
to be the subject of talk at the water cooler the next morning, when people all
around the world are asking each other, "Did you see what that lunatic did
on Springer last night?"

However, the same story from the Talmud mentioned above addresses
this rationalization.

The man who embarrassed the woman in the marketplace was
sure that she was on such a low level that she would be willing to embarrass
herself voluntarily for a little money. So, he waited for an opportune
moment, and sure enough, she willingly embarrassed herself in the same way that
he had embarrassed her previously.

So he went back to the rabbis who had ordered him to make
restitution, and presented them with the above evidence, arguing that this
woman didn't deserve to be compensated since she doesn't even have enough
self-worth to realize that she was embarrassing herself.

However, the rabbis disagreed with the man's assessment
and forced him to compensate her nonetheless. The rabbis rejected the notion
that -- just because someone is less educated, or is willing to embarrass
herself voluntarily -- this means that others can embarrass her, or get enjoyment
from her embarrassment.

Perhaps the rabbis were also implying that, although
though some people may not have a problem with embarrassing themselves
publicly, they should. Furthermore, it is detrimental for anyone else's
well-being to exploit or laugh at that person's actions regardless of how a
person behaves.

The Jerry Springer Show might be just as damaging for
those of us watching at home as it clearly is for the guests on the show. As
much fun as it may be to watch Steve break up ten fights per show, while wondering
if you're watching a talk show or a World Wrestling Federation match, perhaps
it is harmful to us all.

The next time I have some spare time, instead of watching people
pick up chairs and throw them at each other, I think I'll just pick up a good
book.




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