The other day my remote control stopped working as I was flipping past the Jerry Springer show. 

   At first I sat in stunned silence, wondering why bad things happen to good people.

   But once I stopped staring at the remote’s battery compartment in stark fear--having been temporarily overcome by the terrifying prospect of trying to open it without breaking those tiny little clippy things that hold the cover on--I was drawn to the sound of some kind of violent confrontation taking place. 

   That’s when I looked back at the TV and remembered that the remote had stopped working as the Springer show appeared.

   I momentarily thought about putting down my bowl of Cherry Garcia, rising up from my recliner, and walking across the room to actually change the channel manually, and that made for a good chuckle.

   The next thing I knew, Jerry was chuckling while his uniformed crew of toughs restrained a young lady who had just thrown three haymakers at her boyfriend, who, it turned out, was sleeping with her mother and her brother and had been keeping suspiciously close company with the family Rottweiler. 

   That rekindled a decade-old or so memory of mine--about the Springer show, not the untoward proclivities of my family--and I suddenly realized that saving American civilization is just a matter of all of us following the media’s lead instead of trying to think for ourselves.

   If I may explain.

   For a brief time somewhere around 1999, the lead story on every magazine cover, news-magazine TV show, and op-ed page was: America is on the edge of Armageddon because of the effect on society of shows like Jerry Springer and the old “Geraldo” show and “Sally Jesse Raphael.”

   It’s okay if you say “Sally who?”  In fact, it’s a blessing.

   Most people hardly knew those shows existed until the media started a daily campaign to force all Americans to learn about them.

   And from the way the media presented the story, you would have thought Jerry Springer was attracting an audience of 80 million concerned citizens, was religiously watched by all of Congress, served as the spirit guide to soccer moms everywhere, and was broadcast in every elementary school in the country.

   Amazingly, none of that was true. 

   Only about two million people watched Springer’s show (out of a then American population of about 280 million).

   The other shows of the genre also had audiences of about two million each, and it was probably the same two million people who switched back and forth between all of them.

   Not exactly a prime time audience in either numbers or, as it turned out,  demographics. 

   So what made Jerry’s show so worthy of serial rapt media scrutiny?

   Realizing that America was starved for a dinner table topic late in the complacent 90’s, and ever-concerned with the strength of the American family and the importance of family discussion, the media itself--in one if its now de rigueur orgies of mass focused attention--anointed Springer and the other tabloid shows the harbingers of a dire future for America. 

   It was the media, not some self-appointed do-gooder advocate, that helped our country to properly discover and appreciate this nascent depravity, of which few of us had even been aware as we began passing salsa around the table instead of ketchup to slather onto our heavily-oiled Ore-Ida crispy oven fries.

   You may say that the media has never had any real concern whatsoever with the strength of the American family, and that it started making a big deal about talk shows like Springer’s just to boost ratings for news shows and newsmagazines once the Clinton impeachment hearings were over and there wasn’t a decent war to report on.

   I refuse to share your cynicism.

   Anyway, even with all of the media focus, the ratings of Springer-type shows never really went up, except for a minor blip or two. 

   We listened, we discussed and fretted, but few of us took the time to actually watch the shows we were all so deeply worried were going to pervert our country’s morals, or, worse, drive afternoon game shows and soap operas off the air (a genuine concern of many pundits at the time).

   But it was presented as a crisis in every major and minor news outlet, and the public and all of our politicians bought into it, even though most of us had a less than second-hand acquaintance with the underlying facts, such as they were.

   Then the media changed the subject, and we all did too.

   It was like it never happened.

   Why did the media change the subject? 

   You might assume that some other juicy topic arose to take its place, but you would be missing one of the great cultural leaps in modern American history.

   The truth is, as I realized while contemplating my Cherry Garcia: The media changed the subject in order to save the Springer show before Congress or other busybodies ruined the fun.

   And, in retrospect, wisely so.

   More than ten years later, Mr. Springer is still on the air. 

   He still has a staff of uniformed toughs to separate the contestants, er, guests, who are encouraged to attack each other with a three punch, two hair-pull limit per round (that is, during the actual program segments of about two minutes each that occur between five minute runs of commercials).

   The same decade-old audience of now closer to one and a half million ill-educated and/or highly disturbed persons, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, are still watching folks just like themselves lunge and threaten, and scream about each other’s infidelity, lying, incest and other “America’s heartland” behaviors.

   The informing, uplifting message for these viewers is that their own dysfunctional lives are normal, and that they, too, can be happy if they’ll just learn to violently confront each other once in a while, use a little less methamphetamine, and visit their relatives in jail more often.

   Mr. Springer continues to entertain the poor and unhinged while making a few million dollars a year exploiting fear, ignorance and self-loathing.

   Who needs Dr. Phil?

   No, really, even without the Springer show: Who needs Dr. Phil? 

   But I digress.

   To be honest, I was outraged to discover that this kind of show is still on the air (the Springer show, but Dr. Phil, too, come to think of it).

   Without the media bringing the show to my attention, I assumed that Springer and all shows like it had disappeared long ago.

   After all, no one even mentions Springer’s show, let alone complains about it, publicly or privately, even though, if anything, the level of violence and exploitation is far greater than it was back in the 90’s.

   Then I realized that if the media saved Springer back then, and isn’t paying attention to the Springer show now, there must be a good reason.

   And I realized that, lo those many years ago, the wise folks running America’s entertainment establishment understood that we needed Mr. Springer’s oeuvre: his show and others like them created a foundation that allowed advertisers to accept the worst our society offers on a daily basis. 

   Without that acceptance we would never have created and so widely aired today’s reality shows, which exploit a much broader class of miscreants and clueless egotists--in prime time, no less--and thereby provide greater entertainment, and dinner table fodder, for all America.

   If that’s not a great public service that supports the heart of American civilization, I don’t know what is.

   Think about it: If the Springer show and its stripe had been driven off the air, we’d never have known which intensely shallow bimbos wanted to marry a millionaire, and where would we be without the fulfilling plain dealing and camaraderie of “Survivor” or the heartwarming family instruction of “Dog The Bounty Hunter” or “Wife Swap” or “Bridezilla’s,” not to mention the potentially never-ending mutations of societal grace presented by “The Real Housewives of...”?

   Personally, in the absence of a crisis like a non-functioning remote control, I don’t watch any of the reality shows, nor the many “judge” shows that crowd afternoon TV, but one man’s avoidance of the exploitation of the weak and needy and the promotion of the worst instincts society has to offer is another man’s exercise in voyeuristic behavior that degrades us all, so who am I to judge?

   And the perhaps more important lesson for us all: Upon consideration of the entire Springer episode, I’ve realized that there are no problems unless the media says so, in which case we all should focus in on whatever problem the media tells us to until the media moves on to another topic, at which point we should follow along and forget whatever crisis the media used to be promoting.

   As you may recall, Walter Cronkite ended each of his nightly newscasts by intoning, “That’s the way it is,” and I don’t recall him asking for second opinions from viewers.

   Today’s media is more filled than ever with professionals who make it their job to know what should be important to us, just like they knew the war in Iraq would be great entertainment if we could just get the darned thing off the ground.

   Remember when embedded reporters were whooping it up as our troops flew across desert roads to Baghdad, as if they were all on their way to the senior prom with the Beach Boys singing “Kokomo” in the background?

   I was exhilarated, as were all right-thinking Americans.

   But my wife, ever the skeptic, kept annoying me, not to mention frightening me, by asking, “And what happens after they get to Baghdad?”

   Now I know it’s much better to focus my attention where and when the media tells me to, and nowhere else. 

   In fact, if not for the media’s preservation of the Springer show, which led to the media’s realization of how easily it can focus and refocus the American consciousness: the war in Iraq might not even have been possible, and none of us would know what “shock and awe” really looks like, or at least might have looked like if it had lived up to the hype.

   And if I may quote the words of the mythical Hollywood mogul Jack Woltz, spoken to consigliere Tom Hagen as Woltz prefaced detailed remarks concerning the intimacies of his relationship with a certain young starlet, “Let me be even more frank.” To wit:

   If America’s newspapers don’t feel that our war fatalities deserve front page coverage unless an established minimum number of soldiers die the same day; if the network evening news wants to devote half the broadcast to kitschy human interest stories rather than to crucial realities that the audience might find disturbing night after night (remember when news was reported instead of marketed?): Who the heck are we amateurs to question their professional judgment?

   If only everyone would stop trying to figure things out on their own and realize that Comcast and Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone and the Hearst family and the rest of the media owners only have our best interests at heart: everything would be fine. 

   Don’t take my word for it.

   Ask Jerry Springer.


Dear Major Ashpole,

   Jerry Springer provides a valuable outlet for persons whose own lives are in turmoil, and who need to see that there is always hope and always someone who has worse problems than their own.

   He also has a delightful smile, and personal charm that would warm anyone’s heart.

Jerry Springer

Making Money On The Backs of America’s Poor Trash, No Matter What Race, Creed or Color,

And Loving It

Dear Major Ashpole,

   I can’t believe you’re still grousing about the Iraq war.  It’s old news, and you’re only hurting American families by rekindling thoughts of what a needless tragedy the whole thing was and is.

   Personally, I believe it was a necessary war nonetheless, and history will vindicate George W. Bush.

   If it seems like I’m contradicting myself, what are you going to do about it?

   And don’t make some stupid comment that will force me to call my mother-in-law.

   I mean, really, please don’t make me call my mother-in-law.

Laura Bush

Former First Lady And Still A Raging Bitch Whenever I Want To Be, Which Is Most Of The Time, And If You Had My Daughters and My Husband And My Mother-In-Law, You Would Be Too, Not That I’m Blaming Anyone, Even If I Am (please buy my book when it comes out in paperback!)

Dear Major Ashpole,

   I’m one of the million or so people who watch Jerry Springer and all of the other afternoon reality programs, including the judge shows, and I have one thing to say:

   1. You are an elitist pig.

   2. You should feel lucky that you don’t have to deal with the tragedies and personal problems that the people on those shows have to deal with.

   Okay, that’s two things, but when I get upset, I don’t always tell the truth or do what I say I’m going to do.

   Even when I don’t get upset, I tend to lie liberally (well, conservatively), and I know I vote for legislation that regularly screws the needy and the poor, but you’re not supposed to mention that.

   I mean, how would you get re-elected in a state with so many poor people if you told the truth about the extent to which all of your policies favor the wealthiest families in America?

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)

Senate Minority Leader

Dear Senator McConnell,

   I am shocked to hear that you are spending your afternoons watching tawdry television programs instead of supporting the economy by spending more time in restaurants and bars, which is what I always heard you did most of the time.

   Perhaps you should rethink your priorities a bit, although for heaven’s sake, don’t get involved in creating legislation. 

   We have enough problems in America as it is.

Dear Major Ashpole,

   I was an embedded reporter on the charge to Baghdad and I didn’t hear “Kokomo” played at all.

   I was also a bedded reporter, but with all those hunks in uniform, what’s a girl to do?

   Anyway, I’m married now, so never mind.

Christiane Amanpour

Former CNN News Babe

Now A Staid Sunday Morning Presence on ABC

Dear Major Ashpole,

   I wish you’d written more about all of the new judge shows.

   I think they’re really neat, and you can learn a lot by seeing real jurisprudence practiced on a daily basis as the law is applied to ordinary lives.

   Of course, I don’t have to worry about following the law, I can make it up as I go along, and no matter what I told Congress during my confirmation hearings, that’s exactly what I’m doing, and no one can stop me. 


John Glover Roberts, Jr.

Chief Justice

Supreme Court of The United States

P.S. Can you hook me up with that Palin babe? She’s always writing to you, and she is one conservative dream of a MILF!  That’s my legal opinion (talk about a split decision, if you get my drift).

Dear Chief Justice Roberts,

  Consistency matters, especially on the Supreme Court, so it’s good to know that you’re not even pretending to care about the Constitution, and never did.

   My hat is off to you, sir, and it’s three-cornered, too.

Dear Major Ashpole,

   When I think about “nascent depravity” I think more about cutting the cheese than passing the ketchup or that illegal immigrant stuff with all the peppers in it, although there’s really nothing depraved about bodily functions, as long as you don’t stick them in someone’s face, as it were.

   I guess, upon consideration, I’m not really making much sense, but I want

to keep practicing my letter writing, so I hope you don’t mind.

Sarah Palin

America’s Cultural MILF

P.S. How about “as it were” and “upon consideration”?  Pretty classy, huh, for a little ‘ol former beauty queen (maybe now that I’m usin’ such high falutin’ language, I can impress Dennis Miller if I bump into him in the hallway at Fox...he’s pretty hot for a former atheist!).


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