RIP Jerry Springer. Full disclosure: I loved watching him continue what Donahue, Geraldo, Howard Stern, & Les Crane (1960′s) turned into a live-action tabloid art form. It was impossible to look away. Gimme that lurid sleaze, those profanity-laden fistfights, hurled chairs, all of it — our own American style of rough-and-ready sideshow performance, like watching grainy Kenneth Anger films live mixed with Harmony Korine…. Yeah, it was trashy (and probably partly scripted) and childishly ridiculous and definitely exploitative, but it was also reflective of people I knew and saw growing up….the 1970s-1980s were especially sleazy & gritty & violent in my formative experience. I especially loved the episodes where people in the margins were given a voice, even if it was sensationalized by the form — maybe seeing Springer episodes like “I’m a witch” or “I like to cross-dress” that were considered so shocking back then helped set the stage for some level of normalization and equity that will eventually come. History will judge. But for sure, those episodes connected with the creative, emotive, sensitive, scared, and wilder parts of me that were rejected (often violently) by my peers — somehow I was not alone. And watching all the cro-magnon haters who Springer would bring on stage to create drama? Maybe seeing them helped steel us collectively to battle the ignorant haters still burning books and banning drag shows today.
Watch this clip of tabloid talker Les Crane in 1964 ask a male guest questions about a thing called “homosexuality.” This was ground-breaking for TV. And as archaic and weirdly quaint as this footage looks, one day people will look back on Jerry Springer episodes and probably feel the same about them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ev387WTquB8