After discussing it, Beth and myself decided that, primarily due to the media debate that has been kicked up by it, we should watch the showing of Jerry Springer: The Opera. We also watched the Jerry Springer Night programmes beforehand that told the story of Jerry Springer himself, told the story of how the opera came to be written, and also included a repeat of a show where Ruby Wax goes behind the scenes of the real Jerry Springer show in the US.
Firstly, there were a number of important aspects that were brought out by the programmes beforehand. The Ruby Wax show especially, makes a number of points about the reasons that people go on the show, and the attitude of Springer (the “I don’t solve problems, I only put them on TV” idea that comes out again in the opera). What I find most shocking about the Ruby Wax special is the attitude of suprise when Ruby goes backwards and forwards between the various guests and attempts to get them to talk about their problems – the implication is very strongly that normal Springer practice is to throw them together on screen, and then pretty well stick them on a plane home and forget about them!
Directly before the showing of the opera, there was a short documentary about the opera itself, which included a contribution from a Christian from the Churches Media Trust who had seen the show. He in common with others said that he had enjoyed the show, but expressed concern over the second act. In terms of the warnings for the opera itself the continuity announcer gave a verbal warning before the show, and during the show itself there was a verbal warning and on screen caption about bad language before act one, and again before act two, additionally highlighting the religious aspects.
Moving on to the opera itself, as I said in an earlier blog entry, this isn’t usually the kind of thing that would appeal. I am neither an opera fan, nor do I have any great interest in the Jerry Springer show. The whole concept was frankly bizarre.
The first part of the opera is pretty much an example of a Jerry Springer show. The warm up man encourages the audience to boo for the bad people, and cheer for the good people beforehand, and then through the show you get a parade of people who “have a secret to tell”. There is a running theme that a lot of guests are on the show for their “Jerry Moment”, a chance to appear on the show of the great man himself. Part way through the show Jerry sacks the warm up man for encouraging the audience too much. This comes back to haunt him at the end of the act when the warm up man returns with a gun, and passes it to another guest who he encourages, and helps to shoot Jerry.
The second half begins with a sequence that reminded me of the ghost of Christmas future idea in a Christmas Carol, in that Jerry is faced with a selection of the guests from the first half, several of whom are now dead. Each tells their story, but the response of Jerry is the philosophy shown in the Ruby Wax documentary earlier that it isn’t his fault, all he does is put the people on TV, he isn’t there to solve their problems.
However things start to get worse for Jerry when the warm-up man reappears, revealed to be the devil. He again wants Jerry to solve his problem, (again the I don’t solve problems point is made) he wants Jerry to reconcile him with heaven, and to get him an apology from God. Jerry is taken down to hell, where we get another Jerry Springer show, and the conclusion of which, God himself appears, and he also wants Jerry to come and sit at his side and help him guide the world. (This is where the “millions of voices making all the wrong choices, and all of them blaming me” line that I quoted elsewhere is sung.) Following this Jerry has failed to reconcile the Devil with Heaven, and the devil condems him to hell forever, however then after pleading, Jerry is told that it isn’t his time yet, Jerry finds himself back on the stage in his show having been shot. However then the audience demand Jerry’s last thought, where he talks about how people should love one another, and then he dies.
Looking at the controversial aspects of the show, firstly, the message of the show that comes through loud and clear is about the Springer show, and American television itself. Aside from the recreated Springer show, it also includes two advert breaks, which again target American TV. Again and again, the Springer philosophy of not being a problem solver, and the difference with what people coming on the show are expecting is highlighted. There is also, in a more direct way than through the Ruby Wax documentary comment on the effect that the show could have. The point is made that Jerry hasn’t made these people what they are when they appear, however the question that is raised is whether the Springer show has made things worse once they leave.
Moving onto the Christian aspects, let me first say that I can well see why Christians would be offended by parts of the second act. However I also think it is very important to remember that the person who wrote the show has been brought up as a Christian, sang in the Church choir, and opted to continue doing religious studies to A-level. However it is just as important to note that he does not call himself Christian now. To some extent he is an example of what has been called ‘the lost generation’, people brought up Christian, but who turn away when they become adult.
Two of the characterisations highlighted as most offensive are that of Jesus, and Mary. Jesus is portrayed as weak and wishy-washy, and almost iffemenant, leading to the ‘I’m a little bit gay’ line. Mary comes on to choruses of ‘raped by an angel’ from the minions of hell.
At this point, I’m sure there are people wondering why at this point I am not saying how shocked I am, and complaining that the show should be banned. The reason is that this is not the first time I have come across either idea. Both have come up in discussions I have read by lapsed Christians (the lost generation) as questions they have had, but that have not been adequately explored, in fact the wishy-washy wimpy Christian aspect has come up in a slightly different way in discussions in the Youth Group. Whilst there is not the space to explore either aspect here, what is common with all the people who have posed these questions is that either the answers they have recieved have not made sense to them, or worse they have pretty well been told that they shouldn’t be asking questions like that. Either way their questions have not been answered and they have been lost.
As this article on Ekklesia highlights:
â€œDuring the opera, the character representing Jesus is challenged to respond to accusations of injustice and make sense of the worldâ€™s problems. His response is to say â€˜respect meâ€™ without giving any meaningful answer or explanation to his accusers.â€?
Although I am well aware of the offence that the characterisations will cause, isn’t the much publicised campaign against the show, exactly the same? Haven’t Christians been saying the same, saying ‘respect us’ without giving any meaningful answer or explanation as to why?
â€œThrough their protests, Christian campaigners have reinforced the very stereotypes of God and Jesus Christ that they are protesting against. Christians would have done far better to take the opportunity to engage meaningfully with the important moral issues of life, relationships, justice and the problem of evil, that the opera raises, â€?
Having watched the show, I think that I must agree. Whilst the casual viewer may have missed them, the Springer opera poses some big questions, how do we as Christians answer them?