I turned on the television to watch international news on KCET. Brian Williams from NBC is fine and well, but if I really want to know what’s going on in the world I watch BBC World, Al Jazeera (London), IBA (Isreal) and NHK (Japan). Holding the remote control ready to turn channels, I happened upon THE STEVE WILKOS SHOW (KTLA 5).
Steve Wilkos is a former, marine, former police officer and former sidekick on the Jerry Springer Show. He now has his own “the apple doesn’t fall far from the Jerry Springer tree” show dealing with child abuse. No doubt, there are plenty of strange shows on TV, but I have mixed emotions about exploiting child abuse.
Parent(s) and abuser come on the show once they agree and submit to a lie detector test. A young mother of an eleven-month-old baby suspected her girlfriend, who lives in the young mother’s house and babysits while she attends school, of beating her baby.
On one hand, if an infant is rescued from an abuser thanks to Steve Wilkos exposing him/her, I applaud this. Toddlers cannot speak up for themselves, and the non-abusing grownup is often at a loss. Steve Wilkos’ show fills a troubling gap between letting the abuse continue and stemming it. And it needs to be stemmed by all means, even if it is within an hour’s show. Hopefully, through his show, both the victim and the perpetrator learn something. Maybe the perpetrator’s eyes have been opened to his/her problem. As far as the victim is concerned, the show commits to helping. What that exactly entails, I don’t know.
On the other hand, it is simply perverted to turn a most serious topic such as child abuse into entertainment. The existence of Steve Wilkos’ show is based on children suffering. Without that fact, he has no show. Child abuse has been turned into a frivolous, superficial sideshow. Two or more people stand on a stage acting out some retaliation scene edged on by a heated, howling and ranting audience. In this frenzy of low-life behavior one easily forgets that it is a child’s life at stake. The outcome is obvious. The perpetrator gets booed of the stage and repudiated by the host; a solution that does nothing but demean the abuser who then probably only feels like finding someone else to abuse.
There are some innate dangers to the show. Lie detectors aren’t 100% fool proof. And how likely is it that some idiot abuses a child just to get his/her fifteen minutes of fame? The players in this real-life game seemed eager to confront each other, perhaps even more so knowing that a camera was in their face. Whether victim or perpetrator, they’ve been lifted out of anonymity and given a platform to vent. And let’s not forget the viewer, without whom this show wouldn’t exist. I’m inclined to think that the people, who enjoy watching the Steve Wilkos show from the comfort of their living room, must have big issues of their own. I know I felt very uncomfortable as I sat there with the remote control in my hand, still ready to change the channel.
I understand that television these days spans the spectrum of viewership. I get that we need a little something for everyone. But with shows like Steve Wilkos’ we have hit a new all time low. And he isn’t the only one. The show TO CATCH A PREDATOR is just as bad except that it has a thicker veneer polish on it. Chris Hanson might be wearing a suit and speak in a more concerned manner, but just like Steve Wilkos, he too takes a serious subject matter and turns into entertainment.
These shows, and in fact most ‘reality shows,’ are meant to make the viewer feel better about himself by pointing the finger at others. In this day and age, when the state of the economy and thus of our lives has nothing positive to offer, we are happy to find distraction by prying into the lives of others.
At the end of the show, the young mother who suspected her girlfriend got the proof she needed. Besides the screaming and the fighting, I believed the young mother when she told her girlfriend never to come close to her house anymore. I could see it in her eyes, her mother instincts wanted to protect her baby; she was devastated that her closest friend and someone she trusted had hurt her child. The young mother threatened to sue her friend. Steve Wilkos then said he would help her with ‘counseling’, I heard nothing about helping her with the suit. My point is, it’s easy to let Pandora out of the box and, in so doing, create shock and awe for viewers. But after you’ve done that, Steve and Chris, what happens then?