‘We Won’t Judge You…’


‘And don’t worry,’ says that rather alarming-looking doctor from Channel Four’s Embarrassing Bodies, as he urges the viewing public to turn up and flaunt their stomach-turning ailments to a gawping nation, ‘we won’t judge you.’ Of course, any doctor who encounters a patient whose health might be improved by eating less, drinking less, stopping smoking or giving up fighting after the pubs close, and who tells the patient so is, surely, ‘judging’ his patient – and rightly so. However, for Channel Four execs, ‘judging’ is something they want to be seen not doing.


Consider another trailer, for another Channel Four programme, 24 Hours in A&E; the pleasant, compassionate nurse smiles and says ‘We’re not here to judge.’ Perhaps she is one, but it would surely take a saint not to judge some of the sorry refuse that emergency staff have to deal with. Around a third of A&E staff suffer verbal abuse and around 1 in 10 are actually assaulted. I suspect most of them are tempted to make some moral judgement on their attackers – and why shouldn’t they?


Channel Four, and other broadcasters of trash television, are, however, merely reflecting today’s culture. It isn’t right to make moral judgements, to pronounce that someone is wrong. Nobody is bad or does bad things; people merely make mistakes, are ill-advised, opt for questionable life choices and must not be judged but rather validated. ‘Judgement’ smacks of olden days, church and faith, the post-war welfare settlement, ideology and dogma. Trash TV producers are merely going with the postmodern we’re-all-valid flow. Judgement by God, church, society, the authorities, our peers is out. Gone. Old.


Except it’s not. Especially on trash TV. Judgement, the drive to condemn (rightly or wrongly), the need to find people to feel superior to, are all basic if unattractive human traits. And the TV producers know this and play up to them.

Regrettable it may be, but there is always the The Jeremy Kyle Show. A depressing succession of society’s dregs, people who need positive interventions to get their lives back on track – education in literacy, parenting skills, communication skills – are instead paraded on daytime TV yelling inarticulately about their petty domestic squabbles so that the TV audience can point, tut, laugh, shake their heads, feel superior and judge them.

The Jeremy Kyle show, judging people, judge you, feeling better about yourself watching people who are worse than you - HeadStuff.org

I never watched Big Brother and cannot comment on the popular notion in the chattering media that it was, like, really, you know, innovative and, like, great TV until it got stale by the time it ended, yeah? (And, yes, I know it still airs on Channel Five but that’s just another form of having ended.) I used to post on an online discussion forum; in the early days of Big Brother not only would a main thread appear for discussing the programme, growing eventually to thousands of posts, but so would several other side-issue threads. One appeared entitled Thread to Hate Anna! and quickly attracted posts. I can’t remember the actual name of the housemate who was the subject of the thread; ‘Anna’ is merely a placeholder but it might well have been the name. Who cares?


I posted on it once, saying something like ‘Yup, this is what the world needs, more hate.’ And the thread was never posted on again. I like to think of this as my one cyber-Sheriff moment, moving in and cleaning up this town. But the point remains, the BB community were freely using terms like ‘hate’ and no doubt their feelings, of like and dislike, of fancy something rotten and hate, were fuelling their eviction votes. Eviction votes in which, of course, the baying viewer-hordes executed – and no other word will do – judgement.


Mary Portas judges shops, the Hotel Inspector judges hotels, the B&B operators in Three in a Bed are invited to judge each other and so are the competing dinner party providers, each one as loathsome as the other (if I may be permitted to judge) in Come Dine with Me.


Equally, no singing or dancing talent show is complete without its panel – or, we might say, bench – of judges. They may have their different roles – soft judge, hard judge, incomprehensible judge – but nonetheless it’s their job not just to confer sheep or goat status on the contestants but to articulate the feelings of their audience, albeit letting down gently the egregiously untalented contestants who are being derisively hooted at in homes around the nation. It’s the public who do the judging on them.

The X Factor, Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Cheryl, Mel B, judges 2014, judging people who are worse than you, delusional people, judging in modern media - HeadStuff.org

In these programmes, as in the parallel cookery (or baking or home improvement or, dear goodness, needlework) efforts, it’s become the normal practice to announce the status of competitors – in or out – not with drum rolls or fanfares as in older programmes but by announcing something like ‘And the contestant who’ll be going home is…’ followed by utter silence while the camera pulls tight to the beads of sweat on the brows concerned, before the appropriate name is given. It always seems a slightly lame form of contrived tension to me, but it certainly must resemble the pause that would have occurred before the official placed the black cap over the judge’s wig prior to his invoking the ultimate judgement.


On my rare ventures into watching – for research purposes – the more hardcore reality programmes I have rarely been able to last more than ten minutes, yet I’ve always been struck by the numbers of vain, shallow, ridiculous, completely self-unaware exhibitionists whom researchers have selected to appear on the programmes; clearly they have been set up for humiliation and, er, judgement. The sternness of this judgement, the general amused contempt in which they’re held will, of course, generally escape the participants given their paucity of critical faculties, but it doesn’t make their exposure any more commendable.


Of course, if anyone – like me – makes any objections to these programmes in these terms, the response is usually a snappy, ‘Oh, it’s all just a bit of fun! I just want something to chill to!’


But are they, merely, fun? It’s all very well to have a soap character like JR Ewing, or a Bond baddie, or a panto villain to boo and hiss. They’re not, after all, real. It’s not the same thing to laugh at, condemn, hate, judge real people, however irritating, shallow and insensate they are.


Some critics have likened these reality programmes to fine ladies and gentlemen getting a few giggles in olden times by paying to go into the asylums and watch the antics of the inmates. I think there’s a clearer parallel with public hangings, floggings and witch-burnings, events where the public could share in the judgement and relish its execution.


Judgement upon others is something we all exercise, and in some cases must exercise. It is foolish to suggest it is inherently wrong to do so, and hypocritical when these suggestions are supported by a media industry that profits from harsh judgements on its pathetic, if willing victims.