Jerry Springer passed away last week from pancreatic cancer at age 79. His publicist put out a very nice statement to People magazine about the late attorney, politician and talk show host.
It read in part:
“Jerry’s ability to connect with people was at the heart of his success in everything he tried whether that was politics, broadcasting or just joking with people on the street who wanted a photo or a word. He’s irreplaceable and his loss hurts immensely, but memories of his intellect, heart and humor will live on.”
That’s certainly one way of looking at it.
Then there’s my way: that the 3,800-plus episodes of “The Jerry Springer Show” that aired nationwide between 1991 and 2018 represent the very worst aspects of our culture, from the appalling lack of shame we have come to expect from people who express pride in their ignorance to the tawdry embrace of all things over the top.
It’s not a tremendous leap, really, from “I Married A Horse,” Springer’s infamous 2004 episode about Mark from Montana and his equine bride, Pixel, to “I won that election, but got robbed by fraud,” or, “Hey, let’s raid the U.S. Capitol and overthrow the government.”
Fittingly, Springer began his career in politics, back in Cincinnati in the early 1970s. Elected to city council in 1971, he resigned three years amid scandal: He was found to have paid a hooker with a check.
No matter, Springer got re-elected a year later by leaning into the scandal.
“A lot of you don’t know anything about me,” the Cincinnati Enquirer, his hometown paper, reported him saying in a speech. “But I’ll tell you one thing you do know. My credit is good.”
Springer won election as mayor of Cincinnati in 1977, then lost a run for governor of Ohio a few years later.
Defeated, he transitioned to the media world, working as a TV pundit and a news anchor. His talk show, a dud when it embraced serious news, took off when he leaned into the freakish — the crazier the better.
He had Klansmen as guests, neo-Nazis, incestuous idiots married to blood kin, and the gal who wed her boyfriend’s dad, but now wanted the son back.
By the turn of the millennium, Springer was averaging 8 million viewers an episode.
Which shows you something: To a point, crazy sells. Springer drew millions of eyeballs in a nation that at the time had a population of about 290 million.
That means 97% of the country intelligently avoided his garbage. But in America, if you can capture the ignorant 3%, you can die like Jerry Springer did — fabulously wealthy, a cultural icon, surrounded by sycophants who put out flowery statements about your death, like this one from NBC Universal, which made bajillions off Springer.
“Jerry Springer was much more than a talk show host who redefined television,” the network said. “He was a savvy politician, pop cultural icon, and devout and loyal friend who was most proud when he spoke up for the marginalized and unrepresented.”
That surely beats a press release that would have been more honest: Jerry Springer helped ruin television, giving voice to the vile and obscene and profiting handsomely off the misery of the poor, the sick and the depraved.
Like a smiling bystander at a drive-by shooting, Springer egged on the combatants, no matter who got hurt — so long as he got ratings.
Here’s a final thought, stolen verbatim from the signature line Springer used to close every one of his vile shows. “Till next time, take care of yourselves and each other.”
Yes, please. Do as the man said, not as he did.