Provocation on television talk shows: A representation of Jeremy Kyle’s uncut envelope.
“TV bully Jeremy Kyle got the message when a man threw an envelope back.
The offended presenter should remember – don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.”
- Voice of the Mirror (9th October 2010)
The foregoing is arguably the boldest piece of critical reaction that can be found in the media following Jeremy Kyle’s infamous envelope incident on his daytime show. The ugly event of 7th October, 2010 rather than provoke a thorough probe and critical questioning has presented the media in general, somewhat as herd. Save Sophie Hines’ Jeremy Kyle hit by flying envelope at studentbeans.com which begins with “Jeremy Kyle has definitely had this coming to him for a while…” (Hines 2010) before tamely joining the rest of the unadventurous band, there is little or no thorough critical analysis seen in the reporting of the incident throughout the media, broadcast, print or new. The intent of this essay is to deconstruct the manner in which the media has reported the matter whilst enriching the discourse primarily with the Barthian license earned from Roland Barthes’ Mythologies.
Although the new media has expended substantial capital on the matter to the extent that it falls under the “popular” (Baker and Boyd 1997) which Stuart Hall employs in describing cultural texts widely consumed by a large audience – the strongest illustration of this being a combined figure of over five million views already on Youtube (Youtube 2010) – what would appear lacking to a discerning observer is a somewhat rigorous interpretation of the media’s reading of Mr Kyle’s choice to make a mockery of his guest Kev for daring to ask why he, Mr Kyle, had discarded the envelope for the DNA results. Titled “Will our relationship survive two lie detectors and a DNA test?” (Stv player 2010) the October 7th edition of the Jeremy Kyle show invites to the fore, concerns on the Jeremy Kyle personage such that was brilliantly interrogated by Liz Hunt in her 2008 article in the Telegragh: Jeremy Kyle’s next guest should be himself (Hunt 2008).
Envelope-gate as a Public Relations gaffe
As suggested by Hunt, this essay proposes to evaluate Mr Kyle with regards to envelope-gate by the Barthian way of radically reading meaning and exploring possibilities with the psychoanalytical concepts of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. Prior to that however, the Public Relations gaffe that was put on show on October 7th 2010 ought to be addressed. To do so, it is crucial to have a firm grasp of the exact exchanges between Jeremy Kyle and his guest Kev which led to the infamous envelope tossing. It is seen that Mr Kyle’s response to Kev, who was clearly oblivious of the fact that it was only an envelope the former had tossed aside, smacked of a failure on Mr Kyle’s part to resist the combative instinct. After all Martin Langford’s sixth of his ten key principles in Public Relations Crisis Management states thus:
Do not go into battle with the media or [with guests]. A [presenter] must demonstrate [he] is in control during [an argument]. The outcome of being combative could well destroy the brand or reputation. Words said in anger, or defence, may be temporarily satisfying, but they may not represent the best position for the crisis public relations manager or organisation (Langford 2006: 409).
Although Kyle’s choice to take advantage of his guest’s ignorance and get combative may not have done much in terms of fresh damage to his long battered and suspect reputation – no thanks to countless indiscretions with his guests – it is obligatory upon any responsible medium in the business of news and information to identify the disturbing ambiguity inherent in a seemingly all-knowing and vastly experienced media personality falling short in basic tenets. There ought to have been weighty reactions to Kyle’s inability to strike a balance between liveness, and control in unscripted talk (Lundell 2009). His cheap orientation to exploit liveness in the sense that expressed a desire to please his audience by engaging them in spontaneous, unscripted heres and nows in the (perhaps unconscious) expectation that his image is exponentially expanded at the expense of his guest Kev ought to have been laid bare by media.
A Freudian Read of Envelope-gate
In attempting to adopt a more sympathetic view in the absence of critical reporting in the media, it is indeed difficult to read Kev’s reaction to Mr Kyle’s attempted exploitation with the eyes of Sigmund Freud as a break-away from an existing patriarchal order, considering the fact that many a guest at the show had stood up to Kyle in the past. To argue staunchly therefore that a trend is being halted or that Kev represents a breath of fresh air would be unduly sensational (Fairclough 1995). However, the same argument may hold strongly when further scrutiny into the Kyle personage is attempted. Past being a due and timely intervention, the issues of spousal loyalty as well as parentage that were at the centre of Kev’s appearance on the show in the first instance coincide with Kyle whose antecedents on both scores are anything but enviable. Kyle’s first daughter is a product of his first marriage (lasted less than two years) which was marred by a gambling habit from which Kyle incurred debts to the tune of over £12,000 at his partner’s unknowing expense (Tither 2009).
It behoves upon the media to question if Kyle had slipped in a Freudian sense when he uttered needlessly to Kev: “If you can be as good a father as you are an envelope collector, the world would be a better…” (Stv player 2010). Kyle’s disposition following Kev’s inquiry on why Kyle had tossed the envelope away smacked of a deep seated malady unbecoming of a television show host. Kev had only asked why Kyle threw the envelope away. The most Kyle could have done was to answer calmly: It’s only an envelope. Instead he chose to ridicule and antagonise Kev thus share a platform with a guest – one of those his show continually claims to help. By querying “What do you mean: ‘why did I throw it away?’ What do you want me to do?” Kyle aptly displayed how not to be a television talk show host and provided ample inkling to his self-confessed and well documented Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Kyle 2009). The media, based on its mild coverage of the incident apparently felt differently.
A Mirror Perspective: Lacanian Psychoanalysis of Envelope-gate
It is seen from the foregoing Freudian dissection that Mr Kyle’s personality entertains a vast contrast in his ideal ego (how he sees himself) and in his ego ideal (how he would like to be seen). In what could be termed Kyle culture, Mr Kyle has made a habit of denigrating guests on his day time show such that most of his guests appear to be his subjects while his idealised self is further served. The Lacanian bit of this essay aims to locate the origins and nurture of Kyle’s exploitative regime of pleasure starting most appropriately with the mirror stage. It is important to consider here the facts of Kyle’s upbringing. His dad worked as accountant and personal secretary to the Queen Mother while Kyle, who was born in Reading, grew up in London (Kyle 2009; Swarbrick 2010; Tither 2009). In light of such a privileged background, it is Lacanially doable to adduce appropriate reasons as to why Kyle finds delight in habitually mocking his guests – Kev being the latest to fight back. Famous for exposing the lives of those on the less fortunate end of the social spectrum, the obvious question that needs asking is: Does Mr Kyle carry a superiority complex over his guests owing to the wide variation between his historical capital and that of his guests?
Beyond the rhetoric meanwhile, Kyle presents the requisite ethos, pathos and logos for a strong cast as Lacan’s imago (Lacan 1997) by virtue of his job as television presenter wherein he stares into the camera (at himself) daily. His Identification, Idealisation and Sexuation (ibid) are long casted and his problematic metamorphoses provide today’s discourse. Susan Swarbrick alludes to this in a Herald report following an interview she conducted with Mr Kyle earlier in the year:
There is a pocket of insecurity that seems to bubble perpetually under the surface with Kyle. He seems preoccupied by what I think, concerned that I get the real him. He has a habit of saturating his sentences with “truthfully” and “honestly”, as if to help hammer home his candour and integrity. His is a deep-rooted desire to show a soft side, yet also be taken seriously. He is an exhaustingly complex bundle of contradictions – Swarbrick 2010.
Swarbrick’s observations itemise Kyle’s Identification (Lacan 1977) as cause of a largely disturbed persona and she draws attention to concerns for Kyle’s suitability for his line of work (presenting a sensitive television show) with excerpts from his new book You Couldn’t Make It Up:
“When I started this job, horrific stories of abandonment would stay with me for weeks. Five years later, I find I’ve heard so many, all in their own way dreadful and shocking, that it is getting harder to remember the details … I hear stories that take my breath away because of their sheer cruelty so frequently, I’ve started to become a bit hardened” (Swarbrick 2010: Kyle 2010).
It is seen from the ongoing analysis that Hunt’s and Swarbrick’s articles (the two major media sources in this piece) are both dated prior to the envelope saga of October 7, 2010. This strongly illustrates how docile the media fared with regards to the reporting and evaluation of Envelope-gate. The trio of Roland Barthes, Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, despite the wide and varied interpretational capital their concepts endow the media with, barely served to inspire on this occasion of Kyle’s uncaught envelope.
Perhaps a lonesome and radical interpretation of Kyle’s imprudence with his guest Kev can be found on a “UK spoof news and satire” (Newsarse 2010) website. Titled Jeremy Kyle incident leads to calls for razor sharp envelope, the site discusses the incident using a razor-envelope parody and how if the envelope had been made of razor sharp metal sheets, Kyle would effectively have been checked for his excesses from the resulting cuts. The site’s angle is so structurally argued that it presents a most effective illustration of the Barthian license hitherto addressed.
With Mr Kyle set to commence his show in the United States of America come 2011 (Swarbrick 2010), his brand is certainly enjoying quite some promotion. Could the shortage of thorough Kyle criticism in his native British media following Envelope-gate be seen as damage control of sorts, however unconscious? Could it be that Kyle has perfected his style of hypnotics to Olympian heights as his latest book title: You Couldn’t Make It Up (Swarbrick 2010) possibly portends? Or is Kyle expected to help the media make up what was clearly bad for television in his envelope exchanges just as he helps his guests make out the issues in their lives? In the end, media practitioners are as good as their latest showing in the media. As for the Jeremy Kyle Show and its presenter, fresher editions have since overtaken the effects of Envelope-gate. The media after all functions at the mercy of amnesia.
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