Theatre Matters

Contemplations on the dramatic arts from a national perspective

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Steven Oxman has contributed to such publications as the Los Angeles Times, American Theatre, Stagebill, and, most frequently, Variety, for which he has written over 300 television and theatre reviews.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Jerry Springer and the BBC

I don’t know how I missed this. This weekend, the BBC will air its taped version of the London stage show, “Jerry Springer, the Opera.” The protests have been unprecedented. An article is here.

I saw the show in London and it’s one of my favorite theatrical experiences of the last several years. And I’m someone who just can’t watch the TV show – I cringe in disgust and turn away (yes, really, I turn the channel).

But “Jerry Springer, The Opera” is something wholly different.

The first act is an operatic depiction of a typical Springer TV episode, replete with its stock characters (e.g. the “chick with a dick”). But the characters express themselves in operatic terms. Well, maybe “operatic terms” isn’t the right phrase, given that their terms include “I’ve Been Seeing Someone Else.” But at least they express themselves in operatic style and music. At the end of the first act, Jerry gets shot, and the second act takes him to Hell, where he’s forced to moderate a Springer-style confrontation between God and the Devil.

Who could possibly be offended? And why wasn’t PBS the first to pounce? (Heh, heh, heh)

Really, though, think about this: This show examines a “low” cultural phenomenon – and you can’t deny the Springer show is a phenomenon – and creates “high” art with it. It takes something ugly and uses it to make something worthwhile (should “worthwhile” also be in quotes?). I still can’t and won’t watch the TV show, but the Opera has made me understand its appeal a whole lot better: people crave something larger than life, even if it reaches for the dirt rather than the heavens.

So here’s where we are. The disgusting but popular work -- the TV show -- gets canonized in the popular consciousness. The revelatory contemplation of that show’s “meaning” gets massive protests? Anyone see anything wrong here?