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Springtime for Springer

Jim Jepps

Jerry Springer - the operaBefore I start there are two groups of people I want to thank. First, the BBC for airing 'Jerry Springer the Opera' and the second is the Christian right for ensuring that everyone in the country knew it was on.

Thank you.

The second thing I'd better do is warn you that this article includes a small amount of salty and robust language. It's fairly difficult to write a review of Jerry Springer the Opera without the occasional fuck.

This production has been surrounded by one of those strange furores that occasionally happen in this country. It included exaggerated claims about the amount of swearing in the show and the idea of blasphemy.

Now I find it hard to imagine one of these sad people whose job includes counting swear words - do you think they were an employee or did this voluntarily, tutting and frowning all the way as they slow motioned through the entire thing, Counting the number of cast members who sang out "ass-hole"?

I hope this does not provoke some sort of Stakhanovite tendency among musicals though, each one attempting to outdo the next. "We're proud to announce that cunt production is up ten percent this year comrade director." No, that wouldn't do.

Being on the Christian right means you get to pick and choose your Bible. It becomes obligatory to cast the first stone for instance and judge others without relinquishing reciprocal judging protection. Loving your neighbour is strictly OUT, and thou shalt only kill people you reckon really deserve it.

I may have missed something but did these people ever come out against the screening of the actual Jerry Springer? Surely that was far more deserving of accusations of diabolical practices. I watched very carefully and in terms of actual blasphemy I'm not sure God would have been that bothered compared to everything else that is happening in the world.

Before I started watching I admit I had my doubts, I was worried this was to be a send up of a genre that had gone so far it can't even send up itself - but I was happily surprised that not only did the show deal with real themes intelligently, it was also a bit of a lark.

Some commentators have cast scorn on the production saying that it didn't really understand or do justice to it's subject, Jerry Springer. I think these commentators did not understand that Springer was the vehicle of the piece but that its core was far deeper than commentary on a tacky TV show.

There was only one producers style moment with the high kicking, dancing KKK chorus line, and frankly, that was at the very moment when the entire thrust of the show was transformed - it was acknowledging that this was not going to be about saying isn't Jerry Springer a cheap, vulgar show. We don't need an opera for that.

I began to get quite nervous at the beginning due to the number of warnings we were subjected to. Two before the show, one at the start of the show and then two more before the second act. Has this ever happened before? Another record? But the warnings all primed us that we were in for a real treat, and they were not wrong.

One of the things that impressed me most was the structure of the entire piece. The way it played with the look and feel of the TV studio. The look of it, the shapes and sizes of the singers, the fake audience layered upon the real audience.

The form of it warnings, warm up, audience participation, commercials (which I thought were particularly comical) and the sharp break and turn it takes going into the second half.

There has been a tendency among people commenting on this (even those who apparently have seen it) to say that the main fun lies in the swearing. I've got to say this is rubbish. First of all there isn't THAT much swearing in it. The swear counter probably knocks up more than half the expletives in the final song frankly and most of the rest seemed to me at least to simply mirror the way that people talk in certain situations.

I don't know if you've ever seen South Park the movie but there is a very funny song where the refrain goes "Shut your fuckin' face uncle fucker." which genuinely was about swearing for the hell of it. There was very little of that in Jerry Springer the Opera. A little bit, but not a lot.

Probably the most unexpected aspect to the 'Opera' was the fact that it probes some serious questions, including theological ones. It doesn't answer them in any definitive way thank God and at times it is morally ambiguous, but the exploration of the Devil's fall from heaven and Man's fall from Grace were genuinely thought provoking I thought, and not in an RE kind f way either.

The conclusion that there are "no absolutes of good and evil" and that the Devil and Jesus both had their pro's and con's was a bit lame considering what had gone before but did fit with the idea where Springer says "I don't solve problems, I just televise them"

All in all this was witty, spectacular, playful in the healthiest way and grappled with deep and interesting themes about the shape of society. Whether it was deep philosophically or comes up with satisfactory answers, well, probably not, but then neither did Cats. What do you expect?

But all of this aside, the best thing about Jerry Springer the Opera was simply that it was very, very funny. Thanks once again.


January 2005


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