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The trouble with Jerry

The oldest debate among those concerned with the more realistic
eccentricities of the entertainment world is: Are people scuzzy because
they’re offered such scuzzy human models in their entertainment? Or is
their entertainment scuzzy because it’s striving honorably to give
audiences a realistic picture of the world?

A recent murder which appears, at a glance, to be an outgrowth of the
Jerry Springer Show — a top-rated television show which attracts a
large number of viewers for its after-midnight time slot — is the most
recent specimen for analysis in this debate. If you’ve never seen the
Jerry Springer Show, a few words of description are perhaps necessary.
In the most recent Springer hit show two ladies are introduced, then the
man they both love.

Ralf Panitz was a romantic German who fell in love with Nancy
Campbell over the Internet. He bought himself an airline ticket to
America, met Nancy, 12 years his senior, in Florida, married her, and
they were well launched in a conventional marriage. All went smoothly
for a couple of years until Ralf met Eleanor, 5 years his senior, also
in Florida. He presumably got divorced from Nancy, because Ralf opens
the second act of the play by marrying Eleanor in Chicago. This makes
the love life of Ralf decidedly un-neat, because two women, both Nancy
and Eleanor, are passionately in love with him. What is the poor fellow
to do?

Ralf tells Nancy, his first wife, that all is over between them and
would she please move out. But Nancy loves him too much to move out,
which is when things get complicated and the Jerry Springer show gets
into the act.

Now, the Springer show has a sneaky way of operating. It gets the
accord of two people to appear on the show, and then, in the middle of
the program, with no warning, Springer raises a curtain and there is a
third person — the person his two guests least want to see in the whole
world. In this manner he has sprung cheating wives, cheating lovers,
lesbian lovers, and gay lovers, on an unsuspecting guest. Springer makes
a point of not selecting guests too familiar with gentlemanly behavior,
and he has two to four muscle men always standing by in case violence
erupts. So the guests of the show see an abundance of wild swings,
kicking, amateur wrestling take-downs, and plenty of hair pulling (on
the part of the women), all of which the audience, judging by its
vociferous reaction, seems to enjoy immensely.

In a conversational interlude in the Panitz case (if one can call it
“conversation”), Nancy, the first wife, said she thought she had been
invited to appear on the show because her ex-husband wanted to provoke a
reconciliation, and possibly remarry her. Ralf Panitz, for his part,
said he hoped “she might be humiliated enough to recognize it’s over.”
As you can see, although humiliation is a large part of Panitz’s
strategy, it did not work. So much for humiliation as a means for
obtaining a peaceful marital separation.

According to Nancy’s version, Panitz had earlier kicked her in the
stomach. During the same visit, “He beat my head on the floor. At other
times he would wake me up in the night, kneeling on my chest and choking
me. He would body slam me against the furniture and walls, and I was
always fearful I couldn’t escape.” Her court papers say Panitz chased
his ex-wife with a knife the day she filed for a restraining order.
Later Eleanor, his second wife, was heard screaming from the street.
“Ralf! Don’t do this!”

Asked whether he felt any culpability for the incident and for the
woman’s death, Springer, the show’s host, said to reporters in Sarasota,
“You can’t make excuses for people who commit horrible acts. People have
to take responsibility for their own behavior.”

And one is bound to wonder what Mr. Springer thinks of people who,
although they might not commit “horrible acts” themselves,
professionally provoke rage in others for the purpose of entertaining a
television audience.