It’s the same scene nearly day after day during one specific hour of daytime TV: Some unfortunate women — more than likely young, presumably poor and/or of color — bawling like a 5-year-old who had their beloved blankee burned right in front of them after hearing the words, “You are not the father!” This week Maury, tabloid-themed talk show hosted by the once serious news anchor Maury Povich celebrates its 20th anniversary. It’s certainly been an interesting two decades to say the least.
Initially launched as The Maury Povich Show, the husband of other ex-CBS anchor Connie Chung, discussed current events and featured uplifting tales themed around overcoming adversity. Then came a new show owner and a revamped format — one essentially modeled after The Jerry Springer Show. The shift proved once again that ratings success usually means more than delivering a meaningful message.
While there are certainly a bevy of different personalities who appear on the show in an effort to score cheap fame, it’s one group that’s made Maury stand out: single mothers. Most of whom are black and for the life of them just can’t seem to correctly name the person that knocked them up.
Week after week we see young black women on the lower socioeconomic totem pole embarrass themselves after being pegged as “loose,” irresponsible, or worse: an all around bad mother. The men fair no better, because regardless of whether or not they impregnated a given guest, they were trifling enough to not discover or care whether or not they had a child in this world on their own accord.
Throughout this same story arc is the constant of Maury Povich, who uses his age and skill set as a journalist to feign comfort and concern to his onstage baby daddy seekers.
“He’s become a stern uncle,” an executive producer of Maury once claimed in 2000. Actually, Maury seems more like the kind of kinfolk you tend to like don’t necessarily trust. And why should you put much faith in Maury’s “concern” when he’s head puppeteer?
Nearly ten years ago, USA Today’s Whitney Matheson roasted the show, calling it “without a doubt, the worst thing on television.” She added, “Now in its 11th year, the show is practically crying out for cancellation, and I sincerely hope someone heeds the call.” How well did that scenario go?
One lingering complaint about the trashy talk show is the notion that while entertaining to some, it perpetuates such ugly stereotypes about black men and women. As in the belief that collectively a lot of blacks go out and have reckless sex and make babies with random strangers without a full grasp of the consequences. Watching these women howl like wolves probably does play into certain yet still unfounded “welfare queen” fairytales and long standing negative stereotypes about African-Americans being oversexed.
I’ve never found Maury to be that amusing, but as soon as I thought to wag my finger in judgment of him and his viewers I quickly checked myself by remembering that I routinely watch shows like Basketball Wives. That catty reality show also promotes negative stereotypes about women. The same goes for The A-List, which very much prides itself putting over-the-top gay men on full display. Sometimes I do find myself winching while watching parts of shows like these, but they remain staples on my DVR.
I see the same goes for Maury viewers. Is there something wrong with exploiting people’s misfortune the way Povich and other television producers do? In theory yes, but no one forced these folks to cut up on TV. No one forced us to watch them do it either.
The Maury Povich Show didn’t do as well as Maury for a reason: A lot of folks prefer trash TV for multiple reasons, though many would cite escapism. “Bad viewing habits” do not a bad person make. It’s an inconvenient truth as is the idea that sensationalized or not, shows like Maury are somewhat of a mirror.
Maury highlights an existing ugliness in its most extreme form. While balance would certainly be appreciated, not everyone wants to be like Oprah and use their forum for the greater good. Even if we removed Maury from the air does anyone seriously think that the stereotypes and phobias promoted on his show will leave with him?
Those of Povich’s ilk do exaggerate existing issues, but if anyone thinks targeting the messy messenger will cure the problem perhaps Maury isn’t the only one who needs a new topic to tackle.