Who does Jerry Springer think he is?

It was a bit much to watch the creator of hundreds of TV victims posing as an ersatz ‘Holocaust victim’ on BBC1.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Culture

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Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!

No, I’m not referring to Jerrys Paxman, Clarkson or Kyle. I am talking about Jerry Springer, the man who conceived the confessional TV format. And how appropriate that he should be the subject of the latest BBC1 programme Who Do You Think You Are? (Wednesday night), in which celebrities seek out their ancestral roots and learn something about themselves along the way.

The show sought to uncover Springer’s family origins – a Jewish family which fled the Third Reich in the 1930s, to the safe haven of East Finchley in North London, and then to New York in 1949. It was a strangely touching affair; ‘Jews fleeing horrible Germans’ is a never-failing emotive narrative. But for that same reason, it came across as utterly hackneyed. It might as well been have made by Steven Spielberg.

It was also peculiarly appropriate, though. The Jerry Springer Show was based on the theme of family difficulty, featuring warring couples (normally your routine idiotic, toothless, morbidly obese man and woman from Alabama or Kentucky, or any other template Southern state) invariably disputing their fidelity or the father’s paternity of the kids. And last night on Who Do You Think You Are?, we had Jerry Springer doing a Jerry Springer, so to speak.

But how many more times must we be told that the Nazis weren’t very keen on Jews? Why not have a documentary on the Pope not being a Protestant? Or on ursine bowel movements in arboreal regions? It’s been told time and time again.

I’m not anti-Jewish. In fact, I am exactly the opposite. I’m very pro-Israeli, because I think the Jews are a nation of geniuses. You can always spot a loser in life if he is anti-Semitic. This is the politics of envy. Hitler hated the Jews because he thought they were clever; the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche loved the Jews because he thought they were clever. Hitler, the über-anti-Semite, was an über-loser. Never trust anyone who hates Jews.

But Holocaust stories have become very tiresome, especially when people alive today claim victimhood status on behalf of their ancestors, which is not only boring but despicable. Jerry Springer shed many a tear on behalf of his grandparents who were rounded up by the Germans in Czechoslovakia. But what about the people who actually survived Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and the like, or the children of the survivors and the dead who do actually remember the trauma they endured? This programme felt like an insult to genuine Holocaust survivors.

These were the cheap words of a cheap TV presenter who has made his career from deriving cheap thrills from the misfortunes of others. He has made a living from parading and creating ‘victims’ by humiliating them on American and international TV, and now parades himself as an ersatz victim on the BBC.

All families have skeletons in their closets. My direct paternal ancestor was Lord North (yes, the surname is no joke), the incompetent prime minister who lost Britain the War of Independence against the American colonies. My grandfather Douglas West was features editor of the Daily Mail in the 1930s, where he championed Mosley’s fascist Black Shirts. My maternal grandparents in Dublin used to host dinner parties for the German ambassador in the 1940s.

But then again, my mother was a leading feminist in Ireland in the 1960s who brought condoms from Belfast to Dublin, and my father was a veteran journalist in Vietnam at the same time and was one of the first to say that the US campaign there was actually correct. He was also one of the very last journalists to leave Saigon before the final US retreat in 1975.

But I am not ‘traumatised’ by any of these events, nor informed by them. We are who we are, not who our ancestors were.

Patrick West is spiked’s TV columnist. Visit his blog here.

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