Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Jerry Springer: Too Hot For TV! (1998 VHS Review!)

It was easily the most coveted video cassette of my seventh grade year. Twenty years later, however, does the infamous VHS live up to all of that junior high hype?

By: Jimbo X

For better or for worse, The Jerry Springer Show defined U.S. pop culture in the late 1990s. At a time when Oprah and Rosie O'Donnell ruled daytime TV, Jerry Springer's unrepentantly trashy talk show came out of nowhere to give squeaky clean, corporate-backed pseudo-wholesome afternoon television a swift kick in the anus. Unlike Geraldo or Sally Jesse Raphael or Ellen or The View, the point of Jerry's show wasn't to fawn and circle jerk over celebrity worship culture or promote some sensational, synthetic-moral guardian alarmist agenda. No, Jerry's program completely abandoned the sociopolitical rabble rousing and shameless Hollywood self-promotional whoring and dropped any pretense of being anything even remotely resembling a journalistic endeavor. Instead, Jerry's show gave Americans what they really wanted to see - a whole bunch of trailer trash and ghetto ass niggaz punching each other in the face 'cause of adultery, sans any sort of attempt to "intellectualize" the senseless violence.

I don't think there has ever been a TV show that's ever failed the old SLAPS test as hard as Springer. There's nothing artistic about watching morbidly obese people whale on each other and God knows what kind of "political" message can be culled from watching dudes with mullets and Jheri curls swing chairs at one another to defend their sister/lover's honor. At least pro wrestling has the fact that everybody knows it's fake working in its favor; if we're using the classical Miller test  as a gage of decency, The Jerry Springer Show pretty much DEFINES what it means to be "obscene" television.

Of course, being the low brow lovin', lowest-common-denominator-footstool-usin' cretins we were in the late 1990s, we just ate up Springer like retarded hippos. The show was getting boffo ratings, with the syndicated series actually beating Oprah's long-running talk show in the Nielsen war. Love it or hate it, Springer had found a winning formula: put a bunch of lower class slobs in front of a studio audience of slightly higher class snobs and convince them to curse, flash their titties, and bonk each other over the head with furniture for an hour. Remember, kids: at one point, this actually WAS the most popular daytime TV show in America, and it wasn't even close

Yeah, I know The Jerry Springer Show is still on the air today, but back in 1998, shit was different. This guy was having mainstream movies made about his program and fucking Congress was trying to open inquiries into whether or not the producers of the show should be arrested. This was a cultural tentpole on par with South Park and Columbine, and its social penetration was impossible to deny. 

So for those of you who didn't grow up during Springer-Mania, the idea of the Too Hot For TV! video special might seem incredibly stupid. However, you have to remember: this was before YouTube, and really, before online video streaming. What you saw on TV was pretty much all you ever got to see unless you ponied up the moolah for a video cassette, and lemme tell ya - for the pre-Intenet age, that damn video was about as big as things got.

Other TV shows, most notably Cops, had already done special edition "Too Hot For TV" videos. However, none of those shows had the immense cultural permeation that Springer had, and his "uncut, unedited, uncensored" video came out at the very zenith of Jerry-Mania. This wasn't just a coveted video, perpetually hawked in late night TV commercials, it may have been the most coveted video of the late 1990s that didn't have the word "sex tape" in it. In my small-ass hillbilly hamlet, every video store in town ordered multiple copies, but what do you know, they were ALWAYS checked out. Short of stealing your mama's credit card and order the tape off a hotline or owning an illegal cable box (though by the time the "tape" was making the PPV rounds, it'd already been in video stores for a couple of months) and with no Internet piracy around to save us all, it was damn near impossible to get your hands on the material. And of course, its unavailability made it all the more mythical, with my lunchroom compatriots passing along all sorts of off-the-wall rumors about the tape's contents (including one kid who told me the tape actually showed a man having sex with a horse ... which I'm pretty sure he got jumbled up with an entirely different Springer show, but whatever.) 

And, as much as I hate to admit it, I never did get around to seeing the tape, even after Springer-Mania tapered off and you could easily amble on in to any Walmart in the country and buy the VHS cassette for $4.99. Still, my mind sometimes wanders off to that inescapable hype from 1998, the kind of pop cultural folk tale that has all but vanished from the face of contemporary society thanks to the presence of the Internet as a universal obscure media aggregator. Lucky for me, though, it isn't too hard to find the special on the Internet - in fact, it's so easy, you can probably find it in one Google search.

So how about you pour yourself a cold beverage of your choice and journey alongside me as we revisit this 20-year-old relic from the absolute apex of trash television? It'll be more fun than a barrel of monkeys, I promise you ... or at least, more fun than a barrel of monkey excrement. Hopefully. 

Alright, we begin with a logo from Real Entertainment. This funky, warbled 1990s alt rock music starts playing over an opening montage of sloppy fisticuffs and craggy bare asses. So yeah, we are off to a rollicking start already. 

The video begins proper with a janitor sweeping up a destroyed set, with chairs and broken table fragments all over the place, like there had just been a Dudley Boys match or something. Jerry stands beside a giant CRT TV and says that a lot of stuff has been cut out of his show - until now. "It's a crazy world," he tells us, "have fun with it."

Which is exactly the same face the TV viewing audience was making at home.

In the first clip, a woman named Tammy says she's slept with all three of her sister's husbands and we waste no time at all before she gets up and yells "you're full of shit" and starts slap fighting with her biological kin like E. Honda. Security restrains them while they yell "I'll fucking kill you" and the guards say "just relax." Naturally, the crowd hoots and hollers like an ECW crowd circa 1995, or a bunch of ghetto high school hoodlums cheering on in-between class fisticuffs. 

The clips aren't really edited together very well, so it feels like they kind of lap over one another. In the next sequence, a woman lets her sister know she's brought three guys from her hometown onto the program who want to date her. The only problem is, her current boyfriend is on the show, too, and as soon as the would-be suitors hit the stage it's time to see some motherfukers get whacked over the head with ... roses? Of course, a total donnybrook ensues and the stage is flooded by security guards in blazers, suspenders and - for some reason - top hats. Meanwhile, petals are fuckin' everywhere, man. I mean EVERYWHERE.

Next scene, a white woman who looks like she works at your bank calls a mulatto woman a bitch and slaps her right on the forehead. For a full-extension backhand popper, that was downright excellent form. Since the mixed-race bitch is literally a bitch, she refuses to fight, cries, runs backstage and says she's going to call the police and the white woman is going to jail.

Next up, we've get these two hillbilly sounding women arguing about an affair and the man meat in their love triangle - who has a Jeff Foxworthy mustache and a mullet - calls the other lover "a little dick head." Of course, he comes out next and the jilted mullet head immediately shoots for a running takedown. There's some brief ground and pound before the guards apprehend Mr. Mullet. The other guy is some blonde Eminem looking metrosexual, and in the most late 1990s moment ever, his wounds are treated by a woman with a short platinum blonde do and tribal tramp stamp.

After that, a dude with a mullet who looks just like mid-1990s Eddie Guerrro gets decked right in the fucking head by some dude who looks like he works an office job and has the word "integrated systems" in his job title. Eh, not much here. Although I did dig the woman with the perm and the checkerboard jacket; I honestly don't remember that shit being fashionable that late into the 1990s.

We get a REAL TREAT, folks, because up next it's a clip from the episode "Holiday Hell With My Feuding Family." Just like professional wrestling, Springer wasn't above a gimmick match every now and then, and this was one of the show's more ingenious. Basically, they replaced the set with a giant dining table, complete with wine, bread sticks, pasta and all the other accouterments of your standard holiday banquet. Naturally, this results in a morbidly obese woman hitting her mama over the head with a turkey leg and her husband engaging in nationally televised domestic abuse by throwing a handful of crowder peas and mashed potatoes in her face. Of course, the audience - many of whom are wearing gaudy Christmas sweaters - roar with approval. These two guys even run across the studio to high five each other, and it is glorious.

One guy tells another guy "don't tell me what to fucking do" and they scuffle for a bit. Nothing too exciting here.

We get a pretty funny moment where the Jerry Springer logo falls off the wall and Jerry picks up the missing letters and says he's now "half the man he used to be."

A woman with giant tits feeds a dude ice cream and then these two guys in flannel shirts wail on each other.

Yet another mulatto woman - this one, wearing lip liner as lipstick - uses the phrase "ax him" instead of "ask him," which has always been one of my biggest verbal pet peeves. As soon as the other woman having sex with her man sits down, she hits her with a hard Mongolian chop to the jugular. They yell "bitch" and "fuck" a lot and wrestle again. A guard tells her to stop flailing her arms and start acting like a lady instead of a "bar room brawler." 

Two old white women shove each other. Yeah, not a whole lot to see here.

A dude who looks like Adam Driver gets slapped by a dude who looks like Ryan Reynolds' retarded older brother. The producers have to break them up during a commercial break. Some really pussy fighting on display here.

Oh, 1998. Back when white skinheads could choke black homosexuals on live television and it was ALRIGHT to cheer. 

Two black women who look like they could be in a really bad TLC tribute act call each other "bitch" and engage in a brief slap fight. One of them responds with perhaps the first truly great putdown of the tape - "you a temporary thing, baby, I'm forever."

"You ain't nothing but a white trash ass stripping wannabe piece of shit," some guy in flannel tells his girlfriend. She slaps him and he calls her "a nutty psycho." She smiles the whole time. So, uh, maybe she's corpsing her way throughout the whole ordeal? Then another Eddie Guerrero looking guy (well no, he looks more like Roman Reigns mixed with Fes from That '70s Show) comes out and hits the flannel guy with about three or four solid body shots. The guards get involved and the other guy LITERALLY kicks the other dude in the ass. A producer in khakis puts one of the dudes in a fucking beautiful side headlock. Then flannel guy Pearl Harbors mullet man with the shittiest running Superman punch you've ever seen. He tells the guard "if you'd leave me alone I'd kick his ass." You know, a lot of people have conjectured about the fights on Springer being faked, but come on, there's no way anybody scripting TV back then could've produced anything this entertaining.

A fat drag queen tells an audience member he looks better than her and has a bigger dick than her boyfriend. "She looks like Marcia Brady after 20 years," another catty and skinnier drag queen comments.

A woman in a cowboy hat and a silver bikini shakes her boobs for a little while. 

The Eddie Guerrero lookalike and short haired office man from earlier have a brief scuffle again. Yawn.

Two skanks that look like extras from Melrose Place get into a brawl and then a black dude with droopy drawers  gets in a blonde woman's face and she slaps him and the guards hold him back.

A black lesbian pulls a white lesbian's hair. The third leg of the fish eating taco love triangle comes out and the brawling doth continue.

Two gay black guys wearing wigs (one is in a hot pink bell shirt) get into a shoving match and then head security guard Steve Wilkos puts one of them in a rear naked choke and it is goddamn hilarious

An angry guy with a mullet (yep, another onesays he's going to rip off another dude's head and shit down his neck but he's leaning back too far and his chair tips over and he falls off the stage and we all LOL, 

Oh hell, now we're really getting to the good stuff. From an episode titled "I'm Proud To Be Racist," the KKK is on stage and a white woman in a black robe (ironic, I know) calls an audience member "a nigger." Then a black dude throws two chairs and there's a near riot on stage but the guards quickly break it up. Then an audience member tries to storm the stage to fight one of the Klanswomen and everybody in the crowd gets nervous as shit. Well, when a Jerry Springer audience is clamoring for peace, you KNOW some serious violence is dangerously close to transpiring. 

More fat white woman are fighting and cursing. One of them insults the other by saying she drinks a bottle of everclear and fucks five guys in one night. This is followed by a "blooper" of an audience member taking the mic and accidentally cramming her ponytail into Jerry's mouth. He blames it on having a "big nose" which may or may not be an allusion to the fact he's Jewish and, as the Mayor of Cincinnati, once used a personal check to purchase hookers. Not that the two can't be mutually exclusive coincidences, of course ... 

More trashy tramps fight, and  there's another pull-apart on stage. There's also this great moment where this fat cow of a woman pops a big boobed stripper looking woman right in the face. Hard

A white woman accuses her black boyfriend of trying to hit on the 16-year-olds and 300-pound fatasses in the green room so she slaps him. Then his mistress comes out so she slaps her. 

Hey remember, the audience member that wanted to fight the Klan woman? Well, she's back as a guest herself and she finally gets a chance to confront that Ku Klux Kunt onstage. Oddly enough, her boyfriend looks JUST like Jake "The Snake" Roberts. The guards, unfortunately, break things up before anything too exciting happens. 

A woman says another woman has a big fat pussy. "How many pets do you have?" Jerry responds. He then does a broken live promo where he jokes about wanting to interview guests who date sheep.

And believe it or not, kids, that's actually the entire video. Of course, Jerry being Jerry, he just has to conclude the tape on something of a psuedointellectual note, so below, you'll find a verbatim transcript of this most special edition of Final Thought (aka, the final part of the show where he tries to say some semi-insightful, flowery things to make up for the last 59 minutes of unabashed mayhem.)

"You know we pride ourselves on showing you from time to time the more outrageous people of our society. Those who are either wildly eccentric or in their  political or social beings, simply defiant of convention. And perhaps none are more eccentric or defiant than the ones we've just shown you. Now, while  none of these lifestyles or manners are particularly ones we would necessarily choose for ourselves, how boring life would be if there was no outrageousness. That is to say, none among us who would push the edges of the envelope. Please understand because we show it does not constitute an endorsement of it or any particular view or behavior any more than reporting a murder on the news or a prime time movie about a rape is an endorsement of those horrors. Look, television does not and must not create values. It's merely a picture of all that's out there - the good, the bad, the ugly. A world upon we which apply our own values learned and nurtured through family, church and experience. Remember, if we only permit the views that only the majority of us hold, then you and I are free only as far as we agree with the majority. If you believe nothing else I ever say in these commentaries I offer at the end of every show, believe this: the politicians or companies that seek to control what each of us watch are a far greater danger to America and our treasured freedom than any of our guests could or ever will be. Until next time, take care of yourself, and each other."

Yeah, it's a pretty smarmy way to end a half hour of trailer trash and ghetto niggaz (or, perhaps, crappy actors pretending to be trailer trash and ghetto niggaz) beating one another up and showing their stretch-mark-covered titties to the world, but hey, this Springer guy - who has now been hosting the program for 25 years - knows not to mess with a winning equation. If all it takes is a minute of half-assed pseudo-intellectual drivel to offset the unabashed exploitation of poor and possibly retarded Americans for cheap, mean-spirited entertainment, I say keeping running with it, Jerry-Boy - the fact you're STILL on the air today is more than enough proof middle America is A-OK with your shtick. 

Barely 30 minutes long, the fabled Too Hot For TV tape doesn't offer a whole lot of content, and considering it was battling stuff like Bum Fights and the first wave of CKY tapes for shock-humor supremacy, all in all you really can't chalk this stuff up as anything but a disappointment. The fights are funny and it's nice hearing all that profanity, but to be frank, there's nothing here that will really make you shake your head and go "yep, now that is some messed up stuff right there." Even by 1998 standards, I don't think the contents herein were all THAT provocative. Of course, our mamas didn't want us watching 'em, but hey, it's not like we were jacking off to Faces of Death, either.

So what sort of historical value does this tape offer to us, citizens of the (current year?) Well, it does a pretty good job showcasing how trashy TV was in the waning days of the analog set years. Nowadays, the amount of sex, violence and obscene language on network TV easily outdoes Springer at its absolute wackiest, and compared to the stuff on cable and premium TV, this shit is woefully subdued. But back then, Springer was pretty much the raunchiest and rudest thing on the airwaves. Irked parents and opportunistic politicians condemned it as an agent of societal decline, and in a way, I guess they were right. Springer was a show that, perhaps inadvertently, opened the flood gates for trashy reality TV to reign supreme, and I wonder just how successful that Dating Naked/Cheaters/The Anna Nicole Show format would've been had the masses not already been inoculated by Springer's antics. Oddly enough, by pandering to the lowest common denominator, perhaps Springer's show made U.S. society - as a collective - more desensitized to depravity and debauchery. I mean, you can only wheel out fist fighting fat girls calling each other "whores" five days a week before it becomes mundane, and there's even a potential argument that Springer's show made America more welcoming of alternative sexual lifestyles. Regardless, Jerry's impact on the American conscience is undeniable, and probably a whole lot more pronounced than most pop cultural historians would ever give him credit for. I mean, the program taught an entire generation that vomit fetishes were a thing - that alone entitles the show to enshrinement in the Smithsonian some day. 

And this, I guess, represents a sort of encapsulation of the essence of The Jerry Springer Show. By now there has to be literal years worth of taped Springer content, and factoring out all his boring ass pre-fisticuffs daytime talk stuff, what you see in Too Hot For TV is pretty much what Springer's been serving us nonstop for 20-some odd years. Two hundred years from now - long after a solar flare has wiped out all our precious digital archives - somebody can pop in this ancient video cassette and INSTANTLY grasp the appeal of the program to the plebs of 1998. It had cursing and punching and people yelling and fatties flailing at each other and in the middle of it all, this ex-country singer Jew in an unremarkable tuxedo playing ringmaster for our carnival of lower class violence and making a shit ton of money off it. 

And if that doesn't sum up the American media consumption landscape in the late 1990s, I honestly don't know what does...


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