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Jerry Springer the Musical controversy: A critical study of Fleet Street’s coverage of the Opera

Kelly Atkins 06031203


Jerry Springer the Musical controversy: A critical study of Fleet Street’s coverage of the Opera

Kelly Atkins 06031203

Word Count: 10,000


Acknowledgements

I would like to thank all of my interviewees and the participants of my survey and focus groups for taking the time to help give me a deeper insight in to my topic. I would like to personally thank my family for putting up with my mood swings, constant mess and stress and dealing with my own self importance over the past month…well more like year, as well as my auntie Pat for keeping me in constant supply of chocolate. Also to the TV news team for all the late night work sessions with Magic FM, making the work appear less daunting and then plying me with wine when I lost all confidence. Also to my tutor Ola Ogunyemi for the support over the past year and finally to Glen Campbell for keeping me sane and promising to love me even when I do turn in to a crazed fool.


Contents Page

1. Introduction 1.1 Problem Identification 1.2 Research purpose and hypothesis 1.3 Limitations of study 2. Methodology 2.1 Content analysis 2.2 Audience analysis 2.3 Language analysis and theory 3. Literature Review 3.1 Folk devils 3.2 Attribution Model 3.3 Selective Reinforcement 3.4 Stereotypes 3.5 Broadsheet and tabloid audiences 4. Theoretical interpretations of moral panic 5. Comparison of coverage between broadsheet and tabloid newspapers 6. The BBC’s broadcast of Jerry Springer the Opera 7. Conclusion


1. Introduction

1.1 PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION Since it’s opening in August 2002 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Jerry Springer the Opera has been under much scrutiny for its controversial nature. With the show prominently focusing on blasphemy in the case of the Christian religion, protests to it’s survival in the West End has made it one for the best known shows to have ever hit the stage. Despite many satirical interpretations of religion such as Monty Python’s Life of Brian and even dramas such as Passion of the Christ being critically analysed about it’s interpretations of religion, when blasphemy becomes a media story how can they influence their audience? So far this area has not been analysed and leaves continuing questions about the medias representation of the show throughout its running. Coverage spanned throughout Fleet Street condemning the show and then praising its daring take on the famous American talk show. Although gaining so much publicity throughout the show’s production time the question of how far the media influenced the publics’ interpretations still go unanswered.


1.2 RESEARCH PURPOSE AND HYPOTHESIS The media have often been ethically questioned on their involvement in the creation of ‘moral panics’. Theoretical studies heighten the belief that the media control what their audiences see and dramatise their stories, not only to sell papers but to control the opinions of their audiences but how far this is true for Jerry Springer the Opera? The investigation will highlight different theoretical beliefs as well as an in depth analysis of the publications between August 2002 and June 2005 in the case of moral panics as well as the BBC’s decision to televise the show to look in to different bias’ and tones that the media adopt throughout the shows media lifestyle. The aims of the study are to discover how religion and blasphemy is covered in Fleet Street and how the creation of a moral panic surrounding a stage show can damage its future reputation. The hypothesis for this study is that where religion is concerned controversy will follow despite the media’s involvement in publicising the events.

1.3 LIMITATIONS OF STUDY Although the study maintains a thorough analysis of multiple factors that surround the moral panic created, there are also areas of research that have been limited. Areas surrounding blasphemy and the press are not widely covered in theoretical analysis giving little assumptions on what would be found throughout the discovery.


As the cast of the play changed in June 2005, getting interviews from previous cast members that were prominent in the period of study has proved difficult, meaning there are no first hand witnesses from the affects created by the media at this time. To solve this problem, studies surrounding even amateur dramatic groups will be focused on to gather a greater understanding of how the reputation built up through that time lives on and still affects the productions now. This will give an insight in the problems and situations faced by cast members throughout April 2003- September 2005.


2. Methodology

2.1 CONTENT ANALYSIS Throughout this investigation I will look in to the reported controversy over the West- End production Jerry Springer the Opera to discover how the media’s representation of the show through their publications could have influenced the public’s opinion. Focusing on the period between 6th August 2002 and 4th June 2005 there are four specific periods where the media coverage is heightened, highlighting the show’s key moments throughout its production time in the UK. These periods show how the media began to create a moral panic surrounding the show and the controversial themes that it incorporates, and then clearly indicates the reactions from the public and a number of Christian groups and the moments when the media coverage began to fade. The first period covered intensely by the media is April 2003, it is at this point where the world premiere at the National Theatre has proved the show to be a sell out and media coverage began to heighten. After this BBC2 aired the show to 2.4million viewers which caused a pandemonium amongst members of the Christian religion in January 2005, this therefore is another key moment in the shows life span and the public reactions. Only months after being broadcast, religious group Christian Voice took the show to court over allegations of blasphemy in an attempt to stop further productions. Therefore March 2005 will be analysed to show how the media begin to support the shows success, detracting from the moral panic that had been created. Lastly will be the month of September 2005, where the show announces a National tour once again and the media


coverage begins to fade, after this time the show diminishes as it is taken off the stage in Britain. Content analysis throughout these selected periods will be vital for this study as it allows me to look directly through the publications gaining a greater understanding on how I, as well as other focus groups perceive the articles and how it would lead us to respond to a production, based on its media coverage. “The basic assumption implicit in content analysis is that an investigation of messages and communications give insights in to the people who receive these messages.� (Berger,A (1991), Media analysis techniques: Revised edition, Sage, Newbury)

For the selected periods, content analysis will be carried out on The Sun, The Mirror, The Guardian, the Telegraph and the Independent to focus on the way that the tabloid newspapers dramatise the stories to make them more readable and interesting, choosing different angles that can affect their audiences to take a certain opinion. The Sun newspaper last month had a readership of 2.953,579 and the Mirror sold 1,379,509 in the same period. As both of these papers sold the highest amount of copies in that period I will be able to compare the publications and sales figures to ultimately decide how much influence they have on the public as they reach the largest audience. With the other selected newspapers, the Guardian which had a readership of 312,535, the Telegraph has a readership of 824,912 and the Independent which sold 191,065 the readership is not as great but will enable the comparison between the difference in coverage between broadsheet and tabloid papers.


All five papers have different owners, the Sun is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the Mirror owned by Trinity Mirror plc, the Telegraph is owned by Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, the Guardian is owned by the Guardian Media group and the Independent is owned by Independent News and Media plc. This enables me to critically analyse the media’s responsibility as a whole as there is no bias in terms of religious or political standpoints which would influence my findings. 2.2 AUDIENCE ANAYLSIS With moral panics having an adverse affect on the audience that reads newspapers their dramatic response to broadcast decisions made by the BBC and the shows plans to tour the UK. The media’s responsibility in causing this reaction will also be highlighted through different surveys and focus groups that center on the coverage at this time, including article selection and headline choices. Primary data like this is deemed necessary for a detailed investigation. “Deciding who we are writing for still implies what we are writing about, for what reasons, and from what perspectives.” This makes it necessary for a combination of the literary pieces to be anaylsed with that perspective in mind as each publication will be writing for a different audience and will therefore cover the same situation in a different manner. Comparing the way different papers report Jerry Springer the Opera, and how that differs based on their perceived audiences. This primary data will be collected from Lexis Nexis so that I have a large range of articles in the time bracket of April 2003, January 2005, March 2005 and September 2005.


My primary data will also include articles and television clips from the BBC online. These are to be used as the BBC broadcasting the show and gained 55,000 complaints even before the show had been aired and then a further 8,000 after due to the shows controversial nature. This will then help explain the responses which are still displayed on their ‘Have your own say’ pages as well as their own publications that will give. From looking at these pages it will give a clearer understanding as to the reactions of the public at that time rather than concentrating on the way different focus groups interpret the media’s communication in reflection to the moral panic. Through the use of questionnaires specifically designed in the style of .D.Wimmer and J.R.Dominick it will gain a clear and concise answer from the media’s audience. The accompanying letter will also be created so that participants know what the questionnaire is ultimately for and what accomplishment it hopes to achieve. The focus group will be less fixed; however specific clips have been chosen from the show to highlight the controversial elements being performed. Newspaper clippings have also been picked to gain more detailed opinions on the show and how it changes once you have read different articles. Instant opinions allow the deciphering of different groups that would be offended by the show. The themes tackled are gay and lesbianism, Christianity and transsexuals. Getting different comments from different groups affected will show that it tends to be people with religious views that get more offended by different perceptions in certain forms of entertainment even though there are other groups being controversially conveyed.


2.3 LANGUAGE ANALYSIS AND THEORY Studying the language through the primary data I will be able to discover whether the theory that “Words convey the imprint of society and the value of judgments in particularthey convey connoted as well as denoted meanings.” () is indeed correct. While investigating the linguistic choices that journalists make when it comes to writing their articles and the reaction they have from it once published. By looking at different repetitions of words such as ‘blasphemous’ and ‘fowl’ that give negative connotations to the piece it will give a greater understanding of the way the media use language and are fully aware of the influence they could be having over the public’s opinions. Quantative and Qualitative will be combined throughout the investigation to get a wider understanding of the show’s viewing figures to show how the media hype surrounding its controversial nature helped aid the shows popularity as well as diminishing its chances to perform in certain theatres across the country. Secondary data used will highlight the theoretical studies of moral panic as well as other controversial pieces of art which have been in the media to compare media coverage in both instances. Ethical decisions made due to the nature of such shows a differing trend depending on the religion being scrutinized and the ways in which they are portrayed. Theoretical knowledge such as the Marxist theory along with theoretical models such as the Attribution that is used to explain the process of a moral panic gives a critical eye on Fleet Street as he believed them to often manipulate their audiences in to taking a different point of view. This will enable a conclusion on the level of media involvement in the public’s controversial reactions to Jerry Springer the Opera and how moral panics affect and will continue to affect the media


3. Literature Review 3.1 ‘FOLK DEVILS’

Throughout different literary texts a number of similar themes on the topic of moral panic appear. One of the main focuses is the idea of folk devils that are created in moral panic. These are highlighted in Chas Critcher, ‘Moral Panics and the Media’. In his opinion the concept is derived from the idea of moral panics, in which ‘folk devils’ are created by the media. These are then expected to take on a more dramatic version of the truth to heighten the concern that the public will be having towards certain situations and people. Folk devils, he classes in his analytical studies, as “sharper and more dramatised takes on the true character.” Although elements of the character maybe true, the belief is that the media exaggerate these characters to create their own folk devil that the audience are able to recognise.

Critcher believes that this creation is the second part of a theoretical study called an Attributional model which labels the process moral panic in different stages, showing the media’s involvement in that creation and the effects you would expect to see on the intended audience.

In ‘Moral Panics the social construction of deviance’ by Erich Goode and Nachaman Ben-Yehuda the same concept applies as they state that “While folk devils are created out of some existing and recognisable elements, a full-scale demonology takes place by which the members of the new evil category are placed ‘in the gallery of contemporary folk devils’.” Both books blame this creation on the media’s interpretations of different characters and situations and the way they chose to present these to the public,


although they do not both focus on the same idea of the Attributional model. Goode and Ben-Yehuda look at a social concept of what the ‘folk devil’ is and the media’s role in creating this rather than using different theories and stages to help explain it as a process. They follow the belief that there is no set pattern on how moral panics are created and the effects that will be caused due to them, but more so that they depend purely on the situation to start with, for example paedophiles will have a stronger bearing on the public than a stage show.

In ‘Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The creation of the Mods and Rockers’ folk devils have a completely different meaning than the afore mentioned texts. In this instance they are explained as something which aids society to differentiate between what they want to be and the wrong type of social behaviour, almost as though setting out a code of behaviour for the public to adhere to. These ideals also suggest that moral panics will continue long in to the future as we are a nation of worriers:

“More moral panics will be generated and other, as yet nameless, folk devils will be created. This is not because such developments have an inexorable inner logic, but because our society as present structured will continue to generate problems for some of its members- like working-class adolescents-and condemn whatever solution these groups find.”

Cohen’s idea of condemning different groups follows a similar pattern with the relationship between Jerry Springer the Opera and the media. Despite changing opinions throughout the coverage the start of the moral panic highlights a condemning nature from Fleet Street which is how the show is then presented to its potential audience. The suggestion is that as moral panics continue ‘folk devils’ will also continue


to be a part of modern moral panics as these characters are needed to demonise characters involved in order to create the concern that starts the moral panic.

3.2 ATTRIBUTION MODEL

The attribution model features in both ‘Moral Panics and the Media’ and ‘Folk devils and Moral Panics: The creation of the Mods and Rockers’. It highlights six main stages that explain the lifespan of a moral panic. The stages are explained as follows: The first stage indicates concern amongst a large audience the proceeds to the second which suggests hostility and ‘folk devils’. In the third stage there should be signs of an organized opposition against the situation or persons involved, until the fourth where there are different claims set by the opposition that can go against reality causing a greater uproar and battle between the two sides. By the fifth stage you expect to see a sense of volatility and then by the sixth stage it finally comes to an end with different counter claims before fizzling out of the spotlight all together. These areas will need direct focus in the media lifecycle of Jerry Springer the Opera as the same path does not seem to follow, if these are indeed the processes that you go through to create a moral panic then does this suggest the media did not create one surrounding the show, or that the model cannot be used in every moral panic situation?

The only differences in this theory that is clear when looking at a large number of theoretical texts is the initial stage. Although it follows the idea that a continuous pattern emerges when moral panics are created, Cohen believes that the initial stage is where a ‘label’ is put on the group or situation. This can stem from different emotive labels such as ‘hooligans’ and ‘gangsters’ to more light hearted interpretations of people such as ‘WAGs’. The idea is that when these labels are created it puts a different stigma around


the whole situation which can make it harder for the audience to deceiver a balance in the stories that are being produced by the media, starting to take a biased view. If Jerry Springer the Opera follows the same Attribution pattern that Cohen believes, these labels will be clearly apparent near the beginning of the media coverage, which would hamper different opinions and ideas of the show, possibly even causing a fall in ticket sales. “…..”

3.3 SELECTIVE REINFORCEMENT Another theme that is brought up in ‘Media and Power’ by James Curran is the idea of selective reinforcement, suggesting the media can ‘induce change’ to make certain pieces of journalism stand out above the rest to gain a greater impact. Although there are suggestions that this is done as a way to show the most news worthy to their intended audience, Curran suggests that “moral panic studies is that media constructions severely orchestrate elements within popular consciousness. They activate and strengthen some concerns, while ignoring others.” His idea suggests that the media use different stories to influence the way the public think and it is that that helps them create a moral panic. His theory stems from the idea that they create these situations to enable them to sell more papers as more people will have a concern over the matter and therefore have a greater need for more information surrounding the topic.

3.4 STEREOTYPES Another theme that is highlighted is the use of stereotypes to create a moral panic. The idea is that when the media dramatise certain events or people in their coverage they inevitably create a stereotype to suit that situation. This is a similar to the idea of folk devils although paints a different picture of the medias involvement in this creation. In ‘Folk devils and Moral Panics: the creation of mods and rockers’ Stanley Cohen believes


that “Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media.” Cohen’s belief is that different ‘right thinking people’ such as politicians and editors, use different situations to air their own beliefs through the media, to communicate to the masses and get them to follow the same path of thought. This similarly can be looked at with broadsheet and tabloid papers to see how they portray different circumstances due to the audience they write for, whether one can be more biased due to their own out takes on life. But can you stereotype a show? The studies used in Cohen’s and Critcher’s text stereotype different groups of people in society such as Mods and Rockers and paedophiles and the way the media represent them to gain a reaction, but can the same process create a moral panic with a West End show?

Stereotyping is inevitable in many areas of the media, making it easier for the audience to relate to a certain category or people or social groups. With these groups however come connotations that can then provide negative implications. In …… the use of stereotypes is linked with negative opinions on different social groups, so if a moral panic is linked with stereotyping then it is more than likely through these different theories that opinions caused due to it will become negative and damaging to the subject being discussed.

3.5 BROADSHEET AND TABLOID AUDIENCES In terms of the difference between tabloid and broadsheet newspapers in these situations …… states that “……” showing that you should expect to see broadsheet papers take a moral high ground on situations that offer any taboo or working class


relations, where as the tabloid press will steer away from these, appealing to the masses with a more modern outlook on new art.

4. Chapter One Theoretical interpretations of moral panic

“One might well ask what it is that these particular examples of newspaper headlines have in common, or perhaps more importantly, what relevance and significance do they encapsulate for us as individuals and as members of the larger society?. The answer, it might be said, is that they are each illustrative of an ‘episode, condition, person or group of persons’ that have in recent times, been ‘defined as a threat to societal values and interests’.” (http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Students/lcs9603.html)

The creation of moral panics in the media is one that the public appear to be well aware of. Starting in the 1960’s a continuation of different situations such as Bird Flu, Mods and Rockers and even hoodies have been turned in to a national panic. Different situations are seen to be heightened by the media falsely to create a concern amongst the public. This chapter will highlight the theoretical models that are most commonly used to analyse moral panics and will depict the stages that Jerry Springer the Opera took to become another well documented moral panic.

In a survey of people aged between 18-65 100% of people believed that the media actively influence the way society thinks by their own choice of articles, stories and


language. This indicates that many people are aware of the influence the media can have over the public; however does this mean that people would not actually react to a creation of moral panic? Or even be affected if the media began to start one?

Studies have been created arguing different patterns and courses that show the way that the media create a moral panic and the affects that are caused due to their influence. Throughout theoretical cases of moral panic the idea of the Attribution Model is most commonly used to show the progression that it takes in a number of similar stages that highlight what you would expect to see as the media coverage develops. But can this be used in every example of moral panic?

The initial stage focuses on a level of concern that is conveyed in articles and beginning to make the audience think negatively towards the subject. In the case of Jerry Springer the Opera, the start of the media coverage in April 2003 when the show first hit the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, critics’ response deemed the show to be “First Night: A triumph for trailer trash, and the national” (Wednesday 30 April 2003, The Independent) This shows that although different negative aspects of the show are already being highlighted in headlines, critics still class it as a ‘triumph’ suggesting positive outlooks on the play as a whole.

Concern began to spread through Fleet Street as the show became mainstream, reaching the West End. Once the show was accessible to the masses, both broadsheet and tabloid papers show signs of conforming to the Attribution Model, which indicates the beginning of a moral panic. Headlines such as “Burn baby burn. When you have played a Pooping Man’s sex-mad mistress in Jerry Springer: The Opera, what do you do next? You go to hell.” and a description of the Opera being put in articles such as “One


reviewer has dubbed the Opera ’too lurid for words’ and it does feature a nappy-wearing fetishist, a transvestite, a lap dancer and the Ku Klux Klan. There is also lots of swearing. Surely, as a responsible father himself, Brandon can’t possibly condone so many profanities crammed in to 2 hours and 20 minutes?” (Friday 10 October 2003, The Mirror) highlights that in that period, the media’s portrayal of the show has already begun

to take a negative approach to the themes and staging of the production. Despite the industry excepting the play under the Freedom of Expression, it is clear from these articles that the media’s interpretation does not follow suit. In this article from the Mirror, they even attack the producer’s fatherly role, giving the impression that no father would create such a show and be proud of its racy nature. By using his role as a father against the taboos tackled in the show, it tackles in integrity that surrounds him as a person as well as the show in the opinion of other parents, by putting using a rhetorical question out there to the audience that almost asks, would you let your child watch this?

Opinions that the show is blasphemous and offensive rather than satirically comical interpretation of one of America’s most popular chat shows began to be highlighted changing different opinions and giving a suggestion that the play is moral wrong. The change in public perception across the country has made it more recognized, but for good or bad reasons? Although the media have begun to show signs of the Attribution model in their articles, the initial coverage did not follow as expected, because the media had praised the show to start with, does this mean that it will not follow the trends of a moral panic or even be one?

The second stage develops more extreme characters of the people involved, thus creating folk devils. As there is no particular character in this moral panic, can a folk devil still be created surrounding the show?


Although there is no theoretical suggestions to help explain how moral panics can be created in shows or different medias such as film and television previous encounters suggest that where religion is concerned in the media, a specific folk devil will not be created but the demonization of the show will be highlighted in the press.

When ‘Passion of the Christ’ hit cinemas across the country, the Hollywood interpretation of Jesus was widely speculated in Fleet Street showing similar patterns to Jerry Springer the Opera. The Independent at that time argues that “If The Passion of the Christ is Mel Gibson's idea of proselytising for the faith, I'd like to know what kind of converts he's hoping to make” (Friday 24, March 2004, Losing my Religion, Independent) This highlights a similar tone and religious argument in

the media. In this instance the film is targeted rather than a stage show. Despite it being a piece of entertainment a ‘folk devil’ is created in the form of the actor Mel Gibson who directed the film. As there is not one person highlighted in Jerry Springer the Opera it indicates that this area of the Attribution model is not covered in this instance of moral panic. However a clear demonization of the show and that surrounding the show is highlighted through the choice of angle and language. “3,168 'F' words and 297 'C' words... Just another Saturday night on the BBC” (6, January, 2005, 3,168 ‘F’ words and 297 ‘C’ words… Just another Saturday night on the BBC, The Sun) By

highlighting a large quantity of swear words in the play against the well recognized credibility of the BBC only heightens the profanities in the play, setting an instant impression of the Opera. Audiences have grown to know the BBC and their dependable output, so headlines like this are used to make


a statement against their broadcast decisions, allowing the audience to create a new perception of the show as Fleet Street describe it as below BBC standards.

In studies surrounding Passion of the Christ suggest that when the media reports blasphemy…

This shows that although a particular person or group of people are turned in to folk devils, the demonization will then on surrounds the show suggests that it still follows a similar path as the Attribution model.

The third stage in the model indicates that there will be an operation built against the subject involved in the moral panic. This can be seen through protests, petitions and even through different processes like ‘Have your own say’ pages that create a large group that firmly go against the subject in the media. It begins to show the repercussions of a moral panic and the way that it is affecting the audience.

This stage is followed to the letter, showing clear reactions from Christian followers against the show. This took place initially with protests outside the theatre and developed in to a court battle, with arguments of blasphemy being used to have the show banned in the UK.

‘Have your own say’ pages as well as ‘Points of View’ shows at the BBC also highlight this area in the model. After the decision to broadcast the show, the BBC 55,000


complaints were lodged before it was aired and a further 8,000 after it had been shown on mainstream television.

Different comments left on these pages argued that “Should we stand up for the right of freedom of expression? Yes we should. Should we stand against the "freedom of expression of evil?" No, we should stand against it. If Satan produced a show, it would not be too far from this!” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/northyorkshire/content/articles/2005/10/31/jerry_springer_press_conferenc e_feature.shtml).

Megan Hunt a production assistant from Jerry Springer the Opera argued that different aspects of the show are taken out of context and that the shows nature is to test social boundaries “The second half is where most of the religious debates took place, and so where most offence was caused. I believe that God saying "It ain't easy being me" was the biggest concern, but also Mary admitting that "the condom split" and Jesus confessing he's "a bit gay" also caused some offence. People were also offended by the flaming cross at the end of the first half, but that was just ignorance of their own faith, as it is a religious symbol as well as a symbol of the Ku Klux Klan which were on stage at the time.” If the show set out to cause controversy and push social boundaries, the moral panic created around it will have merely helped the show’s purpose. This in turn indicates that the moral panic may have had positive benefits, rather than the negative ones it usually associates itself with.


When media covered this articles it is clear that they are guiding member of the public through the course of the moral panic, right to its peak. “Based on the notorious television talk show, it includes tap dancing Ku Klux Klan members, a scene in which Jesus admits that he is ‘a bit gay’ and 451 swear words. The BBC say it is part of a drive to ‘introduce a new generation of viewers to Opera’.” (Thursday 6 January 2005, Church warns BBC over Jerry Springer the Opera, Telegraph) This shows that although the show has not been aired there are

already many people apposed to it being broadcast on BBC2. Throughout the articles that are featured in the build up to the BBCs decision to air the show, Fleet Street continue to highlight the controversial areas, which can influence potential viewers who are yet to view the show.

In a survey of 40 people, 75% of people would consider the play to be controversial due to headlines and articles such as those above and 57.5% would get a negative and blasphemous view of the show if they were to read this. This shows that the media has a strong affect on the public’s views when they have no prior knowledge of the subject being discussed.

When ‘Have you own say’ pages are produced with the option to voice the public opinion a range of different views can be broadcast to another other members of the public reading the news online. This not only influences but also shows the affects that other features have had on the public. In January 2005, at the time of BBC broadcasting the show there are a significant amount of comments condemning the BBCs, rather than the controversial issues are also highlighted in these comments “I myself am a born again Christian, however if theatres want to accept this


sort of show, then let them. It is the individual who chooses to buy the ticket and see the show. This show is not being forced into anyone’s faces, unlike the BBC's showing of it” This suggests that the actual broadcast of the show created an even greater panic amongst the public as the show was getting more publicity. This can go so far to suggest that the public had more tolerance for the show when it was an option for people to see rather than nationally broadcast. As the show had already been negatively portrayed throughout the media, how far can you say that that was due to its controversial nature or media interpretation? Roger Mosey from the BBC stated the reasons behind the BBC’s decision to broadcast the show “The BBC’s decision to broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera, came because we have to be seen to be fair to all types of audiences. As a satire there had been no legal cause to suggest that it was any more than a modern interpretation, although it would offend some people, it would also entertain others.”

The amount of interest surrounding the broadcast, shows the amount of people already opposed to it, taking it away from just Christian groups and making it a National moral panic, with so many protesting to it being seen on TV screens and even on stage again. More complaints were lodged before the Opera had been staged also indicating that influences from other areas were turning people against the production.

By the fourth stage there are claims against the subject that go completely against reality. Despite the court case Jerry Springer the Opera vs Christian Voice Group, where the fight the cause of blasphemy, no stories that are false and targeted allegations have been made. Claims of blasphemy were dropped and no further action could be taken to


stop in the show in a legal sense. Therefore this stage in theoretical study does not stand for the media lifecycle that is Jerry Springer the Opera.

Media coverage holds no articles that hold false reference to the show or the actions being taken over the claims of blasphemy, which although then decided to be a false claim in a court of law has been seen in many cases such as ‘Passion of the Christ’ before.

At the fifth stage you see trends of volatility, this can be from activists against the media or other reactions from government that heighten the media coverage and make the stories more dramatic and entertaining. The Opera follows this stage, after reactions from the Christian Voice Group, many venues were forced to close, delaying the tour. This is when the media coverage began to change to support the plays return back to the country’s stage.

Articles such as “Springer protest is an attack on freedom”(Monday January 10 2005, Springer protest is an attack on freedom, Telegraph) and “No matter how carefully guidelines

are drawn up, the boundary between what is acceptable and what isn't will be imprecise, like a frontier you only realise you've crossed when someone starts shooting at you… The row over Springer is a reminder of how often they walk the tightrope sure-footedly. I'm glad the governors have found in their favor.” (31 March, The BBC governors’ backing for the Springer Musical is right. After 2000 years, Christianity can survive a barrage of swear words, Guardian) show how the media have completed a media cycle, from supporting

the show, to condemning and then back to support. This stage indicates the end of the cycle and therefore the end of the moral panic, therefore following this theoretical theory.


In the final stages of moral panic the Attribution Model shows the media hype to calm down in to a non existent form, creating a path for the next moral panic that will be created. By the 4th June 2005 media coverage had almost stopped as the show had begun its tour. By this point articles become shorter and more precise with more informative information rather than opinion. In June 2005 coverage began to die down, this depicts the end of the trial as well as the end of the moral panic.

Although show does not continue in an exact pattern to the Attribution model, the reactions and results of the media’s coverage have left similar effects. Other cases like this have been moral panics surrounding film stage and other forms of popular entertainment. In these instances where religion is concerned there is not a direct person to target as a folk devil but simply a situation meaning that every stage is not always followed.

Although each stage is not applicable to Jerry Springer the Opera, the chaos and concern surrounding the event shows that a moral panic was indeed created as it gained controversial reactions that spanned over the course of 2 years.

5.Chapter Two Comparison of the coverage in broadsheet and tabloid newspapers


Although there is a specific case of moral panic created by the media surrounding Jerry Springer the Opera, the coverage differs between broadsheet and tabloid newspapers.

Articles between 2003 and 2005 shows that broadsheets covered the topic in more detail and more often than tabloids such as the Sun and Mirror.

In total over that period The Independent covered 100 stories, the Telegraph 77, the Guardian 85, the Mirror 55 and the Sun 21.

Broadsheet papers covered the story more regularly than the tabloids, as they do not reach such a wide audience the moral panic would not reach as large an audience compared to that expected from a tabloid. Although this shows that the scale of the moral panic is unlikely to be as wide spread, the difference in the target audience will then make a difference to the coverage and angle that is taken.

With broadsheets tending to focus to a more conservative upper class you would expect that they would condemn a show that devours a selection of social groups in a highly controversial array of singing, dancing and acting. In a survey of 50 people, 51.4% believe that broadsheets would be against the show, although 22.9% believed that both tabloid and broadsheet would take there turn in criticize its modern take on many taboo situations.

From the out set the Independent and Telegraph take a highly critical stance on the play, highlighting the controversial nature bluntly through headlines such as “The casual decadence of this taboo-breaking�(Friday 2 May 2003, The casual decadence of this taboobreaking, Independent)


Throughout the articles the broadsheet papers tend to take a moral high ground over the situation, preferring an ideally politically correct performance to be on the West Ends stage “But you begin to worry, as you meet the guests - the "Chick with a Dick" and the enormous guy whose biggest thrill is to poop in his diapers etc etc - that the show is going to be a bit of a one-joke wonder. I'm very partial to bad taste and to the childish glee, say, of a loud fart in church. Too much, though, obeys a law of diminishing returns.” (Thursday 1,May, Confessions of a dangerous kind; Jerry Springer: The Opera, Independent) This shows that they find the subjects over bearing and could hold a strong

influence over other readers who have not seen the show as it focuses on a negative angle.

Tabloid coverage differs on its out take. Although there are times when it will condemn and criticize the show it often cheers on its racy nature, praising it for having originality and attempting to tackle certain situations in life in a satirical form. “For originality I have no hesitation in declaring Jerry Springer The Opera to be the greatest production on earth...and in hell” (Wednesday 30, April, 2003, Last Nights first night: Theatrical Bliss… the greatest show on earth (and in hell), The Mirror)

As coverage continues in to January 2005 both broadsheet and tabloid papers have a similar negative approach to the idea of it being broadcast. By this point in the coverage the moral panic is about to reach its climax and is covered continually until BBC2 aired the show.

The Guardian by this point had stated in a headline that they “applaud the Christian’s who protested in their thousands about the BBC’s Jerry Springer broadcast.”(10, January,


2005, I applaud the Christian’s who protested in their thousands about the BBC’s Jerry Springer broadcast, Guardian) Showing direct opinion from Journalist Mary Kenny in headline and

then continued in content as she states “there can be a certain sincerity. But the opera is without that: it is pitched in a register of smart-arsed "irony", and its message, if message there be, is distinctly de haut en bas.”

This differs to the way in which the Sun communicates the same situation. Rather than condemning the show in a dictating fashion the Sun takes a more comic view “Never, ever, has there been a play so soaked in profanity and I cannot believe it is going to be on the BBC. Lock up your kids, put your dog out and keep the old folks as far away from the TV as possible.” (6, January, 2005, It’s funny… but so offensive, The Sun) The communication difference shows a certain level of acceptance of the show through the tabloid press. Although the controversial elements of the play are depicted through the article, the addition of humor means that it can be taken in a more light hearted nature and not as a serious concern, suggesting that the tabloid press in this instance may have had less involvement with the cause of the moral panic.

Towards the end of the coverage in June-September 2005 there are even more similarities in the coverage between broadsheet and tabloid newspapers. Both revert to a positive reflection of the play and almost beginning to condemn the protestors against the show, using different headlines such as “Festival Diary: Stand up for the right to be offensive”(13 August, 2005, Festival Diary: Stand up for the right to be offensive, Guardian) and “Offensive Christians” (Wednesday 25, September, 2005, Offensive Christians, Independent) Show that opinions were changing to mark the end of the moral panic. As this change in tone occurs, similar patterns emerge between the broadsheet and tabloid papers. In both the article word counts begin to drop to an average of 54 words per article. Also


there are more informative articles, which purely explain the court proceedings between Jerry Springer the Opera and the Christian Voice Group.

Theoretical studies in to newspaper audiences suggest that the stereotypical reader of a broadsheet newspaper such as the Independent and Telegraph would be “….”

Although broadsheets have shown to be much more opposed to the show the readership means that it does not reach the same level of audience. Although they are having an impact, it is not as great as it if it had been created by the tabloid press. The progression of the moral panic shows that broadsheet papers take a moral high ground and this is evident through the way they convey different stories against the tabloids more light hearted take on the matter. Both broadsheet and tabloid discuss the controversial themes of the show although execute them in a different manner. This also follows public belief as 45% of people surveyed believed that broadsheet papers would be much more critical of the show.

6. Chapter Three The BBCs broadcast of Jerry Springer the Opera

Only 2 months after continuous complaints and articles created about the BBCs broadcast of Jerry Springer the Opera, The Christian Voice Group took the moral panic that surrounded the show to new heights. It is at this point where media effect reaches the climax as the Group takes the show to court over claims of blasphemy.


As proceedings began to take place in March 2005, 30% of the shows venues for their UK tour cancelled, refusing to put such a controversial play on their stage. This highlights the peak in which public perceptions and reactions can begin to show the true influence that has been on the public throughout this moral panic. But at this point, how did the media’s coverage change?

In January 2005 when the trial began, significant changes to reports were made. AS court reports can show no form of bias or persuasion to the jury articles establish a new informative tone to their articles, purely explaining what is happening through the proceedings and the cases being argued by the prosecution and defence. “.....”

This has changed from previous articles that had been covered by the paper only months before, which consisted of headlines like “Christian’s to sue BBC over Springer show ‘blasphemy’” (Monday 10, January, 2005, Christian’s to sue BBC over Springer show blasphemy, Sun) and then articles that would simply state the facts, such as “The BBC's

decision to screen Jerry Springer: The Opera has been cleared by the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom” (10, May, 2005, Ofcom clear BBC over Jerry Springer Opera, Independent) this shows a much more liberal take on the show, using very little

influence language or opinion, even the coverage of the controversial themes of the show only takes a remote mention.

Tabloid papers such as the Sun and Mirror take a similar stance to the broadsheets at this point, showing very little difference in style and context, as both inform and describe the court case.


As reports continue the articles get smaller and almost insignificant in size, which would take up a side bar rather than cover the front page, which we had seen previously. This shows that the subject had less popularity as there is a dramatic drop in the media coverage compared to what had been seen before. Compared to coverage in January 2005 article word counts show an average drop to a miniscule 25 words per article compared to the 1159 word counts that had been seen in both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers before.

The content also shows a change in the style of the article, with papers picking a larger average of news stories rather than features and reviews that had previously looked deeper in to the themes of the show and the cast members.

Compared to the 76 features in April 2003 only 12 were produced in March 2005 in the Independent, Guardian, Telegraph, Mirror and the Sun.

According to different theories on moral panic, the moments you can depict the end of a moral panic, these can be highlighted when “...”

This is clearly stated in the progression through the court reports. Despite claims of blasphemy that at one point were discussed in the media being in the fore front of the trial, Fleet Street appears to take a back seat now in the hype that surrounds the show.

..... from the Christian Voice Group said “....”

This shows that despite there being so much negativity that had once surrounded the show, the group battling against the show believed the media to have very little imput at this time, with coverage being short and in no way favourable towards the prosecution.


As there would be many legal repercussions from any biased slant at this time you would expect the media to be cautious with its reportage, which are the noticeable changes since the court reporting began.

This pattern is significant in another case of blasphemy be fought at court as a way to ban certain entertainment. Most recognised is the case of Monty Python: The Life of Brian which is a clear indication of another satirical take on Christianity that was later taken to court. It is at this point as well in the media’s coverage that word counts and regular features became no existent, as the matter became on for the courts and not for Fleet Street’s opinion.

As coverage begins to die, the situation appears almost forced out of the publics’ minds. While coverage becomes sparse, the panic and concern that surrounds the subject shows an obvious drop in popular conversation and looses its significance in the publics’ minds, which is when you can acknowledge its decline as a moral panic.

Unlike Monty Python: The life of Brian, Jerry Springer the Opera was acquitted on a case of blasphemy, on the argument that there should be ‘freedom of artistic expression’.

It is at this point in the trail that Fleet Street reverse there tone dramatically, back to similar articles that had been written when the show had been praised for its originality at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

It is at this point that you see traces of positive support from articles, with some even appearing to cheer the show on “….” You can see from this article in The Mirror that the repetition of ‘Jer-ry Jer-ry’ lifts the piece like a chant at a sporting stadium,


This compared to the articles that had only months ago described the show as “…” and “….” Indicates that there is a greater sense of ease against the show’s racy nature through the media output. By June 2005 the concern that surrounds the show has almost disappeared from articles, showing a definitive end to the media’s involvement in this moral panic.

Despite media outlets removing this moral panic from its newspaper pages across the country, the effects that have been left are still clear. Different charities such as Maggie’s cancer charity have rejected money due to pressures on different Christian groups. Stephen Green, National Director of Christian Voice, was quoted as saying “We were pleased to play a part in alerting Maggie’s Centres to the potential public relations disaster of profiting from filth and blasphemy. Maggie’s Centres declined a possible £3,000 but they will gain that money many times over. Their decision to respect their Christian staff, patients and donors has been vindicated by the derisory turn-out for the one-off gala performance. It must have been mortifying for the cast to play to a threequarters empty house.” (http://atheism.about.com/b/2005/02/24/christians-bully-cancer-charityinto-rejecting-donation.htm)


Despite being offered £3000 the charity rejected money from the show, which proves that the effects can continue. Another indication of this is shown in a survey of … people 79% of people already have a negative view of the show, even though only 23.1% of people asked had actually seen the show. In one detailed comment from an anonymous surveyor stated that “From what I've heard, there's been a lot of negative controversy surrounding the play and there were a lot of pejorative stereotypes that caused offence to certain societies. However, it typifies our freedom to broadcast and impart opinions, so I'm not going to say it was a negative thing, as I don't want to be seen advocating the suppression of free speech.” This shows that although not all elements of the show are being condemned in this comment, opinions on the show had been formed from a different source. If this moral panic has been created by the media, then its long term effects still continue in to the present day, despite very little coverage over the past 4 years. This suggests that a moral panic, once created holds baring on the subjects reputation long after the moral panic dies in the media.

7.Conclusion

Throughout the study there have been many different areas of theoretical analysis as well as content that surrounds Jerry Springer the Opera. This has continually changed throughout the period of April 2003- June 2005.

While moral panic has obviously been created, it does not follow the similar pattern that is expected in other analysis’s that have been made in the past. Where it does not conform to different models such as the Attribution model tends to be where there is not a particular person or group of people that are targeted continuously throughout the process.


While you can expect broadsheet papers to take a moral high ground in this topic, the changes in tone between both tabloid and broadsheet show different opinions being portrayed constantly, flitting between the negatives and the positives before finally deciding on their stance towards the play.

Where the media coverage differs is the fact that it is a show being targeted, no show has had the amount of coverage, attention and complaints in the UK due to its own coverage and controversial nature.

Despite many apposed to it, it seems that even the negative publicity heightened its appeal, bringing it to the masses on the BBC. While the show tackles many taboos in a satirical and blunt way, from looking at other cases of blasphemy in the media, it is clear that where religion is concerned there will always be controversy and a difference of opinion in the media as well as in the public. Moral panics continue and will continue as a means to sell newspapers and bring different audiences to the attention of certain matters. Although the media inform, the amount of press attention on one certain matter can create adverse affects, with members of the public attending protests and taking action as we have seen, by going to court to battle against a show or production.

As one moral panic dies another seems to be born, be it bird flu, pedophiles or another play that attacks different situations in a modern way that has not yet been done and to some extent tests the nation’s boundaries.

“……”


This shows that moral panics have been created for years in the media and will continue to do so. The scale of the moral panic will determine on the topic, for Jerry Springer the Opera, as merely a production, managed to gain both negative and positive out comes from its media attention. This general pattern is set to continue, but whether it heightens anymore, we are yet to find out.

J.E.Richardson Amanda Coffey + ‌..


Jerry Springer the Musical controversy  

A critical study of Fleet Street’s coverage of the Opera