Just when we thought we'd seen all manners of 'train wreck', and 'who's your daddy' dramas on Jerry Springer, Maury, or Judge Judy, along comes a new hybrid. Paternity Court is the latest courtroom TV show aired in the States and has already proved to be a huge success. Set in a non-traditional courtroom, (with a studio audience), families can settle paternity disputes by DNA testing once and for all. Presiding as judge is the perfectly coiffured Lauren Lake, a family lawyer and legal analyst.
Not exactly a new phenomenon, Lake insists that the show is different to all of the other paternity shows as it is all about, "empowering families," and "helping families figure out their truth." One episode featured a mother who didn't know out of 13 possible men (gasp!) who could have fathered her grown-up daughter. I mean, couldn't she have narrowed it down? It isn't any wonder then, why the show has provoked heightened emotions on social media sites.
The case of the absentee father has been a hot topic for decades, (also a tired one), not to mention the harsh reality that there are children who have no idea who their biological parent/s are. I spoke to a mother recently who had to break the news to her teenage daughter that the man she had called 'dad' as a child, was not her real father. The mother genuinely didn't know at the time, and her shocking revelation was the catalyst for a myriad of problems over time. After witnessing the devastation of such revelations, the consequences are irreparable and can drastically alter lives. So should this sensitive topic be trivialised into a courtroom TV show?
Okay, one can argue that the guests willingly signed themselves up for it, (and getting very expensive DNA testing for free), so surely they should have known what to expect. But I still can't help but wonder by its very nature, the show is far more exploitative than 'empowering'.
Don't get me wrong, watching the show was compelling, but at the same time, there was something slightly disconcerting about it. A classic example was watching a 26-year old woman and her 33-year old brother break down inconsolably at the revelation that the man who they believed to be their father all their lives was actually "not the father." In fact, it didn't stop there. The brother went on to discover that not only was his father not his real dad (which was bad enough), but his mother was not his real mother either! Which inevitably meant that the siblings were not even related. Confused? Yes, so was I by that point of the show. And there you have it. A damaged family left to salvage a lifetime of broken pieces from just 30-minutes of televised fame.
While we can breathe a sigh of relief that in comparison to that type of dysfunction, our own family woes are actually not that bad after all, you can't help but feel the pain for those families. Lake states there are psychiatrists on set to assist the guests, but let's face it, it will take more than one session of therapy to get through the chaos.
Of course, reality TV will always try to push the envelope, providing those essential layers of 'shock value', but maybe its time to move on post-Jerry Springer and change the record a little. Sadly, in a society so obsessed with other peoples lives and dramas, we are bound to see a lot more of the same ilk in the future. As we have seen from the smorgasbord of so-called, 'train wreck' shows nowadays, anything goes!