Friday, November 16, 2012

Judge Judy, the Exemplar Neoliberal

One of the unfortunate things about arthritic knees is daytime television.  Not the good stuff like old episodes of Perry Mason or book interviews on C-SPAN, but crap like Judge Judy.  For those of you who've been living in a cave for the last 15 years or so, Judge Judy is one of the many TV judges who arbitrate small claims' actions from around the country.  It looks like real court with a real judge, but it's not.

While Judith Sheindlin makes $45 million a year playing Judge Judy, the rest of the participants don't fare so well.  The litigants get about $500 for their appearance, as well as plane fare, hotel and maybe a meal or two.  That's a pittance for allowing yourself to be humiliated on TV, but if you look at the condition of the litigants, you can see why it happens.  Many of them work in one of the low-paid occupations so prevalent in our society.  Others are unemployed or disabled and surviving on next to nothing.  So a little TV humiliation for $500 looks pretty good.

In addition, the show pays the judgment.  What this means is that you can sue family or friends knowing that your family member or friend won't have to pay up.  So you may be doing a good deed--repaying a loan, fixing a car etc.--that wouldn't be paid if you didn't allow yourself to be be trashed.  In some cases I suspect that the judgment will be redistributed, so that both parties will benefit.  Makes you feel better about the litigants already, doesn't it?

You don't get regular collection cases, or those where tenants in foreclosed properties are suing for their deposits, or the like.  Those cases most often go to real Small Claims, as they should.  Tenants, in particular, should avoid Judge Judy.  The warranty of habitability is entirely foreign to her, and I've yet to see her say something like, "you were charging $800 a month for this hovel!"

But it doesn't make you feel good about Judge Judy.  That's because, instead of understanding why people would tolerate her abuse and behaving in a somewhat more respectful manner, recognizing that the abundance of poor people in our society enable her to make her $45 million a year, she heaps on the abuse.  Don't have a job?  Well, get one.  Don't have a good enough job?  Well, that's your poor choice.  Lent your scuzzy boyfriend or girlfriend money?  Tough luck, since you weren't married.  Bought a car for a couple thousand that needed a new transmission?  Another poor choice, even if you were desperate for a car to get to work.

Some cases are interesting tours of life among the poorest 30%.  I've never seen so many hovels rented for so much money, and Judy, as I noted above, doesn't have much respect for the warranty of habitability.  If you live there, you pay rent, no matter what the condition of the premises.  I also discovered why a car that costs, say, $4K, is not a good idea.  The transmission is about to go, and will within three weeks of the purchase.  (But that's the value you're allowed under TANF rules.)  Judge Judy isn't fond of the disabled either, particularly those with mental illness.

And numeracy is not her strong suit, but an amazing number of our fellows seem to have the same problem.  In one case she wanted a young mother to send her infant to childcare, get a job, and go to school.  Uh, this young woman would pay more for childcare than she would make in wages.  Not a viable plan.

But what I love about Judge Judy is that it's the elite vs. the rest of us writ small.  You don't have to read long tomes on economic inequality, the high cost of almost anything. Just watch a few episodes of Judge Judy and you'll have it down.

An interesting note:  In my area the majority of the advertisers funding Judge Judy are the for-profit schools that prey on low-income people, and rely on federal loans taken out by those low-income students to pay for mediocre education, leading to low-paying jobs and a lot of debt.  I hope that the people watching Judge Judy aren't encouraged to improve themselves by taking on loans for these schools, which exist only because of government funding.

And another note:  While Judge Judy may impose her petty moralism on others, she's much more, shall we say, flexible with respect to her own behavior.  Her producer is involved in a messy divorce and, as part of the messiness, the producer sold the former judge a set of dishes and flatware--a very expensive set of dishes and flatware--at a discount.  A big discount.  Well, the producer's wife sued Judge Judy to get the property restored to the community.

Did Judge Judy do what any normal person would have done, which is to restore the property to the community, get her money back and swear never to get involved in this kind of mess again?  No.  She sought to justify her behavior by claiming that the wife should be looking for a job instead of suing her.  This, unfortunately, leads me to believe that Judge Judy knew what her producer was doing and was sanctioning his conduct.  Oh, how I wish I could lecture her from the "bench".

No comments: