Episode 5 – Divorce Court

 

This week’s discussion: Divorce Court, Season 17, Eps. 1-7.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Dual Survival, Season 3, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Hulu.

This week your esteemed hosts show up for their first stint of jury duty – reality TV style – and JS is not thrilled.  Nevertheless, we gamely tackle the first seven episodes of Season 17 of the long-running court TV franchise Divorce Court.

We begin by running down the typical format of an episode, discussing the constructed nature of the TV courtroom and how both Judge Toler and the show as a whole compare to the other shows in the genre.  Then we delve briefly into each individual episode and give our thoughts, paying particular attention to the rather stark variation in the show’s tone, and wrap up our recap by touching on some of the overall motifs common to the episodes we watched.

We then analyze the economics of court TV, as well as the heavily disproportionate representation of black claimants on the show and what it means.  After analyzing to which degree this is a product of the show’s audience or it’s producers, we take a look at the appeal of the show’s worldview and Mike offers some criticism of its take on social class and the overall ‘justice’ of the world at large.

Show Notes and Links

1:07 / Introducing the show

2:26 / High concept (WARNING: Title may not be fully accurate)

3:16 / The first of many mentions about the vast tonal variation

4:24 / The fabricated nature of the ‘courtroom’

5:08 / The format of a typical episode

6:00 / Beginning our discussion of Judge Toler

6:36 / Comparing her to other TV judges (Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown)

8:00 / Judge Toler’s optimism

9:00 / Comparing the rulings (or lack thereof) to other courtroom shows

10:11 / This show could easily be called ‘Relationship Counselor’ instead of ‘Divorce Court’ (with the bonus deep cut about constitutional legal theory that our fans all love)

11:04 / Discussing the qualifications of a judge to give relationship advice

13:40 / Mike thought her background as a judge made her pretty fair-minded

15:14 / A brief primer on the show’s history (and format iterations)

16:11 / Judge Toler’s intros

16:38 / Episode 1 – Anger problems and familial chaos

17:45 / This episode is pretty realistic – set our expectations accordingly

19:15 / Actual money on the line – a rarity in this series

20:04 / Why Mike had JS keep watching until Episode 7

20:55 / The difference in the intros and outros in different seasons

21:18 / Even Judge Toler’s optimism has limits

22:05 / Episode 2 – Alcoholism and social class

22:45 / Stuck out to Mike as optimistic – marriage could be probably be salvaged if husband could get help for his drinking problem

23:43 / Episode 3 – Body image and small difficulties

24:40 / JS thought this was the most realistic episode

25:10 / JS praises Judge Toler’s advice to this young couple

26:07 / The couple’s youth stuck out to JS – perhaps they be may not be as cynical and jaded (as Mike)

26:38 / Episode 4 – Cohabitation and animosity

27:19 / Judge Toler indulges in a bit of apophasis (For more of Mike butchering Greek terms, check out Episode 3)

27:56 / The role of sex (and other personal issues) in the show

28:29 / Stood out as a couple who will not work things out

29:23 / Episode 5 – ‘Redbones’ and bingo

30:51 / JS needed to consult Urban Dictionary for this episode

31:36 / Does this couple even want to split up?  Or are they there for the exposure and the paycheck?

32:09 / ‘Ghetto’ stereotypes and the ‘pull up your pants’ speech

33:11 / A brief digression into appearance fees

34:12 / The role of embellishment in some of the wackier episodes

35:15 / If we had only watched Episodes 1-4, this podcast would be completely different

35:59 / The relationships covered are all over the map

37:43 / Episode 6 – Colorful claimants, realistic problems

38:13 / ’30 cents of extra cheese’

39:25 / The husband’s brother and his $1400 shoes

40:05 / How social class may have influenced the claimants’ different attitudes towards money

40:35 / We didn’t quite know what to make of this couple’s future prospects

41:58 / Episode 7 – Crazytown

42:20 / Judge Toler’s odd intro

43:31 / This couple just wanted to be on TV – openly cracking up on the stand

44:47 / The animosity is very put on – lots of joking and laughing

45:02 / Candy house, ‘nuff said

46:28 / ‘He’s wrong and I’m right’

46:57 / If you watch one episode, watch this one

47:14 / The role of social media and smartphones

49:48 / Instagram handles of the claimants in Season 18

50:30 / The prevalence of traditional views on gender roles (men are breadwinners, women do housework)

52:06 / Judge Toler’s response to the airing of these views (article on Judge Toler’s background)

53:28 / The social class of the claimants – not a lot of middle-class professionals

54:21 / The economic incentives of the show attract a working-class demographic, but aren’t enough to attract a middle-class demographic

55:22 / Middle and upper class families have more to lose in a real divorce court

56:42 / Delving further into the economic incentives (article on the economics of Court TV)

57:30 / Court TV can often be a win-win situation in an open-and-shut small claims court case

1:00:08 / JS thought the structure of the show made this weaker than other reality court TV shows

1:00:48 / A final note on what ‘fame’ people might hope to gain from reality TV

1:01:31 / Taking a look at the demographics of the show’s claimants (quote from the article linked above)

1:02:48 / Comparing the percentage of African-Americans in the US population to the percentage of African-Americans on the show (stats from the 2010 Census via Wikipedia, natch – you can look up the articles on the individual cities) (Census Statistics on poverty)

1:04:45 / Why Americans Hate Welfare; overrepresentation of African-Americans in media in stories about poverty

1:06:30 / Race and ‘implicit bias

1:07:16 / Transitioning into an exploration of the show’s audience

1:08:25 / Chicken or egg situation?

1:09:13 / Hulu algorithms and audience demographics; Mike mentions Black-ish and Empire, as well as the show’s Facebook page

1:11:24 / The starkness of the show’s racial demographics confounded our expectations

1:13:28 / Probably many causes, but seems difficult to get to 70% w/o some type of bias

1:14:07 / Social distancing – amplifying negative stereotypes to reassure a target demographic similar to show’s participants (My Big Redneck Wedding)

1:16:41 / The show’s optimistic core – idea of being able to fix any marriage with enough heart; Mike mentions The Secret (100% accurate!)

1:17:10 / The paradoxical (?) appeal of conservatism to the poorest Americans (Jill Leovy interview)

1:18:04 / Mike’s view on the appeal and limits of such a philosophy

1:20:00 / How social class impacts how much someone is ‘punished’ for their bad decision-making; Mike mentions the book Floating City

1:20:55 / Mike wished this show would acknowledge that fact

1:22:09 / Wrapping up with our differing reactions to the show’s mediocrity

1:23:33 / Introducing the next show

1:24:33 / The usual rigmarole aka Rate us! (And subscribe!)

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