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Essay: Effect of broadcasting Jerry Springer: The Opera

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  • Published: 2 October 2015*
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In this report, I will be looking at the effect that Jerry Springer: The Opera made when the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcasted the musical back on 8th January 2005. I will be looking at the reasons why the BBC made the decision to air it in 2005. I will be comparing the number of people who complained to the BBC and the total amount of people who watched the broadcast using viewing figures and tables. In addition, I will also look at the viewpoints of the Christian Voice Campaign who argued against the opera. I will also be using my knowledge of Utilitarianist and Kantianist theories while referencing the viewing figures and the BBC’s general duty to the public to establish my thoughts on the BBC broadcasting Jerry Springer: The Opera.
Background Information on the transmission of the opera
The BBC broadcasted “Jerry Springer: the Opera” on BBC Two on Saturday 8th January 2005 and the opera was part of a featured programme called “Jerry Springer Night” which contained these programmes: “Some Things You Need To Know about Jerry Springer”, “Ruby Wax Meets … The Jerry Springer Show”, “Jerry Springer – the Opera: Story of a Musical” and “Jerry Springer – the Opera”. [1] After the opera was broadcast, the BBC was barraged by a numerous amount of complaints. The reason for these complaints were the opera’s strong use of bad language and many people felt it was mocking Christianity. A huge number of 47,000 people complained about the opera before it was transmitted. Despite this, the BBC continued with its decision to broadcast it.
According to figures from BBC News, over 1.7 million people tuned in to watch the unique opera. The report continues to state that there were 317 phone calls made to the BBC since the transmission and a mass of them were very supportive. [2] However, there was an overall high figure of 63,000 complaints about the opera. Thus, it became the most criticised television programme ever. [3] Despite the number of complaints, the BBC defended their decision of broadcasting the opera through a corporation spokesman by saying “…the BBC stood by its decision to broadcast the controversial musical, which continues to run to packed audience in London’s West End.” [4] This statement shows that there were people interested in the opera by the time the BBC broadcasted it.
Utilitarianism Explaination
Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism. According to Fieser, consequentialism is “An action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable.” [5] Utilitarianism was founded by Jeremy Bentham and was developed further by John Stuart Mill. Bentham and Mill wanted to achieve the greatest “aggregate” happiness, in other words, the biggest overall amount of happiness according to Warburton. [6] This statement shows that Utilitarianism is known as “The Greatest Happiness Principle” which involves actions that promote the greatest amount of happiness. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) enforced utilitarianism as the moral actions on the part of an individual person or a group of people. Any moral actions would bring out happiness and pleasure, whereas, immoral actions would bring out sadness and pain. [7] (S.E.P. 2009).
From a Utilitarian’s view of promoting happiness, Were the BBC morally correct to broadcast the opera?
When comparing the viewing figures of approximately 1.7 million people to 63,000 people complaining about the broadcast, it can be said that a Utilitarian would agree with the BBC broadcasting “Jerry Springer: The Opera”. Since 63,000 people complained about the opera out of the 1.7 million people who viewed it, this means that 1.6 million people were satisfied with the transmission which brought out greater happiness over the small amount of unhappiness. Therefore, from a Utilitarian’s point of view, the BBC was morally correct to broadcast the opera.
Evaluating Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is useful for judging on how much happiness was produced out of the BBC’s decision to broadcast the opera. However, this theory is not very effective because happiness is not the only feeling that took place when the opera was broadcast because there was anger present when the complaints took place which hinders the greatest amount of happiness.
Kantianism Explanation
Kantianism is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and it is a deontological theory. Deontological means duty-based ethics. Kantianism has a more systematic approach to performing the morally correct actions compared to utilitarianism. For instance, Kant believes that “only actions performed from duty have moral worth. He almost seems to suggest that the greater one’s disinclination to act from duty, the greater the result of the moral worth of the action.” [8] (P.L.E 2012) There are two formulations for the categorical imperative, also known as “the supreme principle of morality” according to Warburton. [9] These are The Formula of Universal Law and The Formula of Humanity. Universal law involves maxims and universalising them in order to determine if there are contradictions in conception which means a maxim is a perfect duty which does not allow exceptions. If there is a contradiction in the will, then it is implied as an imperfect duty which means the maxim is morally permissible on occasions. If there are no contradictions then the maxim is morally permissible. As far as the second formula goes, it is important to have human dignity towards ourselves and towards other people because if we don’t follow that formula we are disrespecting humanity.
From a Kantian’s views towards the formula of humanity and duties, was the BBC right to broadcast the opera?
From Kant’s statement about duties, it is best for us to act from duty rather than act out of self-interest. According to Warburton, “Kant says that actions done solely from compassionate inclinations have no moral worth whatsoever.” [10] Based on this evidence, a Kantian would agree with the BBC’s decision to broadcast “Jerry Springer: The Opera” because they have duties to make fantastic shows and innovation might require them to go over the limit in terms of creative boundaries as stated by the complaints committee. [11] In addition, the BBC themselves stated they have a duty to respect audiences with their transmissions of different programmes. [12] This statement reflects on Kant’s formula of humanity. The complaints committee stated that the BBC is committed to freedom of expression. [13]. If Kant were to universalise the maxim of everyone not having the right to the freedom of speech then it would lead to a contradiction in conception. This is because everyone would be silent and they would not be able to express their thoughts. If the BBC had to follow this maxim, the opera would have never been broadcasted. “The most important belief about things in themselves that Kant thinks only practical philosophy can justify concerns human freedom. Freedom is important because, on Kant’s view, moral appraisal presupposes that we are free in the sense that we have the ability to do otherwise.” [14] (Rohlf, 2010).
Evaluating Kantianism
Kantianism is very effective when judging the BBC’s decision to broadcast “Jerry Springer: The Opera” because the BBC’s duties reflect hugely upon the philosophical term and the formula of humanity. In addition, even though Kant has the greatest respect for human dignity and autonomy, it fails to acknowledge conflicting duties. Finally, unlike Utilitarianism, Kantianism ignores emotions.
Arguments against the broadcast according to the Christian Voice Campaign
The Christian Voice Campaign made a huge statement when complaining about Jerry Springer: The Opera. According to Blackstock, the Christian Voice Campaign sent 50,000 complaints to the BBC and was seen as the moving power behind the majority of the complaints. [15] (Blackstock, 2005). The campaign mainly complained about the mocking of Christianity throughout the opera. For instance, BBC’s Governors’ Programme Complaints Committee mentions some features that targeted religious figures: “the portrayal of “Jesus” as offering violence”, “obscene language put into the mouths of members of the Holy Family”. [16] The Campaign went so far as to call the BBC, “Blasphemy Broadcasting Corporation” as seen in this picture provided by Millward.

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