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Friday, 02 January 2009 11:28

The 8 Minute Cure - Page 9

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In those eight minutes, your situation is presented and analyzed, a solution is proposed, and you agree to it--cue up the applause! Dr. Phil has famously said, "I've never been under the impression that we're doing eight-minute cures on television." One wonders if the same can be said of his audience or his patients/guests, since he works so hard to give them precisely the impression that he can cure them.

In any case, viewers know when they tune in that they'll see footage of people much like themselves, beset with various dilemmas, and the footage will conclude with the cry, "Help me, Dr. Phil!" The subjects will be trotted out, talked to and talked about; various products will be hawked. And as the show ends, Dr. Phil will stride up the center aisle, to be greeted by his wife, and the two will walk off hand in hand while the audience applauds. There are variations in the middle, but the beginning and end are invariable.

Such is the essence and core of Dr. Phil's house call.

The opening footage of the first Dr. Phil Show I watched was calibrated to excite fear and disgust in whoever watched it: "nanny-camera" shots of babysitters beating and abusing infants and small children. The viewer couldn't help but think in terms of "monster" and "victim." Monsters and victims are common enough in our world, but in the consulting room, both are subjects to be understood. On the tabloid screen of Dr. Phil, both are excuses for titillation. After overwhelming viewers with this footage, Dr. Phil inserts, with all possible seriousness, "We're not saying that everyone's at risk." What he ­doesn't say is that there are millions of babysitters, nannies, and day-care workers, and only a tiny percentage of them are abusers. He also doesn't say we live in an economy in which many mothers have to work and have no choice but to employ the services of care providers. Instead, he makes working mothers feel guilty and frightened for a choice they can't avoid.

Immediately after his not-everyone's-at-risk qualifier, he shows staged "docudrama" footage of a true case: a 2-year-old who drowns because of a babysitter's neglect and bad judgment. The footage is far more powerful than the disclaimer. What can it do but excite--and excite is the proper word--guilt and fear in any insecure parent employing a babysitter? Meanwhile, on his soundstage, women who've lost their children to negligent providers, or whose children have been injured by same, sit unhappily in uncomfortable chairs.

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Last modified on Sunday, 11 January 2009 16:40

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