What does Dr. Phil say to these grieving, piteous women? With the earnestness of a preacher and the authority of a cop, he tells them, "You've got to turn this thing around. Time heals nothing. It's what you do in that time that begins to heal the loss."
All the poor women can do is nod and, haltingly, agree.
Then Dr. Phil mixes good sense with vague sentimentality, both spoken in that preacher-cop delivery that makes you hang on his every word, never quite knowing whether you're about to be redeemed, arrested, or both. Good sense: "How much you loved that little boy isn't measured by how much you suffer." Vague sentimentality: "You can honor his life by doing a couple of things . . . by finding meaning to your suffering . . . something good has to come of it . . . I don't know what it is for you, but if you use the experience in some way . . . ." What could be more vague, in this context, than words and phrases like "meaning" and "something good" and "in some way"? Even Dr. Phil admits, "I don't know what it is for you." Then he says: "Do you think you're ready to try that?"--as though his "that" is something concrete. They nod. "I'll get you some good professional grief counselors, will you do that?" At last, something concrete. They agree, numbly, their faces set in baffled depression.
But Dr. Phil has just made an interesting admission. They need therapy, which isn't what he does. What he does is spectacle. For isn't it lascivious fun to watch other peoples' embarrassing miseries?
And it works. All our buttons have been pushed; we've been treated to a televised tabloid spectacle designed to arouse one basic feeling: fear. Fear of our surroundings, our neighbors, our world. And fear, as Dr. Phil knows, is a profitable commodity. So he introduces a woman who heads a company that installs nanny-cameras. She describes the price range of her installations and services. Money will change hands. Which hands, we don't know. But the object of the program has been to get fearful parents to spend money--and to spend money on something his guests and viewers probably don't need. What those women really need, even according to Dr. Phil, is grief counseling, i.e., therapy--personal, professional contact, committed to the slow, grueling process of learning to live with tragedy. But that fact gets lost in the program's emotional bath.
A guest's need for therapy is never the message Dr. Phil's viewers are left with. The image the show imprints is that of a tall Texan brimming with certainty--not unlike the present occupant of the White House--who has all the answers and is never wrong.