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|The 8 Minute Cure - Page 11|
The Healing Power of Celebrity
For some years now, well before Dr. Phil came on the scene, television has thrived on shows featuring the public exposure of privacy: courtroom and discussion programs in which people from all walks of life--usually, though not always, people of the lower middle class--expose their most intimate difficulties, often in raucous settings. Couples quarreling, mothers and daughters fighting over the same lover, abusers and abused, all indulging in a kind of public celebration of humiliation. What would be anyone's motivation for exposing themselves in this way? Clearly, to be on TV confers a sense of reality and importance upon their lives--for in their subcultures, what's important is on the TV. To be on TV is to be real to oneself; it's to have one's existence confirmed by this culture's arbiter of existence. This is the syndrome on which Dr. Phil thrives.
In fact, he's unthinkable without it. The people who send him videos ("Help me, Dr. Phil!"), as well as those who watch, are counting on the healing power of celebrity itself--the authority of celebrity in our culture. To be closer to celebrity is to be closer to power, and is, symbiotically, to be more powerful. In that sense, Dr. Phil is a magic act, a witch doctor if there ever was one (shaman is the polite word). He confers a whiff of his celebrity upon the people he displays, and, in this form of teleshamanism, that's supposed to effect some measure of cure. His patients/guests hope to feel more real, more worthwhile, by being more of a celebrity and rubbing up against celebrities. They're on TV so they must be important--their shift from anonymity to celebrity will somehow magically help solve their problems.
Dr. Phil is an Â¨uberelectronic daddy-figure, and his audience his children. He creates a relationship that's mere mystification. You can have no relationship with a human being named Phillip McGraw. You're "interactive" (as the fashionable phrase goes) with an image called "Dr. Phil"--psychology's Barbie Doll--on which you can project all the help you crave.
A show devoted to two boys obsessed with sports--basketball for one, football for the other--demonstrated perfectly Dr. Phil's ability to use his guests to display his particular brand of teleshamanism. Both boys had good grades in elementary school, but now, in the early stages of high school, they do nothing except play sports, and their mothers are desperate. Before introducing the first boy and his mother, Dr. Phil endorses and heavily plugs the movie Coach Carter, to be released later that week. He even shows clips. The movie depicts the true story of an inner-city high-school coach who, by all accounts, had a tremendously positive effect on his young players.