Don't Touch that Dial. . . : 'Columnists Who go Into Therapy After Watching the Talk Shows'

Elizabeth Hansen is a Los Angeles-based playwright and writer

Women who love watching men making love to other women, and why can't I be one of them?

OK, so this isn't an actual topic on one of the myriad daytime talk shows, but how about:

* "Man Murders Uncle for Money for a Sex-Change Operation" (Sally Jessy Raphael). Wouldn't they take MasterCard?

* "Transsexuals Model Designer Clothing" (Geraldo). Like ... we're the same size?

* "Religious Strippers" (Montel Williams). OK, I want book and verse.

Next we'll have the Pep Boys, Manny, Moe and Jack, talking to "Volkswagens Who Murder Rolls-Royces Because They've Got a Valve to Grind."

Do you ever wonder where they find this stuff? Why they find this stuff? And more importantly, why we watch this stuff?

Karen Lippert of the "Donahue" show tells me that topics are found in a variety of ways: "Through letters that come in to us, topics that producers come up with, people who call us, events in the news. And we're a live show, so we're very issue and news driven."

For instance, she said, that within 2 1/2 hours after the World Trade Center bombing in New York, "We had 16 people who had walked down 98 flights of stairs in our studio for a live show that afternoon."

OK, I concede. Some of the topics are relevant and, at times, even poignant. But why this fascination with "Her Husband's Sperm, Her Egg and the Sister Who Carried the Baby" ("Donahue")? I called up my friend who teaches clinical psychology at a major university, but who wanted to remain anonymous because she has clients who watch these shows.

"People in civilized nations today are having a lot of trouble justifying the enormity of their feelings," she said. "Feelings of rage, envy, joy, shame, love are overwhelming them. But if they tune in to a talk show that has a sensational topic, such as changing your gender, or women who love men too much, they see others who may be experiencing the same emotions and as a result they feel less alone."

Are talk shows, then, doing us a service? As my friend the psychologist sees it, Phil or Oprah "don't actively help us regulate our feelings. They do it indirectly. Our skill level in how to deal with our feelings doesn't increase from watching. We just think, 'Well, heck, I'm not as bad off as those folks.' " And, thank heaven.

Then "The Man Who Married the Woman He Tried to Kill Out of Jealousy" (Jenny Jones) may not really help me with my relationship with the guy who tried to kill me, but just knowing there are others out there somehow makes me feel better? Let's get real. What are we coming to?

I'm not going to blame the talk shows. They don't create the topics; they reflect them. They reflect "Abused Husbands" (Sally Jessy) and "Pamphlets That Advocate Teen Sex" (Jerry Springer) and "Teen-Agers Who Abuse Inhalants" (Maury Povich).

Civilized? We're civilized? The dark ages are looking better and better.

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