Pop Culture
Mar 01, 2023, 06:28AM

Judge Judy’s Healing Powers

"3:00 is Judge Judy time. That's sacred."

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I first noticed the Judge Judy healing phenomenon in 2018. I was teaching an art class at a skilled nursing facility in Burbank when I asked the nurse to help gather patients for the class. She replied, “Oh, you picked the wrong time for your activity. 3:00 is Judge Judy time. That’s sacred.”

Sure enough, no one came to class. Instead, patients gathered in the entertainment room in front of a large screen TV to watch Judge Judy. The case involved a woman suing her ex-boyfriend for refusal to repay a car loan. The ex-boyfriend claimed the money was a gift causing a woman in a wheelchair to yell, “Liar!” When Judge Judy called the ex-boyfriend “a moron,” the patients erupted in laughter. The girlfriend won the case and everyone applauded.

The nurse told me this was a daily occurrence. “They all have TVs in their rooms but they want to watch it on the big screen. This is their happy time. It brings them together.”

I learned not to schedule an art class during Judge Judy (or bingo). I began asking patients what they liked about Judge Judy. “She tells it like it is,” said Christina, a Latino woman recovering from a stroke. A black woman with diabetes named Juanita told me, “She’s not afraid to put the young folks in their place.” An Armenian man battling Parkinson’s disease said, “She’s got her own lie detector inside her head.” This made him smile.

When my mom was in hospice, I noticed a similar phenomenon. Mom didn’t engage with television due to dementia but patients in nearby rooms watched Judge Judy every day. Judge Judy had a ready list of Judyisms that always made people laugh.

Beauty Fades. Dumb is Forever.

On your best day, you’re not as smart as I am on my worst day.

I eat morons like you for breakfast.

— “Um” is not an answer.

Don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It doesn’t work and it annoys the pig.

I met a hospital chaplain and shared my observations about Judge Judy, I asked his thoughts.

“When people are sick, they’re scared, confused and depressed,” he said. “Their world is in chaos. They’re angry at the injustice of their illness. Judge Judy shows them that justice still exists. She makes things right again which is what they want for their own lives.”

Judge Judy’s popularity can be confusing given the tone and content of the show. The scenarios are extreme and often involve poor, uneducated people struggling with debt and desperation. Judy assumes an aura of benign impartiality until she morphs into a ruthless bulldog. She spews insults intended to mock and humiliate the participants.

Joseph Wapner, the pater familias of court shows who presided over The People’s Court, wasn’t a Judge Judy fan. (He died in 2017.) He criticized Judy, saying, “She’s a disgrace to the profession. She does things I don’t think a judge should do. She tells people to shut up. She’s rude. She’s arrogant. She demeans people. Judges need to observe certain standards of conduct. She doesn’t do it and I resent that.”

Judge Judy may be coarse and mean but fans love her. According to the Nielsen Ratings, her median viewer is 64.4 years old. Her audience includes single mothers, second-shift workers and those living paycheck-to-paycheck. Judge Judy premiered in 1996 and ended a 25-year run in July 2021. (She launched a spinoff in 2022 called Judy Justice.) The original Judge Judy was the highest-rated court show in history. It attracted more than ten million viewers per day at its peak outranking General Hospital and Oprah.

A cancer patient at a rehab facility told me the only time she left her room was to watch Judge Judy. I asked if she thought Judge Judy was unnecessarily mean. “She says what people need to hear,” the woman said. “Sometimes the truth hurts. Too bad.”

Judge Judy allows viewers to vicariously channel their own anger. This isn’t bad. Anger can give us the courage to take control of our lives. Psychologists use the term “constructive anger” to describe how negative feelings can be used in positive ways toward healing and recovery. Dr. Ernest Harburg at the University of Michigan School of Public Health found that men and women who hid their anger in response to unjust attacks were more likely to die earlier or contract diseases like bronchitis or heart problems. Expressing anger increases optimism and feelings of empowerment.

In a 2022 interview with thoughteconomics.com, Judge Judy said, “There is a degree of laziness and political correctness which has crept into the justice system. I think people get frustrated by what they see as a lack of justice in this country, and sometimes watching my show gives them the opportunity to see justice in action.”

Judge Judy’s old school. She eschews the gray areas of political correctness and despises judges who “cut the baby in half leaving everyone a little bit miserable.” She’s decisive and bold. She teaches us to take responsibility for our lives. Judge Judy isn’t just America’s favorite judge. She’s a healer.


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