The young woman next to me on the flight from D.C. to L.A. was downing screwdrivers like Richard Burton. When she was done with one, she would raise her hand for the stewardess, waving her drink voucher. She had a bunch of them. “You want one?” she asked me. We got to talking, and before long I realized I was next to a goldmine of information: She not only worked as an associate producer for Judge Judy, but she was tipsy and loquacious.
I have been obsessed with Judge Judy for years. I watch all three broadcasts of her show daily. “Um is not an answer.” “Where did you think you were going, the beach?” “Don't look over there, look at me.” The cases are real. The people are real. And she's a real bitch.
I was flustered, unsure of where to start. “Man, is she that mean in real life?” was all I could come up with.
“No, she's rad,” she said. She's also, apparently, very generous. Each Christmas she reportedly gives every single crew member and staffer a Visa card with a dollar amount that matches the year. This year means a bonus of $2,013. Judge Judy can afford it. It's been pointed out that she makes more than all nine Supreme Court justices put together, but that's being conservative. She actually makes $47 million a year.
She doesn't let people fight during their case, she doesn't delve into juicy personal stuff unless it is relevant, and she doesn't suffer fools. Why, then, is she so popular? I love bullshit, but she has no time for it. Why do I watch?
If I dig down deep enough, I know it's because she satisfies the part of me that likes to see bad guys get punished. It feeds the same morbidity that public hangings used to. The guy who tailgated another dude for blocks and then cut him off, causing an accident? The same guy we've all had to deal with at one time in our life? He's hella busted. Judy will also tell him he's unattractive, a loser, and unfit to have a driver's license. So satisfying. It's Shirley Jackson's story “The Lottery” in syndication.
In fact, the public humiliation is so great that you have to wonder why people go on that show. I asked my flightmate that same question. The answer, predictably, is money. You get paid to go on Judge Judy; she told me it was two grand, but I have since heard other numbers. If you are being sued and you can't afford it, it's a good option. Producers spend time searching state court records to find cases that are pending, then they contact the litigants and strike a deal. This hadn't occurred to me. I assumed that everyone who was on the show contacted the producers first.
Since the flight, I have been kicking myself for not asking more questions while I had the associate producer there. Specifically, what are Judge Judy's politics? I've seen her on Larry King promoting gay marriage and decrying people who try to stop gay adoptions. “I was of course saddened by the vote here in California,” she told him, “as I was in the State of Arkansas, which was equally an affront to both common sense and in what I know in my role as an old family-court judge for 25 years is not in the best interest of children. … I know so many same-sex couples who are wonderful parents.”
Yet on her show she seems to have disdain for social programs, or perhaps (and rightly so) just those people who abuse them. Last week, there was a woman with seven kids who said she supported them all on Section 8 and about $500 in Social Security. Right… She was getting money from somewhere, because she was suing a dude she bought a $2,000 car from. Judy frequently bemoans the fact that our taxpayer money is going to deadbeats who appear before her, but being a family-court judge all that time, you have to see a lot of that.
So is she a conservative? This is why I keep coming back. She's a bitchy mystery.
My pal was deep into her cups, as they say. She waved another voucher; the stewardess seemed to pause, to try and figure out if this woman would be the sort to shit on the beverage cart after one too many. They had a stare-off. Eventually the flight attendant demurred and went to fetch another. My new friend rolled her eyes. I decided to support her thesis that the woman was being unreasonable.
“Beauty fades,” I said. “But stupid is forever.”