I think I was in eighth grade when I made perhaps my greatest clothing acquisition: an NPR “Get Smarter” t-shirt. Never mind that, at that time of my life, “Morning Edition” meant a big bowl of Reese’s Puffs, and the word “podcast” connoted some form of nap. It would be years before I was blessed with my first Terry Gross interview. But I looked past the qualifications. I liked the implication behind the shirt; it was a statement. It suggested that maybe, just maybe, my cool, progressive parents had surrounded me with formative cultural intellectualism, an exposure to a level of enlightenment my peers wouldn’t begin to sniff until at least 2014. It was conceit in its purest form. Be still, my subservient plebeian fourth period lunch table-sharers. I did it all in the name of the smarts, existent or not.
Those brain cells? The key to feeling good. And that’s the point of this column. They’ll feel replenished, rejuvenated even, by someone transcendent. Bold. Fair. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m talking about judicial royalty. The original enforcer. When we look for fairness, we find that it lies in due process. In due process lies life improvement. And here, we arrive at Judge Judy.
You might be wondering what separates the judge from the rest of daytime television. Well, Maury is exploitative and tasteless. Jerry is not nice. They’re unkosher entertainers who live to stir the pot each Tuesday afternoon. On the other end of things, Oprah is sanctified, and Ellen is an angel. In my mind none of these icons (good or bad) can challenge Judy’s unique place in TV.
Judy, in fact, shouldn’t need her credibility vindicated by anyone, but for those skeptical, here’s one endorsement: Jim Harbaugh. In March 2016, Michigan’s head football coach tweeted, “I urge President Obama to nominate to the Supreme Court the wise and competent, Judge Extraordinaire Judith Sheindlin.”
Harbaugh is an Xs and Os mastermind. A quarterback guru. Even after disappointing finishes in his past two years in Ann Arbor, he remains one of the most well-respected coaches in the sport. It says a lot then, that for a break — a meditative pause — this jackhammer of a human turns to Judge Judy. Why shouldn’t you do the same?
There’s something about her fiery mix of authority and subtle warmth that adds up to an intangible sort of feng shui for viewers. For 22 minutes each day, you know what you’re getting, and there’s legitimate therapeutic value in that. Sit back, relax and enjoy the show, because it might be the only semblance of normalcy in your life. I know that has been the case for me. At the very least, you get a meme. A not-good meme. 2012-core. But a chuckle.
What exactly about Judge Judy makes us feel better? Consider how she handled this dog’s reunion with its owner. The judge is hands-off yet observant. Calculated and articulate. When she realizes the authenticity of the moment, she allows it to resonate in the room. As she orchestrates the scene, we, the (hooked) audience, better understand the bond between owner and dog. There’s nothing cheap about it. So maybe it’s her feel for things, her procedural digging into visceral emotion. She uncovers the truth, of course. It’s resettling, internally.
And it’s no bit. Not really, at least. I don’t quite know what self-care means and I can’t pretend to know how to nurture myself or, more importantly, improve the well-being of others. I do know, however, when I need to slow things down while everything else goes blurring by. Some of my most vulnerable moments have come in that overwhelming blur of everythingness, but all of my most triumphant resurgences have occurred at a point of extreme nothingness.
For me, that point is often on a grandparent’s couch in a part of the universe far, far away from real shit. The change of scenery is the machine, but Judy is the mindlessly wholesome engine that keeps the mental regroup going. It’s my cliché “stop, take a breath and reassess,” and it’s of an un-underminable importance. Sometimes you need background noise. Other times you need mind-bendingly cathartic entertainment to distract. Luckily, Judge Judy’s show can do both. Besides: If you’ve made it this far in this piece, you’re either my mom or someone undergoing a last-ditch effort to improve your wellness. Why not give Judy a shot?