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Why I can’t stand Judge Judy

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When she gets home early enough, my wife watches Judge Judy, and it always drives me from the room. I can see why she likes the show: My wife’s an educator, a line of work rife with students and parents who won’t take responsibility for themselves, who expect schools to make everything easy for them. In that context, Judge Judy Sheindlin’s sharp tongue and no-bullshit demeanor must seem like a welcome corrective.

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But I can’t stand the old bag. For one thing, Judge Judy isn’t really about justice; it’s about judgment as entertainment—about the Simon Cowell kick of watching an authority figure empowered to humiliate the silly (and the people before her court seem so consistently clumsy and inarticulate that you finally wonder if they’re screened for precisely those qualities).

Mostly, though, I dislike the show’s red-state fantasy of a judiciary seized back from relativist, waffling judges who are more concerned about the niceties of “due process” than standing up for what’s right. Every time Sheindlin curtly shuts up a plaintiff in mid-explanation or barks a lesson in black-and-white morality at some chastened defendant, she mocks the ambiguities of actual justice, to the delight of viewers who believe crooks too easily exploit the complexities of the law. I know, I know. Of course it’s just a TV show; of course the participants have agreed to be there; of course it’s all small-claims stuff. I get that.

But we live in a post-nuance world, and Sheindlin’s badass demeanor and frantic pace—“justice is dispensed at lightning speed,” her website says, as if she’s serving fast food—encourage, in a small but persistent way, a wrongly simplistic view of how the system ought to work.

Plus, that voice! Ach. I have to leave the room just thinking about it.

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