Bottom-feeding in the wee hours

The highs and lows (OK, who are we kidding—just lows) of Cheaters

Sometimes I think I must be the only human being on the planet with taste so degraded as to actually watch Cheaters. That’s impossible, of course, because the show has sponsors. Advertisers—even those who offer male-enhancement nostrums—don’t pay for commercials if only one person is watching.

So it can’t be just me.

For those who have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, Cheaters is a TV show that features private detectives skulking around and catching people in the act of cheating on their spouses, or significant others. They use hidden cameras to capture photographic evidence of the tawdry little trysts, then bring the evidence back to the person being cuckolded (I guess “cuckold” can be a female noun, too, though the word has always carried a male connotation) and show the footage they’ve collected to the person whose mate is being unfaithful.

Once we’ve been treated to the spectacle of the poor schlub or schlubette being thus humiliated, the host then asks the cheatee if he or she wants to confront their philandering partner. They always do, of course, because if they didn’t allow for that additional degradation the show would lack a third act, so it’s no doubt in the contract that the person who first suspected that cheating was going on would be willing to add to their self-mortification by agreeing to a nasty camera-captured confrontation for all the world to see.

The confrontations allow the cheatees to catch the cheaters with the alternative objects of his/her affection, thus prompting the inevitable few moments of slapping, shouting, spitting and bleeped epithets that nearly always manage to drag the offender’s mother into the dispute, if he’s male, or are sure to include the word “slut,” if the cheater is female.

Cheaters is shown in the wee small hours of the morning. I watch it when I have insomnia, when I’ve grown too tired to read, and when I can’t find anything else during those hours when most of the cable channels have given themselves over to paid programming.

Still, even with so little competition for my attention, watching Cheaters is almost impossible to justify. It cannot even be rationalized as a guilty pleasure because there isn’t much pleasure to be had from it, what with the residue of slime the show inevitably leaves on the viewer’s soul.

It’s hosted by a guy named Joey Greco, and sometimes it occurs to me that he may be the devil incarnate—and I don’t even believe in the devil, though the existence of evil is pretty indisputable.

Greco has shifty and squinty little eyes; he wears a sleazy little soul patch, and a black leather jacket. When he offers his smarmy consolations to the aggrieved cuckold, he is the voice and embodiment of unctuous insincerity. “I know this hurts,” he intones, as he holds the videotaped evidence in front of the victim’s face, stroking his or her arm as though he is the only friend he or she has in the world.

“Are you tired of being cheated on?” he asks the TV audience, as they go to break each night, and as he urges viewers to call in to volunteer to have their own personal laundry aired on some future episode. Then he adds the notion that those potential double victims—of cheating partners and of those who would trade on their misery—should “protect the right to be informed.”

Pretty noble. Who could argue against him, in favor of ignorance?

The show appeals to the worst in all of us—our seedy voyeurism, the same kind of sneak-a-peek nosiness that causes traffic to back up whenever there’s an accident as rubber-neckers slow down to peer at mangled metal and blood-smeared pavement. In the case of Cheaters, however, the wreckage is all emotional, and people like me skulk around at night in bathrobes to take it in.

The show also encourages us to feel superior to the people it profiles. The tone of moral superiority Greco assumes when he’s hectoring the person who has been caught in the act is a paradigm of hypocrisy and undeserved self-righteousness. It is, in a word, despicable.

It’s all outrageously exploitive, of course. Few human emotions are more hurtful than those evoked by infidelity, and to use such pain to attract viewers and generate profits for its producers is probably pretty close to as low as human beings can go. My guess is that the show has contributed to a few suicides here and there, as people confront their demons late at night, then turn on the television set in search of something uplifting, seeking something to remind them that human life includes decency and dignity, and finding Cheaters instead.

But a couple of DVDs of Cheaters may be just the thing to be put in a time capsule, to remind future generations of how cynical and amoral our nation had become back when George W. Bush was president, in the aftermath of Enron, during that time when Paris Hilton and K-Fed were household names, and O.J. Simpson had tried once more to capitalize on the murder of his wife.

Or maybe it’s all just a figment of my late-night imagination. Surely, I have not actually been seeing a television program this shameless and cruddy. It must be a series of bad dreams, caused by something rotten I’ve eaten that my body has not yet been able to expel.