When did "It takes a village to raise a child" turn into, "Maury, I am 100,000 percent sure that he is the father"? Admittedly, this has become one of TV's most recognizable catchphrases. The Maury show produces the same manufactured nonsense of baby-daddy drama by following its if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it formula. Since 1998, it's been serving up the same old, same old as black folks line up in droves to humiliate themselves on TV:
1. Invite a woman—any woman, ranging from the zany and boisterous to the meek and suspicious—who's got a hankering to publicly prove that her boyfriend/husband/ex/fling/supposed baby daddy is the father of her child. Extra points if she's an extra-extroverted exhibitionist.
2. Bring out the man she is calling the father, who then completely denies that he could be the child's father. Displays of complete disrespect and utter contempt highly desirable. Even better if he starts calling her a slut.
3. Let them both state their cases and air their dirty laundry with what always proves to be the biggest act of foolery, whether it be cartwheeling across the stage in celebration or having the suspected father get a haircut with "I am not the father" penned in his head.
4. Cut to commercial.
5. Maury pulls out a big manila envelope and reads the nail-biting, DNA-test results: "You ARE/ARE NOT the father!"
6. If he is the father, the woman does a celebratory I-told-you-so dance.
7. If he is NOT the father, the woman runs backstage screaming and crying, and then is comforted by Maury who asks, "Could it be anyone else?" The putative father does his celebratory I-told-you-so-dance.
8. Six weeks later, the woman reappears with another potential baby daddy, and the sordid cycle repeats.
Pretty ridiculous? Yes, of course. But for many daytime-television watchers, it's become a guilty pleasure. According to Broadcasting & Cable, viewership has increased 49 percent over last year, with daily viewers averaging 3.4 million per episode. In particular, viewers in that vaunted 18-34 demographic are watching; viewership among that age group has increased 44 percent in the last year. Apparently, viewers can't get enough of the Emmy-winning talk show, tuning in daily to see what amounts to an hour-long episode of You Are Not The Father.
But is Maury exploiting these young men and women? Should this really be "entertainment"?
On the one hand, we can't only blame Maury. These young women did sign up for this. Some of them even make multiple appearances—searching and searching for the father, assured that the next one is the right one. And no, Maury's not Dr. Phil or Dr. Drew: The guests aren't counseled or given therapy for their devastating discoveries.
And while there isn't any data on the ratio of black mothers to white mothers searching for the fathers of their children, from what I've seen of the show, there are way too many young black mothers who don't know their baby's fathers. Yes, while it is understood that many of the selected guests are chosen solely for high ratings, with the number of black single mothers shown it would seem producers feel black single mothers make for better TV. (The show's publicist said that the show's producers book "a wide range of guests from different backgrounds.")
In 2006, Povich told the Washington Post that the paternity question is "a very edgy subject." "It's a subject that some people—I don't want to say condemn, but they look at it as exploitation. And I just don't see it that way. I've always believed that there is a certain goodness in doing these."
And those of us watching have to take some of the blame, too. It's bad enough that the show is embarrassing, but we don't have to watch.
Single black mothers in the United States comprise 3.1 million of the population. Surely they care about how they're being represented on television, so why are a disproportionate number of them showing up on Maury? Is there no empathy or concern for the disparaging statistics that show in 2003 the number of single American (not including divorcees) mothers across the board increased to 10 million from 3 million in 1970. More recently, in 2007 it was reported that single mothers make up 12 percent of the total population, of which 30.4 percent are single black mothers.
Ultimately, it's not the show that's exploiting us; it is our own failure to correct our own family unit within the African-American community. Our failure to teach the hardships of having children out of wedlock shows how non-important solid family units are to our culture.
With or without Maury, where did we go so wrong?
It won't be "entertaining" when a child grows up, logs on the Internet years later only to find his mother went through nine men before she discovered who his father is. The joke really is on us when a potentially deadbeat father gets a haircut with "I am not the father" carved into his hair and we chuckle. It will never be amusing to see grandmothers that are barely in their 30s arguing which of their teens are the most justified for bringing a baby into the world. Maury is just the medium used to shed light on ignorance bottled and served as entertainment. Mothers usually are a child's first teacher, so the next time Maury shows a single mother run back stage, crying out of embarrassment because her baby-daddy assumptions are proved to be incorrect, we should all cry.
Shirea L. Carroll is an lifestyle/entertainment writer and event consultant. Follow her on Twitter.