Despite my best efforts, I found myself unemployed two summers ago. Besides occasional babysitting stints and dog walking, I read, painted, slept an unhealthy amount on my couch and watched, when I was lucky, four hours of Judge Judy Monday through Friday.
In my hometown, Judge Judy airs twice a day, once at 1 p.m. and again at 4 p.m. The show lasts 30 minutes, two cases per episode, so I could watch eight cases unravel per day. The episodes were fascinating. Judge Judy, legally named Judith Sheindlin, has had her own reality court show since 1996. It’s the only court show that’s had a long-term run without any cancellations or temporary endings. Prior to her television debut, she published a memoir entitled “Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining,” which, even without context, reveals her no-nonsense personality.
She’s a phenomenal lady. Fierce and intelligent, she makes her audience look at her when she’s speaking, yells promptly when the plaintiff and the defendant speak over each other and bangs her gavel from a raised bench. Her authoritative, commanding voice and desperate search for the truth is admirable. A favorite slogan wielded in her courtroom is “Beauty fades, dumb is forever,” a pointed phrase too harsh and drab to be held as a universal truth, though it does get to the root of the matter. Small claims court has never been so real, especially within the confines of reality television.
Good things take time. My dad watched the show enough to spot the same pretty blonde in the audience portion of the each episode. A skeptic daughter, I didn’t believe him at first, but there she was: a doe-eyed model looking blindly into the back of the plaintiff’s head, bored and probably a little hungry. She’d pop up again in the following episode, wearing a more colorful outfit with crimped hair. Soon our daily watching of America’s televised justice pursuits turned into “Where’s Waldo.” The support and awe for the show was made clear by our honed-in interest in the details of it. We didn’t have story arcs to muddy our minds. There were only three constants: A frustrated Judge Judy, her bailiff and some blonde playing musical chairs between episodes.
Our attentiveness was not unique. The internet is riddled with inquires of the girl’s identity. A Reddit post about “Judge Judy Lady Mystery” claimed that extras are paid $25 to fill seats and sit in the audience for six hours, explaining Lady Mystery’s apparent disinterest in every episode. The post was from 2009, which reminded me of how desperately I needed to find a stable job. She was a paid extra! I was shocked!
A community did find its way to my computer though. Through these chat rooms, more Judge Judy fans and haters emerged. It was an online smorgasbord of hate, adoration and other extreme degrees of emotion for an Emmy award-winning judge and TV personality. I realized how far her fan base extended and how happy I was to be one of her many viewers. The community was brought together by a quest for the truth of some sort. In an odd way, community found its way to my couch; although it wasn’t something I was necessarily seeking, it helped me assess how the search for truth unites people.