Pre-Woke Watching

Why Maury’s Paternity Test Segments Were So Satisfying—and So Deeply Messed Up

When you watch old favorites years later, sometimes you realize how much you used to overlook. In Pre-Woke Watching, viewers revisit their personal classics and evaluate how they look now.

Back in the early 2000s, I’d rush home to watch the holy grail of daytime television: Maury. It was the perfect balance between the shamelessness of Jerry Springer and the dubious self-empowerment of Oprah.

My biggest weaknesses were the paternity test narratives. You remember them: a woman with a young child believes a man to be the father of her child. The man denies it. They then confront one another—and we get a definitive answer. It was so satisfying. It was also deeply messed up. As explained in this episode, watching the ritual today, I realize the show is a mirror that reflects our own prejudices back at us.

Previously: Everyone Compares My Life With Lesbian Moms to The Kids Are All Right. I Wish They Wouldn’t.

For more conversations like this, check out the Represent podcast archives.