'Forgive or Forget' Taps Into Our Universal Yearnings

Mother Love preaches the power of forgiveness

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Forgiveness Section:

Apology Not Accepted
When the pain goes deep, the road to forgiveness is long

Mother Knows Best
Mother Love's talk show taps our universal yearnings

What do Murderers Deserve?
In a responsible society, vengeance has its virtues

The Victim's Dilemma
If forgiveness is divine, then why does revenge feel so sweet?

To Hell and Back
To break the cycle of revenge, countries must look beyond the law

The Decade of Atonement
National apology is all the rage

If wishes came true, Mother Love, host of the daytime talk show Forgive or Forget, would introduce one very special guest to her studio audience. This guest, sporting a hangdog expression, would confess his sins (cheating on his wife, getting caught, and then lying to everyone about it) and ask sincerely for forgiveness.

Continuing the fantasy, the audience's attention would then be focused on the enormous door that dominates the Forgive or Forget set. The door, as it always does, would slowly open, and if this man's wife forgave him, she'd be behind the door. If she didn't, the open door would reveal a gaping void.

“Of course I'd love to have the president on my show,” says Mother Love, who never reveals her given name. “I even sent a letter to the White House inviting him, but they wrote back saying he wouldn't be able to do it.”

If he did appear, Bill Clinton would find himself among friends, says Love. Her year-old program, produced by Stuart Krasnow, perhaps best known for his work on Ricki Lake , fills a unique niche in the daytime talk show market. While most of the genre—the kinder, gentler Oprah Winfrey Show is an exception—has disintegrated into Jerry Springer–style brawls, Forgive or Forget focuses on peacemaking.

“You've got to get off my president,” exhorts Love. “Forgive the man. Let's get on with it. When we elected him the first time, we knew he was a trollop, and we still voted for him. Of course he lied. Any man caught with his pants down lies. It's human nature. He's gonna lie quicker than a cat covering up crap.”

Most of Love's guests aren't famous. In fact, if you tune in you're more likely to see two ordinary sisters reunited after a decades-long feud than the leader of the free world. But, says Love, who ends each show with the mantra “Never underestimate the power of forgiveness,” the message is still clear: “The world is going to hell in a handbasket. I'm trying to teach people that if we love each other and learn to forgive each other, we can make the world a better place.”

Forgive or Forget isn't pure altruism. The guests all tell shocking, heartrending stories, which the audience receives with a lot of hooting and hollering, and more often than you'd think, the door swings open and the wronged party (who's been watching the apology backstage on video monitors) isn't there. This, of course, is cause for high drama. One penitent, after seeing that her apology wasn't accepted, collapsed and had to be helped offstage. Still, Krasnow sees the door as a metaphor, a larger-than-life teaching tool about forgiveness versus revenge and the moral dilemmas our choices pose.

This particular dilemma is nothing new to American television viewers, says Angela Nelson, assistant professor of popular culture studies at Bowling Green University in Ohio. “The plot of most sitcoms revolves around forgiveness,” Nelson says. “Someone has given offense, or there has been some misunderstanding of the mores of social behavior, and in the end forgiveness has to be extended somehow. So as a culture, we've come to expect a conclusion, or resolution, to our problems. In sitcoms, there's usually someone who plays the role of the parent figure, the person who mediates the disputes. It seems like we're often looking for that in real life.”

Mother Love would like to step into that role for the whole country and become the Great American Peacemaker. Step one is winning the trust of her guests and studio audience. Step two is gaining the attention of the Nielsen families.

“I think they know where I'm coming from,” she says of her viewers. “They know that I'm real. They know that I love them and that they're all my babies. They listen to me and I just hope that I can help them do the right thing.”