Gogglebox, get me out of here!


What’s the best way to capture the fading attention of TV audiences?

The obvious answer is to force ‘D’ grade celebrities to eat spiders and swim with snakes and crocodiles in a five week frenzy of reality TV. Show it every night, rinse and repeat, add a generous dose of heightened enthusiasm and Bob’s your uncle!

‘I’m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here’ has been a persistent presence in my house for the last month. It’s not like anyone actually sits down to watch it, it’s just there as background noise, strangely comforting yet annoying at the same time. I’ve been able to do the online banking, stack the dishwasher and get on with my exciting domestic life at the same time as I’ve been ‘entertained’ in that reality kind of way.

The whole show is just one continuous build up to the next reality porn moment.

But wait, it’s coming up soon, straight after this quick commercial… or a bit more inane jumped-up commentary from the hosts.

Then finally, gratification: I look up from my laptop and see a minor celebrity jumping into a vat of elephant dung or eating a live caterpillar. That’s entertainment.

I’ve got to say that the design of the show seems perfectly engineered for my type of ambient viewing habits. The signposts are clearly marked, it’s almost instinctive for me to look up at the screen at just the right time. The cues are all there, like that low-pitched synth tension track (that seems to be used on every show from ‘Masterchef’ to ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’) that underscores every impending big moment. Even if I’m in the next room I’m not going to miss it.

And just when I thought I had reality television worked out, along comes Gogglebox, the show where you watch other people watching and talking about TV. There’s a gay couple, a mum and dad with four kids, a pensioner couple, two millennial lads. If you can’t find your demographic here you’re obviously not looking very hard.

Because Gogglebox viewers are intercut with the actual TV shows they’re talking about, the show becomes yet another opportunity to see edited program highlights of the shows themselves. And with the amount of saturation marketing given over to ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ it’s highly unlikely that anyone who has switched on a TV in the last six weeks has missed a single highlight. It’s got to the point that when I see anything new I almost feel special.

Flashback to 1984: Ronald Regan’s colon is being broadcast on newscasts worldwide after it’s announced that they’ve found a small polyp. Why his media minders released the footage is still a mystery, but Gogglebox reminds brings that moment back for me. In 2015, TV seems to be giving itself the colonoscopy.

And the prognosis doesn’t look good. If you listen to the hand picked bunch of viewers that the networks are actually paying to watch TV, they can’t find a lot positive to say. It’s pretty obvious that most of them are not glued to their sofas out of free choice. They all appear neatly arranged in their own living rooms in a kind of network executive’s fantasy vision of how a TV audience should be. Not a smartphone in sight, not even a toilet break for this lot, they give their undivided attention to whatever their masters dish up. Perhaps if we look closer our Gogglebox viewers have their eyelids are pinned open in some sort of bizarre Clockwork Orange aversion therapy.

Maybe Gogglebox is really one big tutorial video on how I should be watching TV. Should I comply, I’d have to get off Facebook, go and round up the kids, (who are each on a different device in other rooms) then line them up in a neat line on the couch and have a communal bitch about D grade celebrities. My life would be so much more meaningful, my family that much more cohesive, if only we celebrated the communion of nightly television.

Alas, we live in a world of short attention spans and iddy biddy screens.  Shouting too loud all the time guarantees that people won’t pay attention anymore. Give me something a little more contemplative on the TV and I might find myself actually looking at the screen.

Image: Family watching television, c. 1958, Evert F. Baumgardner.

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