Gogglebox, now showing on E4, reminds me of a (possibly apocryphal) story I was told by a
supervisor at university, about an aeroplane in trouble over L.A., where the on-board news
programming gave the passengers the eerie experience of watching their own plane on the rolling
news channel as its chances of crashing were anxiously discussed. “Oh my god”, one woman was
reported to have said as she was eventually safely helped off the plane, “that was SO

Well, quite.

Gogglebox gives you exactly this effect. It’s essentially a documentary format, but what you’re
watching is people watching TV. It’s intensely self-aware, containing frequent digressions on the
part of its participants about what is and isn’t suitable content for television, and all but inviting you
to point and laugh at some of their more outlandish opinions (as they point and laugh at the people
on Embarrassing Bodies), unwillingly involving you in an ever-replicating cultural performance
whose reliance on cruelty and freak-show narratives is being showcased as you watch. There’s a
lot to dissect about Gogglebox: the frequent shots of the same footage playing on different TVs
presents TV programmes as cultural artefacts which are literally framed differently by different
worldviews (one woman has a ‘No Regrets in Jesus’ sticker on the box); it says a lot about how TV
is beginning to be modelled as a bonding experience, both within families and on a broader
national scale; perhaps most compellingly, it provides an alarming demonstration of the prevalence
of conspiracy theorists among the general population. But it also fundamentally destabilises the
idea of being merely an observer of culture. By turning the tables and viewing the viewer, it
reframes every act of cultural observation as an act of participation, as a statement in the giant
fragmented conversation for which the TV programme was only the catalyst. And the gogglebox
hashtag periodically appearing on screen invites you to go to twitter and express your own views,
so that other people can watch you watching the people who are watching TV. The TV programme
isn’t a standalone act of cultural production; it’s merely one voice in the larger act of cultural
production that happens around it.

Iván Navarro’s Reality Show (Silver), currently showing at the Hayward Gallery, problematizes the
status of the observer in intriguingly similar ways. It’s a box made out of one-way mirrors, into
which the visitor is invited to step. Once inside, your own endlessly replicating reflections are
presented to you on all four walls, whilst above and below they mysteriously disappear as mirror
trickery makes it seem as if you’re poised in a vertical abyss of lights and reflections. Your view of
the outside of the box is obscured, but you know that the outside world can see in. Much like
Gogglebox, it sets up a constantly shifting system of observation where your own status as an
outsider to the work is never stable, and you could at any moment become a part of it.

What I found really interesting, though, was the queue to get into the box. Now, I’ve no idea if
Navarro knew that this would happen (though the name he gave the piece certainly implies he did),
but there’s pretty constantly a very long line of people waiting to get into the artwork. Given
Navarro’s own experience of repressive regimes and the ways in which the work is undoubtedly
influenced by them, with its one-way mirrors and themes of surveillance and involuntary
objectification, it’s actually quite jarring to see a queue of enthusiastic volunteers for the
experience. With this, and its title, in mind, the work could be read as a comment on fame and
celebrity, an incredibly disempowering and objectifying system, involving a complete surrender of
privacy, which nonetheless generates huge queues of volunteers who are extremely anxious to
step inside. Gogglebox plays on similar concerns. The participants’ sympathy for the Queen whose
gastroenteritis is all over the news, and animated conversations about how they would never go on
Embarrassing Bodies, are problematized by our awareness of our own voyeuristic view of them,
which is in some ways enhanced by the very mundanity of the acts we are overhearing, and the
disquietingly revealing insights into their relationships we’re getting. Is showing a doctor your
droopy breasts on television (Embarrassing Bodies) really more exposing than broadcasting the
moment when you tell your husband that maybe you wouldn’t be so tired if he hadn’t spent all night
pestering you for sex (Gogglebox)?

It’s the endless approach of the lens into our more intimate realities that gives the viewer the
uncomfortable sense of voyeurism; it also creates a model of culture as a force which attempts to
access, replicate and display reality. However, both Gogglebox and Reality Show question the
ability of TV or art to make private realities public in an unadulterated way. In other words, does the
‘show’ of Reality Show change the ‘reality’? After all, the work is an impeccable representation of a
subject, who is literally real and alive within it: but does the very act of getting in the mirrored box,
understanding that you’re being observed, change your behaviour? Almost inevitably. Similarly,
conversations about the extent to which apparently spontaneous moments are scripted for TV
recur throughout Gogglebox. They make us incredibly aware of the editing for TV that has
presumably taken place on the show (of the selfsame conversations that are discussing editing for
TV), and more broadly of the self-modification that the participants may be performing. Are they
really saying exactly what they would be saying if there weren’t cameras trained on them? Or, more
likely, does the very act of observing a subject change it? Culture asymptotically approaches
reality in these works; it cannot fully replicate it. There is no such thing as an undistorted lens.


People post by mumbaiadmin.

Like most that watch it (I’m guessing) and against my better judgement, I’ve grown very fond of
Gogglebox, the Channel 4 show that basically watches people watching TV, and that’s it. Myself
and Mrs Dave sit together and watch it, definitely the ultimate postmodern TV experience, and
another example of TV bringing things full circle.

When televisions first came into the family home they were very much the comunal experience,
broadcasts were live and families, friends and neighours would gather round the set with eager
anticipation. As more and more people got TVs primetime shows were national events and you
could be sure the next day everyone in work would be talking about it.

As teenagers started getting TVs in their bedroom they’d start watching different shows from the
rest of the family, but that served to see the rise of shows that all the younger folks watched, and
this would be reflected in programmes themselves. Myself and my best mate would watch rock
video show The Power Hour / Raw Power where our chat about the videos was as big a thing as
the videos themselves. What was surprising was the first time was saw Beavis and Butthead and
realised that we were watching characters doing exactly what we were doing, whilst watching

Comedy tends to be ahead of the game in reflecting family life, and other shows would follow
where a family sitting watching TV would be at the core of the show, The Simpsons and Married
with Children being two prime examples. This was taken to another level with The Royale Family
where all they did was sit and watch TV. This very much resonated with viewers, and
families/friends would watch together as elements of everyone would be in those characters.

In more recent years the increase in viewing devices and ways to consume shows has lead some
to argue that just like music, TV has become a more disparate and solo activity, with the notion of
viewing as a shared experience being a thing of the past.

I’m not convinced by this, and whilst I’ve spoken about the sharing of clips, and the interactive
nature of modern TV via social networking and the phenomenon of things going viral I’ve seen
that TV shows are trying to incorporate technology and tailor content to once again make their
mainstream primetime shows experience viewing that will be discussed the next day in offices
and playgrounds around the country.

Of course we have reality shows and talent shows of every description, where those who might
not be interested in the fake boobs in Essex might like the faux friendships in Chelsea, and those
who don’t care for cakes might fancy seeing the next batch of aspiring clothes horses. These
shows are specifically for people to watch together, debate who they like best and what’s going to
happen next. There are goodies and baddies, folks to cheer for and folks to boo, like wrestling
without the fighting.

On the flipside from that, whilst reality shows and talent competitions dominate TV, there are
some hugely successful primetime shows that hark back to the era of old fashioned
entertainment. Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Take Me Out and Surprise Surprise recall
the era of The Generation Game, and are the epitome of mass appeal viewing. Whilst foreign
language crime series might be the staple of some people’s Saturday night, those shows are
what most households sit down to watch together.

Back to Gogglebox. The appeal is with the interaction of the folks watching, that they are big
characters, anticipating how they’ll react to something, comparing that to you viewing experience
of the show they are watching, and watching Gogglebox with someone commenting on your
shared experience with them watching a show. It’s a strange fascination and perhaps the ultimate
postmodern TV irony is us watching telly watching people watching telly watching pisstake of
people watching telly. Seriously, a few weeks ago Gogglebox ended with their reaction to a skit
with Ant & Dec called Ogglebox, where a show that has folk watching telly is used on another
show as inspiration for a gag with other folks sitting at home watching telly. Ant & Dec are multi
award winning multi millionaires…

I need switch off. Find a hobby and get a life before i implode!