Gogglebox. Peak reality TV? Or have we found a formula that however laughable the premis may sound, represents us as nation far better than the social experiment-cum-dystopia of Big Brother or ogling at celebrities pasty bodies in the jungle.
Watching people watching tele provides a strange kind of comfort. From snippets of sofa wisdom to the sound of an elderly Bristolian woman gargling incredibly loudly somewhere off camera. Gogglebox with its now established cast of living room characters shows how we all are when in sofa-commentary mode. It demonstrates how all ages, classes, races and genders cosy up round this technological camp fire and make ridiculous comments a faux-pas.
We all look at a politician on the news from time to time and think simply ‘’dickhead’’ as 80-something Leon often does in typical Scouse fashion. Or concur with the Siddiqui family in asking; ‘’Why would you go on TV and show your bent schlong?’’ In reference to the wonderfully paradoxical Channel 4 programme, Embarrassing Bodies. Gogglebox attracts millions because it reflects how so many of us behave when with our friends and family watching TV. The sneaky scratch, outrageous comment and complete misunderstanding. But what can this tell us about Britain and the show itself?
The Gogglebox cast is a broad cross-section of British society and its ‘’through the key hole’’ look into their views and uninhibited reactions, holds up a mirror to our culture. And gladly is it not a black one, just a little grubby.
The reflection provided by the Gogglebox mirror is disparate, but not fractured, diverse but not incompatible. Whenever a political broadcast, news event or storyline on a moral issue is served up, we see an immense variety of views on show. Furthermore, and I think this is more important, is that no-one fits perfectly into a stereotype of how we are told certain people think. Internal contradictions are on full display. Leons’ grumpy old man rants and lewd comments are partnered by some truly modern and progressive views. Peter McGarry the thick accented working-class ‘’Essex-bloke’’ has a passion for origami. We are all a mire of identities and contradictions, in the Gogglebox cast this shines through.
The Telegraphs Ed Powers called the cast ‘’daft and dippy’’ but surely one time we can be forgiven for stupid and banal comments is when we are potatoed on the sofa. Daft some of them maybe but, they still debate and discuss issues at hand. Indeed Gogglebox shows how even the maligned TV soap can spark a debate on social issues from abortion to abuse, something that should surely be praised. The living room is as lively a debate as Question Time.
Television is a supreme instigator of conversation and with the variety of programmes on show and the rate that News and events come at us, is it any wonder that sofa discussions are transient. In a statement of such sweet irony that it will make your teeth rot the Daily Mails Christopher Stevens derides TV and Gogglebox for dumbing down political debate. Citing banal comments on politicians and their inability to produce deep and meaningful analysis. This remember from the paper who reduced a meeting of Britain’s two most prominent female leaders to the quality of their legs.
Very few people sit around and complexly debate the intricacies of politics when they are watching tele. Rather I think we should celebrate that TV instigates discussionson a myriad of topics and does not just invoke an open-mouthed stupor in us all.
But is our joy in Gogglebox entirely innocent? The cynic in me would say not, indeed I set out to write this piece highlighting the more malign aspect of our enjoyment. This may have been damped when I re-watched several episode for what was truly arduous research but, this element is still there to be discussed.
There are without doubts times when the masterful editors deliberately produce a scene in which we are laughing at, rather than with certain individuals. More often than not Carolyne Michaels or Linda Gibbley. And here is an important issue Gogglebox, lest we forget is edited. It is the creation of a series of individuals in an editing suite who convey to us a version of the characters which can, like any representation be manipulated. Different individuals and families throughout the series have been cast in certain roles, we now expect a reaction to particular type of programme from certain families or individuals.
At times with the cut shots panning up to a darkened window, the camera catching someone off guard or making a fool of themselves it can feel like we are peering through the glass of a human zoo. The subjects on display for our amusement, waiting for them to say or do something stupid, like waiting for the Gorilla to scratch his arse and smell it.
Thoughts on editing and cinematography aside although Gogglebox is a wonderful representation of our society, it does reflect other elements that make some of us face-palm. Some of the basic lack of knowledge on matters of politics, history and science is truly mindboggling and frustrating, although might explain a lot when we turn on the News or go on social media comment sections. I’m not agreeing with the Daily Mail here, I’m not expecting critical analysis just some basic knowledge. Although I will admit when Jenny mistakes scuba-divers for foreskin-divers there is nothing to do but laugh.
One thing that may explain such an absence of knowledge is the obsession with reality-TV demonstrated both on Gogglebox and nationwide TV ratings. The families are more engrossed by a 12 year-old singer or a balloon magician than by a science documentary. It incites more passion and enthusiasm, more sofa jumping than anything else. Maybe this might explain the lack of knowledge in other areas. But what about Planet Earth II you say? Yes, they loved it as did the nation and joyously it knocked the X-Factor into the long grass. Yet still it did not bring sit up much more than comments such as ‘’oooooo babies’’.
Yes TV is a tool for entertainment not education, but still it makes me a little sad that this is how a broad cross-section of our societies utilises one of the cornerstones of our culture. Not that I want to end on a derisory academic note. I love Gogglebox, when I watch it I think more of the first half of this piece than the second, if I’m thinking at all and not just laughing along with the gang. It is happy, heart-warming TV in troublesome times. Yes it might be reality TV but there is one big difference. One which keeps it pure. Goggglebox operates in a kind of showbiz quarantine. Bar one or two examples the subjects are not caught up in the corrupting showbiz world that affects all other reality TV shows. The cast don’t seem to strive to fame or be aware that they are being watched by millions.
It remains as it was in series one, we know the cast better but the show has not changed them and this is truly wonderful. Long Live Gogglebox!