- CHRISTOPHER LEA
Textual analysis of the TV show “Gogglebox.”
This analysis will look at series 2 episode13 of the Channel 4 television programme Gogglebox. This show is broadcast nationally in the UK on Channel Four and is now in its second season. This episode can be found here:
It falls broadly into the genre of reality TV. The participants (I will call them the actors for the purposes of this analysis) watch TV and are filmed reacting and commenting on the shows. These clips are edited together within the sequential chronology of the TV show in order to compare and contrast reactions and comments.
In analysing this text, I hope to look at how the text portrays the diversity of British life and promotes TV as a unifying social force for good. I am also interested in the version of reality presented here
One of my reasons for looking at this text is that it is a popular TV show that is attempting to reclaim the idea of water cooler TV. In the face of competition from on demand services, such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer, broadcast TV has seen a decline in the number of people who watch a program at the same time and on the same date.
I would like to look deeper into the text to look at the ways in which the show tries to offer a view of a shared reality to promote its own validity.
The introduction and broadcast paradigm
Through the narration, we are informed of the numbers of people who sit down and watch TV every night. The use of statistics and complete lack of modality in the language (present simple tense – used for facts) tells the viewer to think about this as reality, there is no need to watch critically, as this is all true.
The references to everyday experience are explicit here. The title sequences show darkening streets and street lights being lit, indicating a return from the toil of work to the comfort and security of home. This is underlined by shots of curtains being drawn, indicating a private space.
There are also establishing shots through the windows of the houses, as we see people sitting down with a cup in their hand, looking at the TV. The cup of tea is a signifier of relaxation, while the shots through the window indicate to the viewer that they are part of someone else’s private moment, they are almost spying on them, and they have been given permission to look in from the outside. This reinforces the idea that this is real life, it is not set up for the cameras, but it somehow corresponds to what you would see if you peered in to someone’s living room.
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The text belongs the broadcast paradigm of reality TV. There is a kind of generic realism at work here. The reality show genre is familiar and has become almost transparent. With this familiarity, viewers lose sight of the fact that there are lights, directors, producers, make-up artists, camera operators and sound recordists working in the same space as the actors.
There are number of social classes and demographics covered within the show. These all conform to their tropes throughout the seasons. The main characters are as follows: The affluent couple; The working class retired couple; The gay couple; The black girl friends; The middle class families; The working class Asian family; The two elderly intellectuals.
There are also various other types and tropes that appear from time to time, but these are the main ones.
Travelling shots of the living rooms are put in to create pauses between movements to different actors; they fulfill a similar role to establishing shots in that they help with the invisible editing of the show, which is a way of adding to the believability of the show as the viewer is less distracted by the editing.
The actors are all filmed from eye-level, which serves to put them on the same level as the viewer. We have been invited into their private living rooms, and now we are sitting as their peers, friends and part of their families. We are close to them and on the same level, there is no power relationship here, this emphasizes again the inclusivity of this activity.
Reaction shots of the actors are shot in close-up to add intimacy and edited in sequences to emphasise these as common reactions. There is the suggestion here that we all do this, we all react in virtually the same ways, no matter what our socio-economic context.
Everyone is filmed sitting in close proximity, on a sofa or armchair. This attempts to show the closeness and intimacy of the event. In some cases this looks unnatural as the space is very limited, and this proximity is maintained, even when there are other empty chairs next to them. The shots are also constructed to show people sitting in exactly the same position in every episode.
Genre and intertextuality
This text contains strong allusions to a popular BBC situation comedy from the last ten years, The Royle Family. This was famously a comedy where nothing ever happened. It showed a working class family in the UK sitting together, occasionally eating, but mostly watching TV. The show was filmed in a very similar way, with the family looking at the TV and the camera mainly pointing from where the TV would be. The script followed the comments of the family on various topics of gossip and their views on the shows that they were watching.
Season one was narrated by Caroline Aherne, season two is narrated by Craig Cash. Both of these are actors and writers for The Royle Family.
This provides an intertextuality that suggests that this show is to be taken lightly, it is not a serious social commentary, and that it is about people, or rather characters. It asks us to look for the tropes within the text and sets them up very clearly.
The narration begins each episode with the line: “More than twenty million of us choose to spend our evenings in front of the telly.” The tone here is informal and familiar, choosing to refer to “us” as it is inclusive and refers to the stars of the show and the viewers as belonging to the same group. The numbering, 20 million, shows that we are not alone, that a large proportion (around 30 %) of the population is doing the same thing at the same time. Again, this emphasizes the togetherness of the shared experience.
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This is followed by reaction shots, such as disgusted recoils, faces covered with hands and utterances such as “Oh, my God!” By inserting these reaction shots immediately after the narration, the producer wishes here to provoke feelings of empathy, that this is something that we all do when watching TV. It also establishes a certain narrative tension; the TV screen is not shown here, and so the viewer is led to ask what these reaction shots were reacting to, creating the desire to find out the answer by continuing viewing of the show. This is a technique that alludes to other genres of narrative, such as drama serials that hook the viewer in with unanswered questions.
The narration continues with the line “We’re going behind closed doors…” over the establishing shots of windows lit in flats and houses, then closer shots from outside of the windows, peering into the various living rooms, the private spaces, where the actors are shown chatting, laughing and drinking tea whilst sat on their sofas. The intended effect here is to grant the viewer privileged access to private spaces, the doors are closed and we will be going behind them, the viewer is peeking in through the windows, and then getting to go actually inside the room. The viewer is drawn in to a secret world, but one that is very similar to their own secret world. This is conspiratorial and is intended to generate intimacy and empathy with the actors. It also serves to reinforce this idea of reality, that this is genuine fly on the wall stuff, which it is not set-up in any way, this is what we would see if we just peered in through the window, and there is no artifice or performance here.
The paradigm of reaction shots is again used, drawing the viewer further into the narrative with more questions, plus opinions expressed, such as “I love this show” between the narrator’s voice explaining that we will “find out what people really (emphasis in the text) thought”. This pushes this idea again of uncut real life, this is the real thing, this is what people thought of the shows, and it is not mediated or censored.
The show is very informal and contains expletives. The language used is mainly to agree or disagree with comments, to mock or play with someone and to make jokes. It is social bonding that is important in this context. The bonds are created through sharing the medium of TV and commenting on it, these bonds are then reinforced with the viewer as the viewer is implicitly invited to agree or disagree with the actors.
There are a number of accents, portraying the idea of a range of social classes and regions of the UK. This again serves to emphasize the idea that this behavior is quite universal and therefore, real and true to life.
Bodily and behavioural codes
Postures are generally relaxed, and yet most of the actors do not touch at all during the show. There is only one couple who conspicuously hold hands while sitting at opposite ends of the sofa.
Dress varies; some of the actors (mainly the younger ones) are very informally dressed, whereas most of the older actors are dressed more formally. This jars somewhat with the idea that this is a time when we relax, but indicates a higher level of media awareness of the older actors.
There are two types of shots of the actors; the wide shot that encompasses the whole group, and close-ups. The wide shot is used to show the actors participating together in commenting on the TV. This switches to close-ups when reactions are shown. The effect of this is to become more intimate with the actors, to be really close to them when they show emotion, thereby drawing the viewer into their emotional state.
The codes for food and drink vary between the actors and are clearly organized to depict a certain reality, to emphasize their character according to type. For example, the older couple drinks tea, the intellectuals always have a bottle of red wine, the wealthy couple enjoys copious amounts of alcohol from a well-stocked drinks cabinet, the Black friends always have a large quantity of take-out food, the gay couple always eats from a box of chocolates.
While the whole premise of the show is based around the idea that we are glimpsing what really goes on behind closed doors, the reality of the show is that it is produced like any other TV show, it is just that the dialogue is unscripted. In many ways, it is more like an improvisation with amateur actors playing themselves, on the themes of whatever they are told to watch by the producers.
Taken as a whole, this show falls into a broadly conservative ideology that supports the dominant ideology of the UK. The close family unit is celebrated, and while diversity is portrayed through the inclusion of the gay couple and the black friends, there are still many absences that are conspicuous.
For example, single people are not portrayed, including single parent families; neither are students, the unemployed or anyone who watches daytime TV shows. The focus here is on evening TV, and this period is lionized as the time when we all watch TV. This serves to promote the idea that typical members of society have busy lives during the day, and get together in the evening to relax together with the TV.
The show also promotes consumerist values. The actors are all engaged in comment and discussion, but are, in fact, passively consuming the media, along with consuming their food and drinks. The actors all have houses and we are invited to look both inside and outside of these and comment on them.
Benefits of semiotic analysis
By looking at how this version of “reality TV” is manufactured, I have tried to show that it is a creation of the producers. The actors are real people, who all now have managers for their burgeoning media careers. The show has become a hugely popular format in the UK and reviewers and online comments have referred to its warmth and feel good factor. However, this is a carefully managed response that is the goal of the producers, not just a happy coincidence that has popped up from filming people being themselves.
http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/semiotic.html (Last accessed 13.01.14)
http://tvshows.ec/episode/Gogglebox_s2_e13 (Last accessed 10.01.14)
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