No Mere Metaphor


Television Addiction

Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room
by people you wouldn't have in your home.

- David Frost

Television has spread the habit of instant reaction
and stimulated the hope of instant results.

- Arthur Schlesinger Jr

All television is children's television.

- Richard P Adler

Window on the world: a viewer sizes up the screen at John Lewis, which is more than 8ft wide and costs £50,000 plus installation costs of £5,000

by Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the struggle for survival is how easily organisms can be harmed by that which they desire.  The trout is caught by the fisherman's lure, the mouse by cheese.  But at least those creatures have the excuse that bait and cheese look like sustenance.  Humans seldom have that consolation.  The temptations that can disrupt their lives are often pure indulgences.  No one has to drink alcohol, for example.  Realising when a diversion has gotten out of control is one of the great challenges of life.

Excessive cravings do not necessarily involve physical substances.  Gambling can become compulsive; sex can become obsessive.  One activity, however, stands out for its prominence and ubiquity - the world's most popular leisure pastime, television.  Most people admit to having a love-hate relationship with it.  They complain about the "boob tube" and "couch potatoes," then they settle into their sofas and grab the remote control.  Parents commonly fret about their children's viewing (if not their own).  Even researchers who study tv for a living marvel at the medium's hold on them personally.  Percy Tannenbaum of the University of California at Berkeley has written: "Among life's more embarrassing moments have been countless occasions when I am engaged in conversation in a room while a tv set is on, and I cannot for the life of me stop from periodically glancing over to the screen.  This occurs not only during dull conversations but during reasonably interesting ones just as well."

Scientists have been studying the effects of television for decades, generally focusing on whether watching violence on tv correlates with being violent in real life.  Less attention has been paid to the basic allure of the small screen - the medium, as opposed to the message.

The term "tv addiction" is imprecise and laden with value judgments, but it captures the essence of a very real phenomenon.  Psychologists and psychiatrists formally define substance dependence as a disorder characterised by criteria that include spending a great deal of time using the substance; using it more often than one intends; thinking about reducing use or making repeated unsuccessful efforts to reduce use; giving up important social, family or occupational activities to use it; and reporting withdrawal symptoms when one stops using it.

All these criteria can apply to people who watch a lot of television.  That does not mean that watching television, per se, is problematic.  Television can teach and amuse; it can reach aesthetic heights; it can provide much needed distraction and escape.  The difficulty arises when people strongly sense that they ought not to watch as much as they do and yet find themselves strangely unable to reduce their viewing.  Some knowledge of how the medium exerts its pull may help heavy viewers gain better control over their lives.

A Body at Rest Tends to Stay at Rest

The amount of time people spend watching television is astonishing.  On average, individuals in the industrialised world devote three hours a day to the pursuit - fully half of their leisure time, and more than on any single activity save work and sleep.  At this rate, someone who lives to 75 would spend nine years in front of the tube.  To some commentators, this devotion means simply that people enjoy tv and make a conscious decision to watch it.  But if that is the whole story, why do so many people experience misgivings about how much they view?  In Gallup polls in 1992 and 1999, two out of five adult respondents and seven out of 10 teenagers said they spent too much time watching tv.  Other surveys have consistently shown that roughly 10% of adults call themselves tv addicts.

To study people's reactions to tv, researchers have undertaken laboratory experiments in which they have monitored the brain waves (using an electroencephalograph, or EEG), skin resistance or heart rate of people watching television.  To track behaviour and emotion in the normal course of life, as opposed to the artificial conditions of the lab, we have used the Experience Sampling Method (ESM).  Participants carried a beeper, and we signaled them six to eight times a day, at random, over the period of a week; whenever they heard the beep, they wrote down what they were doing and how they were feeling using a standardised scorecard.

As one might expect, people who were watching tv when we beeped them reported feeling relaxed and passive.  The EEG studies similarly show less mental stimulation, as measured by alpha brain-wave production, during viewing than during reading.

What is more surprising is that the sense of relaxation ends when the set is turned off, but the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continue.  Survey participants commonly reflect that television has somehow absorbed or sucked out their energy, leaving them depleted.  They say they have more difficulty concentrating after viewing than before.  In contrast, they rarely indicate such difficulty after reading.  After playing sports or engaging in hobbies, people report improvements in mood.  After watching tv, people's moods are about the same or worse than before.

Within moments of sitting or lying down and pushing the "power" button, viewers report feeling more relaxed.  Because the relaxation occurs quickly, people are conditioned to associate viewing with rest and lack of tension.  The association is positively reinforced because viewers remain relaxed throughout viewing, and it is negatively reinforced via the stress and dysphoric rumination that occurs once the screen goes blank again.

Habit-forming drugs work in similar ways.  A tranquilizer that leaves the body rapidly is much more likely to cause dependence than one that leaves the body slowly, precisely because the user is more aware that the drug's effects are wearing off.  Similarly, viewers' vague learned sense that they will feel less relaxed if they stop viewing may be a significant factor in not turning the set off.  Viewing begets more viewing.

Thus, the irony of tv: people watch a great deal longer than they plan to, even though prolonged viewing is less rewarding.  In our ESM studies the longer people sat in front of the set, the less satisfaction they said they derived from it.  When signaled, heavy viewers (those who consistently watch more than four hours a day) tended to report on their ESM sheets that they enjoy tv less than light viewers did (less than two hours a day).  For some, a twinge of unease or guilt that they aren't doing something more productive may also accompany and depreciate the enjoyment of prolonged viewing.  Researchers in Japan, the UK and the US have found that this guilt occurs much more among middle-class viewers than among less affluent ones.

Grabbing Your Attention

What is it about tv that has such a hold on us?  In part, the attraction seems to spring from our biological "orienting response."  First described by Ivan Pavlov in 1927, the orienting response is our instinctive visual or auditory reaction to any sudden or novel stimulus.  It is part of our evolutionary heritage, a built-in sensitivity to movement and potential predatory threats.  Typical orienting reactions include dilation of the blood vessels to the brain, slowing of the heart, and constriction of blood vessels to major muscle groups.  Alpha waves are blocked for a few seconds before returning to their baseline level, which is determined by the general level of mental arousal.  The brain focuses its attention on gathering more information while the rest of the body quiets.

In 1986 Byron Reeves of Stanford University, Esther Thorson of the University of Missouri and their colleagues began to study whether the simple formal features of television - cuts, edits, zooms, pans, sudden noises - activate the orienting response, thereby keeping attention on the screen.  By watching how brain waves were affected by formal features, the researchers concluded that these stylistic tricks can indeed trigger involuntary responses and "derive their attentional value through the evolutionary significance of detecting movement.  It is the form, not the content, of television that is unique."

The orienting response may partly explain common viewer remarks such as: "If a television is on, I just can't keep my eyes off it," "I don't want to watch as much as I do, but I can't help it," and "I feel hypnotised when I watch television."  In the years since Reeves and Thorson published their pioneering work, researchers have delved deeper.  Annie Lang's research team at Indiana University has shown that heart rate decreases for four to six seconds after an orienting stimulus.  In ads, action sequences and music videos, formal features frequently come at a rate of one per second, thus activating the orienting response continuously.

Lang and her colleagues have also investigated whether formal features affect people's memory of what they have seen.  In one of their studies, participants watched a program and then filled out a score sheet.  Increasing the frequency of edits - defined here as a change from one camera angle to another in the same visual scene - improved memory recognition, presumably because it focused attention on the screen.  Increasing the frequency of cuts - changes to a new visual scene - had a similar effect but only up to a point.  If the number of cuts exceeded 10 in two minutes, recognition dropped off sharply.

Producers of educational television for children have found that formal features can help learning.  But increasing the rate of cuts and edits eventually overloads the brain.  Music videos and commercials that use rapid intercutting of unrelated scenes are designed to hold attention more than they are to convey information.  People may remember the name of the product or band, but the details of the ad itself float in one ear and out the other.  The orienting response is overworked.  Viewers still attend to the screen, but they feel tired and worn out, with little compensating psychological reward.  Our ESM findings show much the same thing.

Sometimes the memory of the product is very subtle.  Many ads today are deliberately oblique: they have an engaging story line, but it is hard to tell what they are trying to sell.  Afterward you may not remember the product consciously.  Yet advertisers believe that if they have gotten your attention, when you later go to the store you will feel better or more comfortable with a given product because you have a vague recollection of having heard of it.

The natural attraction to television's sound and light starts very early in life.  Dafna Lemish of Tel Aviv University has described babies at six to eight weeks attending to television.  We have observed slightly older infants who, when lying on their backs on the floor, crane their necks around 180º to catch what light through yonder window breaks.  This inclination suggests how deeply rooted the orienting response is.

"Tv Is Part of Them"

That said, we need to be careful about overreacting.  Little evidence suggests that adults or children should stop watching TV altogether.  The problems come from heavy or prolonged viewing.

The Experience Sampling Method permitted us to look closely at most every domain of everyday life: working, eating, reading, talking to friends, playing a sport, and so on.  We wondered whether heavy viewers might experience life differently than light viewers do.  Do they dislike being with people more?  Are they more alienated from work?  What we found nearly leaped off the page at us.  Heavy viewers report feeling significantly more anxious and less happy than light viewers do in unstructured situations, such as doing nothing, daydreaming or waiting in line.  The difference widens when the viewer is alone.

Subsequently, Robert D McIlwraith of the University of Manitoba extensively studied those who called themselves tv addicts on surveys.  On a measure called the Short Imaginal Processes Inventory (SIPI), he found that the self-described addicts are more easily bored and distracted and have poorer attentional control than the nonaddicts.  The addicts said they used tv to distract themselves from unpleasant thoughts and to fill time.  Other studies over the years have shown that heavy viewers are less likely to participate in community activities and sports and are more likely to be obese than moderate viewers or nonviewers.

The question that naturally arises is: In which direction does the correlation go?  Do people turn to tv because of boredom and loneliness, or does tv viewing make people more susceptible to boredom and loneliness?  We and most other researchers argue that the former is generally the case, but it is not a simple case of either/or.  Jerome L and Dorothy Singer of Yale University, among others, have suggested that more viewing may contribute to a shorter attention span, diminished self-restraint and less patience with the normal delays of daily life.  More than 25 years ago psychologist Tannis M MacBeth Williams of the University of British Columbia studied a mountain community that had no television until cable finally arrived.  Over time, both adults and children in the town became less creative in problem solving, less able to persevere at tasks, and less tolerant of unstructured time.

To some researchers, the most convincing parallel between TV and addictive drugs is that people experience withdrawal symptoms when they cut back on viewing.  Nearly 40 years ago Gary A Steiner of the University of Chicago collected fascinating individual accounts of families whose set had broken - this back in the days when households generally had only one set: "The family walked around like a chicken without a head."  "It was terrible.  We did nothing - my husband and I talked."  "Screamed constantly.  Children bothered me, and my nerves were on edge.  Tried to interest them in games, but impossible.  Tv is part of them."

In experiments, families have volunteered or been paid to stop viewing, typically for a week or a month.  Many could not complete the period of abstinence.  Some fought, verbally and physically.  Anecdotal reports from some families that have tried the annual "TV turn-off" week in the US tell a similar story.  [See also: You Can't Get Away from Tv for a recounting of one such experiment.]

If a family has been spending the lion's share of its free time watching television, reconfiguring itself around a new set of activities is no easy task.  Of course, that does not mean it cannot be done or that all families implode when deprived of their set.  In a review of these cold-turkey studies, Charles Winick of the City University of New York concluded: "The first three or four days for most persons were the worst, even in many homes where viewing was minimal and where there were other ongoing activities.  In over half of all the households, during these first few days of loss, the regular routines were disrupted, family members had difficulties in dealing with the newly available time, anxiety and aggressions were expressed.  People living alone tended to be bored and irritated.  By the second week, a move toward adaptation to the situation was common."  Unfortunately, researchers have yet to flesh out these anecdotes; no one has systematically gathered statistics on the prevalence of these withdrawal symptoms.

Even though tv does seem to meet the criteria for substance dependence, not all researchers would go so far as to call tv addictive.  McIlwraith said in 1998 that "displacement of other activities by television may be socially significant but still fall short of the clinical requirement of significant impairment."  He argued that a new category of "tv addiction" may not be necessary if heavy viewing stems from conditions such as depression and social phobia.  Nevertheless, whether or not we formally diagnose someone as tv-dependent, millions of people sense that they cannot readily control the amount of television they watch.

Slave to the Computer Screen

Although much less research has been done on video games and computer use, the same principles often apply.  The games offer escape and distraction; players quickly learn that they feel better when playing; and so a kind of reinforcement loop develops.  The obvious difference from television, however, is the interactivity.  Many video and computer games minutely increase in difficulty along with the increasing ability of the player.  One can search for months to find another tennis or chess player of comparable ability, but programmed games can immediately provide a near-perfect match of challenge to skill.  They offer the psychic pleasure - what one of us (Csikszentmihalyi) has called "flow" - that accompanies increased mastery of most any human endeavour.  On the other hand, prolonged activation of the orienting response can wear players out.  Kids report feeling tired, dizzy and nauseated after long sessions.

In 1997, in the most extreme medium-effects case on record, 700 Japanese children were rushed to the hospital, many suffering from "optically stimulated epileptic seizures" caused by viewing bright flashing lights in a Pokémon video game broadcast on Japanese TV.  Seizures and other untoward effects of video games are significant enough that software companies and platform manufacturers now routinely include warnings in their instruction booklets.  Parents have reported to us that rapid movement on the screen has caused motion sickness in their young children after just 15 minutes of play.  Many youngsters, lacking self-control and experience (and often supervision), continue to play despite these symptoms.

Lang and Shyam Sundar of Pennsylvania State University have been studying how people respond to websites.  Sundar has shown people multiple versions of the same webpage, identical except for the number of links.  Users reported that more links conferred a greater sense of control and engagement.  At some point, however, the number of links reached saturation, and adding more of them simply turned people off.  As with video games, the ability of websites to hold the user's attention seems to depend less on formal features than on interactivity.

For growing numbers of people, the life they lead online may often seem more important, more immediate and more intense than the life they lead face-to-face.  Maintaining control over one's media habits is more of a challenge today than it has ever been.  Tv sets and computers are everywhere.  But the small screen and the Internet need not interfere with the quality of the rest of one's life.  In its easy provision of relaxation and escape, television can be beneficial in limited doses.  Yet when the habit interferes with the ability to grow, to learn new things, to lead an active life, then it does constitute a kind of dependence and should be taken seriously.

Further Information:

Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experienc by Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates 1990.

"Television Dependence, Diagnosis, and Prevention" by Robert W Kubey in Tuning in to Young Viewers: Social Science Perspectives on Television edited by Tannis M MacBeth; Sage 1995.

"I'm Addicted to Television: The Personality, Imagination, and TV Watching Patterns of Self-Identified TV Addicts" by Robert D McIlwraith in Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media Vol 42 No 3 pages 371 - 386; Summer 1998.

"The Limited Capacity Model of Mediated Message Processing" by Annie Lang in Journal of Communication Vol 50 No 1 pages 46 - 70; March 2000.

"Internet Use and Collegiate Academic Performance Decrements: Early Findings" by Robert Kubey, Michael J Lavin and John R Barrows in Journal of Communication Vol 51 No 2 pages 366 - 382; June 2001.

The authors: Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi met in the mid-1970s at the University of Chicago, where Kubey began his doctoral studies and where Csikszentmihalyi served on the faculty.  Kubey is now a professor at Rutgers University and director of the Center for Media Studies  His work focuses on the development of media education around the world.  He has been known to watch television and even to play video games with his sons, Ben and Daniel.  Csikszentmihalyi is the C S and D J Davidson Professor of Psychology at Claremont Graduate University.  He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  He spends summers writing in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana without newspapers or tv, hiking with grandchildren and other occasional visitors.

Source: Scientific American February 2002; photo illustrations by Chip Simons

Letters to the Editor - Scientific American June 2002

It was unfortunate that in their article "Television Addiction" [February 2002], authors Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did not mention that in the US some 12,000 schools require students to watch Channel One, a 12-minute news program that is seen daily by more than 7.8 million students.  Each show has four 30-second ad spots.  In some schools, children spend the equivalent of about one class week a year watching Channel One, including one full day just watching ads.  How can we teach children to kick the habit of watching television when we require them to do so at school?

Kristin L Adolfson
Brooklyn New York

I have long thought that television may have something to do with attention-deficit disorder (ADD).  The story line of a TV movie, say, is interrupted every several minutes by commercials.  This breaks the viewer's concentration on a single subject and, over hours of television viewing, instills a habit of jumping from idea to idea.  How many people who are diagnosed with ADD merely have a habit caused by the on/off of television viewing?  With this habit from television already formed before children ever go to school, is it any wonder they can't concentrate for any length of time?  Study habits need to be learned.

Alice Ann Hiestand
Colorado Springs Colorado

I wanted to let you know that I had every intention of reading the article about television addiction, but Scientific American Frontiers was on PBS, and I just had to watch it.

Todd Dart
Albuquerque New Mexico

See also:

bulletControl Your Television - Do You See???  Finally???  I've taken what was once a horrible show, and I've turned it into a brilliant show!  HAAA!  HAAA!  HAAA!  I have mastered the airwaves!  I control television!  I am the Lizard King!  I can do anything!!

The Television Project

Consider the following information:

On average, children watch television almost 40 hours per week.  For 9 - 14 year olds, this is as much time as all their discretionary activities together.  In one year, the average child is likely to see 40,000 advertisements.  One half of children between the ages of 6 - 17 have televisions in their bedroom.  The cumulative effects are destructive and pervasive.  Scientific research has proven that television is responsible for shortened attention spans, poor reading skills, impoverished brain development, childhood obesity, low task perseverance and heightened aggression.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that doctors should urge a TV cutback as vigorously as they ask patients to stop smoking.

bullet98% of American households have at least one TV set.
bulletOn average, children aged 2-5 watch 14 hours of network television, per week.
bulletTelevision viewing increases aggressive behaviour.
bulletChildren imitate what they see.
bulletChildren under the age of 5 cannot separate fact from fantasy.
bullet66% of Americans eat dinner while watching television.
bulletWhen shopping with a parent, on average, children request a brand-named item 13-18 times.

Source: visit them for more

Are You Addicted to TV? (A 5-Question Quiz)

Think very hard about these questions before you give your answers.  "TV" includes entertainment videotapes and video games played on a TV.

  1. I eat meals while watching TV
    1. Just about every meal
    2. Sometimes
    3. Occasionally
    4. Never
  2. When forced to miss a favorite TV show in order to spend time with friends or family, I would usually
    1. Find a way out of the social engagement
    2. Suggest that the entire group watch the show together
    3. Reluctantly agree to miss the show
    4. Not be at all bothered by missing the show
  3. Without looking at a TV guide, I am sure of the channel and starting time for (not counting news programs)
    1. 10 or more shows
    2. 5-9 shows
    3. 2-4 shows
    4. 0-1 show
  4. I get irritated with others for being too loud or otherwise disturbing me while I'm watching TV
    1. Frequently
    2. Sometimes
    3. Occasionally
    4. Never/rarely
  5. In order to make me give up TV entirely for a year, somebody would have to pay me
    1. A million dollars or more
    2. Five thousand dollars
    3. Five hundred dollars
    4. Nothing - I'd do it for free

Scoring: For every "a" give yourself 4 points, 3 points for a "b", 2 for a "c", 1 for a "d"

bullet16 - 20 - You may not be a crack addict, but that glowing box has you hooked just as much!
bullet11 - 15 - Congratulations!  You are fairly easily manipulated by electronic media!
bullet 9 - 10 - You're not seriously addicted, but you probably watch more than is really good for you.
bullet 6 -  8 - You are pretty much in control of your viewing habits.
bullet       5 - Gosh, you're perfect.


The Reality of Television

by Heather Nunn

A review of the book Freakshow: First Person Media and Factual Television by Jon Dovey (London: Pluto Press, 2000). 224 pages

The ordinary and everyday have been the subject of almost fetishistic fascination in recent months.  Sylvia Smith’s Misadventures (Canongate, 1999), the memoir of a 56-year-old resident of a one-room East London bedsit, has achieved a cult following and extensive coverage in most major British newspapers.  It charts the trivia we avoid in constructing a special self: waiting outside cinema loos for failed Romeos, minor parts in school plays, mundane jobs and bleary traffic from bedsit to bedsit, interspersed with social club outings or visits to her Mum’s.  If this is the intimacy of artless confession, then on television we see a different intimacy, where first-person asides to an authentically-shaky camera construct complicity between viewer and television subject.  Such texts are linked by the psychic charge of surveillance, identification, biographical exposure and the pervasive inscription of subjective presence.  The lure is not so much exposure as the relentless insistence on intimacy, banality; the incessant close-up of the not-so-covert revelation.

Jon Dovey’s book, then, is a timely and much needed theoretical analysis of carefully contrived first person media and analyses the changing nature of factual television at the end of the 20th century.  The spectrum of factual programmes he covers illustrates the growing production and popularity of prime-time televised crime, disaster and personal revelation since the mid-1990s.  Dovey addresses TV texts from Britain and the US, but his analysis could certainly be applied more broadly, for example, to the hugely popular Russian Road Patrol, where instantaneous footage of road accident and fire victims, suicides and newly-arrested crime suspects is broadcast four times a day, seven days a week.

The broader political, institutional and theoretical framework of Freakshow is carefully revisited throughout its chapters.  Dovey signals the importance of this power matrix to the specifics of textual analysis.  He foregrounds the effects of a casualised production market where fragmented audiences and viewing figures dictate form and content, causing increasing competition amongst freelance filmmakers.  His analysis of the rise of cheaply made, populist programmes could, as he suggests, be read as a microcosm of global neo-liberalism (12).  Furthermore, Freakshow taps into broader debates on the role of TV as a public sphere enabling democratic communication by citizens.  The analysis of popular factual programming even-handedly avoids both populist accolade and also the "discourses of sobriety" endorsed by supporters of public service broadcasting where entertainment scores lower than education in cultural value.

Drawing on Anthony Giddens’ 1999 Reith lectures, Dovey suggests that the development of the chat show, the video diary and the docu-soap can be viewed as the development of a public sphere that chimes with late modern "emotional democracy" (168).  Consequently, such programmes address day-to-day moral decisions rather than broader macro-political considerations: the breakdown of the family, personal trauma and intimate revelation become the focus of contemporary viewers’ concerns.

In Chapters 3 and 4, Dovey analyses the use of amateur footage and low-grade surveillance recordings in camcorder culture and "reality tv".  Here the "privileged form of contemporary TV truth telling" is the contemporary video document in which incessant close-ups, whispering voiceover and the "embodied intimacy of technical process" prevail (56 - 7).  Dovey explores the discursive and psychic drives behind viewers’ desire to see crime, fires, reckless driving, feuding neighbours, murderous nannies and so on in crime and emergency programmes.  The analysis works best where Freakshow extends Foucauldian work on confession and the panopticon.  Dovey suggests that the pull of compulsion and repulsion that drives such viewing can be understood in the context of an anxious and disempowered society where risk has become a predominant theme of the social imaginary (100 - 101).  While the emergency services remain one of the few state institutions that can be portrayed in unequivocally supportive terms as our protective agents, the portrayal of the police is more problematic.  Crime programming attempts to build a consensus around a particular politically inflected notion of criminality.

Dovey’s suggestion that crime and accident programming are both exaggerations of personal risk and resolution is provocative.  Most interesting is the ideological inflection of new right criminology in populist form found in such television.  The right to security, to consume and to speak, overwhelms other rights - to employment, housing, education, social justice (87 - 95).  The emphasis on accident and pathology over in-depth investigation of cause and effect, alongside the surveillance of criminal or fraudulent perpetrators, produces an entertaining "combination of voyeurism and public self righteousness" (60).  Dovey proposes "reality TV" as a "superpanopticon", positioning the spectator as a security guard or police officer behind a bank of monitors, embodying institutional authority while engaged by the voyeuristic pleasures of observing difference (67 - 70).

In his consideration of the new self-reflexive documentary forms illustrated by Nick Broomfield, Michael Moore, Ross McElwee and Alan Berliner, Dovey was on less sure ground and Chapter 2 deserves fuller exploration.  He rightly positioned the construction of the embattled and fallible filmmaking persona in Broomfield’s and Berliner’s work as illustrating a shift in documentary practice towards the frustrated, flawed private world of the late modern masculine subject.  However, the political and social implications of the "klutz" filmmaker needs deeper positioning within models of contemporary masculinity as well as analysis of other, more radical documentary pratices.  Dovey’s sympathy seemingly lay most with guerilla film making and documentary critiques of class, economics and power that are largely effaced by these practitioners’ playful emphasis on celebrity, self and filmic technique.

In contrast, Chapters 5 and 6 on the chat show, the BBC Video Nation project and docu-soaps clearly laid out existing analyses of confession, disclosure and therapeutic TV in a range of programmes from The Real Holiday Show to The Jerry Springer Show.  Dovey places the confessional aspect of such programming within a structure of "disclosure", "coming out" and "witnessing" (112).  Popular programmes are highlighted for their extension of precedent forms such as Anstey and Elton’s Housing Problems (1935), in which ordinary people appeared as eyewitness or "victim" to authenticate the film (109 - 110).  Chat show guests’ intimate revelations are situated within the public sphere and tentatively related to an ontology of self in which telling the studio and TV audience your personal dilemmas is seen to produce empowerment and psychic health.  Less positively, the open democratic public space of the talk show affords the display of deviance or disruption as a social pathology.

Overall Freakshow places the television of intimacy within cultural context and importantly stresses that the televising of "real life" and confessional discourse are an expression of broader political and economic changes in our social existence.  Dovey concludes by raising the difficulty for practitioners of attending to this new factual programming whilst resisting easy narrative closure or fixed notions of the "essentially human".  A provocative analysis of hugely popular media texts ends then with a plea for leaving the contradictions of experience raw and open.

Heather Nunn is a Lecturer in Media and Film at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College.  Her research interests include gendered representation, politics and the media, and she has published in Women: a Cultural Review, New Formations and has a chapter forthcoming in L Onkey and B Faulk (eds) Thatcherism and the Arts of Dissent (St Martins Press).


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