Gogglebox and Desire

Whilst catching up on the seventeenth season of Gogglebox the other evening I began to feel more and more like what I was viewing was a form of manufactured consent. Every episode opens with the narrator’s placid ‘in the week [of headline news] we enjoyed lots of great telly.’ Although at times the various households disagree with or mock what they are watching, overall, they enjoy on our (the audience’s) behalf the viewing. The show is perfect for the emotionally-drained, those who have worked all day at one form of job only to come home to other forms of labour. The toll of work, of household upkeep, emails, and direct messages, leads one to watch Gogglebox not with the expectation of enjoyment exactly, but the ability to sit passively and allow others on your behalf to enjoy for you. Whether or not you enjoy the programming highlighted is inconsequential. You watch for the reactions. I’d wager about once per episode there is usually one program that would be worth watching outside of this show. For the most part it highlights television’s depressed landscape of insincere reality shows, the plastered-on Saturday night grins of Ant and Dec, and endless news cycles. Even in the case of Ant and Dec, which in at least one episode solicited jibing comments, constitutes ‘great telly’, whether or not it is actually ‘good.’ It still evokes reaction. The desert of television on display, where rare oases can be found, is always saved by the enjoyment and judgement of the viewers being viewed. There is a winning formula to the show (its seventeenth iteration speaks volumes) but it also feels like a call for something new. The market of reaction that produces and trades in Gogglebox is even more so visible on YouTube where react videos for a period of several years reigned supreme in accruing numbers. Reactions, although perhaps at times veering close to critique, always remain safely in the box of pre-existing consumer comfort. Gogglebox feels like a network effectively summarising its content as ‘this is what we’ve got. You’re welcome, we’re not doing more’, but at least they offer to relieve you of the need to desire direct consumption of its media.


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