I'm sorry this is rather a long post; those not interested in TV,
psychoanalysis, and daytime talkshows can skip over it.
A while ago some folks were discussing the merits of psychoanalysis as
a framework for studying television, and whether psychoanalysis would
prove as useful to TV as it has for film. As several people pointed
out, most efforts to do this have compared film "spectatorship" to
television "viewing" (as in the Flitterman-Lewis essay in _Channels of
Discourse_). Film spectatorship is said to be more amenable to a
psychoanalytic reading because it more closely approximates the
conditions of dreaming (dark theater, immobile subject, "projection" of
an image, suturing of spectator into the film text, identification of
spectator with characters or the narrative itself, etc.).
I have been thinking about all this lately because I am currently doing
research on daytime television talkshows. It seems to me that
psychoanalysis might be important here, not with regard to the
conditions of viewing but with regard to the topics discussed.
Even a cursory glance at the daytime talkshow listings in TV Guide for
any given week will reveal a disproportionate number of shows focused on
sex and romantic and familial relationships, especially rape, incest,
marital infidelity, homosexuality, and a range of so-called "perverse"
sexual behaviors. There are a number of explanations for this, perhaps
the most obvious of which centers on ratings. As Gaye Tuchman
("assembling a network talk-show," 1974) and others have pointed out,
the same rule governs show business governs all business: make money.
Consequently, Tuchman argues, talkshows strive for predictability by
employing formulas and "typifications" that have generated high ratings
in the past. This insight helps explain the appearance of the same
guests on different shows and the repetition in discussion topics.
But this doesn't explain why audiences find shows focused on sex and
sexuality compelling in the first place. Interestingly, the repeated
discussion of these subjects on national television year after year and
show after show links talkshows to traditional Freudian psychoanalysis
beyond a shared commitment to the "talking cure." Talkshows seem to
address with astonishing frequency the three fundamental questions
raised by the analysand's primal fantasies about castration, origin, and
seduction outlined in Freud's various essays on sexuality: what sex am
I, where do I come from, and with whom is it possible to have sexual
relations? With talkshows as with psychoanalysis, there is never a
definitive answer, only the infinite staging and restaging of the
question through narratives of sexual trauma and sexual "deviance."
This is not to suggest that daytime talk itself is a psychoanalytic
discourse or even that it champions the methods of psychoanalysis
(indeed, talkshows seem to draw almost exclusively from American ego
psychology and the tenets of the current the self-help movement,
especially the various "twelve-step" programs). Rather, it is to
suggest that both talkshows and psychoanalysis may be tapping into a
similar source, and performing similar kinds of cultural work: that is,
both seem to participate in the exteriorization of our individual
psychic landscapes, albeit in different ways.
I would be very interested in hearing what people have to say about
this, or about daytime talkshows more generally. They're certainly all
over the dial these days.
One last thing: there was a recent posting by someone whose name I
somehow lost (I think the last name was O'Neil) who wrote re: the OJ
Simpson coverage and television self-reflexivity: "As for good and bad
reflexivity, conservative and progressive re- flexivity, I have argued
(in a paper on police 'reality programming') that the idea that
reflexivity produces political consciousness should be rejected in the
face of plentiful evidence to the contrary."
I would love to read the paper on police and reality programming if the
author is willing. Please respond privately to [log in to unmask]
Film Studies Program
University of California
Santa Barbara, CA. 93106