The Sole Defining Feature

10 Apr

If you haven’t been watching Channel Four’s new show Gogglebox, it basically follows a cross section of people sitting and watching television. That’s right, it’s you sitting and watching people watching TV.

It is fairly funny but I have noticed something that has been bugging me, particularly in the most recent episode. It showed the people featured watching two shows, one with Dr Margaret Mountford (formerly of The Apprentice) exploring the ruins of Pompeii and the other with Dr Joann Fletcher showing us how everyday people lived in Ancient Egypt. Both were shows presented by highly intelligent, passionate presenters that aimed to make the information accessible and interesting for the audience.

So why was it that all the people featured in Gogglebox could focus on was their physical appearance? Not only that but most of their comments were negative, rude and of no direct intelligence to what they were watching.

While I suspect that one of the primary motivations behind Gogglebox is for us to be able to laugh at the viewers featured (the posh alcoholic couple, the woman with the obnoxious children etc.) it does highlight a problem for women who work on that side of the media.

A while back I wrote a post on Anita Sarkessian, a media commentator and presenter of her own web-based show, Feminist Frequency. Sarkessian is all kinds of awesome but was the target of vile, sexist abuse when she tried to crowd fund her latest project.

Similarly, last year when Mary Beard was subjected to similar abuse (and threats of violence) after appearing on Question Time, she remarked that it was enough to put any women off of appearing on TV.

I’m sure I don’t need to go into why that’s bad.

By virtue of making up more than half the population of the earth, we are entitled to have smart, passionate women on television communicating their ideas but when they are reduced to the sole function of being a thing to look at, devoid of any personality or worth beyond the aesthetic, why on earth would anyone want to subject themselves to that?

It’s not clear whether most of these detractors are men or women in fairness (before I’m being accused of being a man hater) and plenty of the viewers on Gogglebox were women, so as a general audience we need to readjust our viewing habits and expectations for the media and perhaps we can take these programmes for what they are: entertaining, informative and present by smart, charismatic women to make us want to learn more.

About the Writer: Sarah is a filmmaker and writer with an obsession for luscious visuals and a distain for tomatoes (they are a sneaky and untrustworthy foodstuff). If she’s not blogging or tweeting, she’ll be watching films or running around with her video camera.

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