Analysing TV: Fictions and Entertainments – Television Autobiography I am aware that one of the main themes of this course is critical self-reflection about TV watching; considering my own relationship with TV viewing and how it has changed over time as well as what my attitudes towards TV are, I can think about what they say about the kind of person I am. However, I think it would be useful to point out that I am not a media student and that this course is an elective module for my Sociology Degree. Also, I am a relatively ‘new’ British TV viewer as I lived in Greece my whole life and only came to the UK last year.
My early memories of watching TV are very much embedded within me. Ever since I can remember, there was always some sort of programme I followed, starting from cartoon series such as ‘Pokemon’ to more adult-oriented TV programmes such as ‘Friends’, ‘Prison Break’ and ‘24’. However, as I grew up in Greece, I was limited to the TV Greece provides, which in my opinion, is very limited. Nevertheless, without fail, every single Saturday and Sunday, my brother and I used to watch TV from around 3pm-7pm, keeping up with our weekly TV programme viewing.
In addition, I remember that every day after school in the junior school I would come home to watch 3 Brazilian dubbed (to Greek) TV soap operas back to back: it was ‘Esmeralda’, ‘Rosalinta’ and ‘Paola’. My family as a whole barely affected my TV watching. The one that had a huge effect on it however was, and continues to be, my brother. My parents never disapproved of TV watching though if we spent hours during the day watching TV they would tell us to stop and do something more productive with our day.
However, my mother used to encourage me to watch Greek TV shows because she felt it would improve my Greek as the school we were attending at the time was purely English. At times my parents would disapprove of us watching reality shows as well as talent shows but they never forbid us from watching what we wanted to watch. My brother steered me towards particular genres, not so much channels (as Greek TV does not have specific genres that correspond to particular channels) and away from others in the past until now.
He definitely steered me away from the Brazilian soaps I used to watch as a child, convincing me they were completely fake and shallow. So I began to watch everything he watched – it all started from me, being the little sister, wanting to be more and more like him. Therefore I watched a wide variety of fighting movies on TV including Van Damme films and the Bruce Lee movie. I shifted from watching ‘My Little Pony’ to ‘Power Rangers’ and ‘Dragon Ball’; I basically began to watch boy aimed TV.
I think, up until today, this attitude remains; I have realised through my girl friends. The majority of them would never be up for watching a fighting or hard action film or TV series whereas I am always eager to do so. But also, living in the UK for 2 years has gotten me into all the TV programmes here; shows such as ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’, the ‘X Factor’, ‘Hollyoaks’, ‘I’m a Celebrity Get me out of here’ etc. My ways of watching TV varied when I was young because I watched TV on multiple occasions: alone, with my family and with my friends.
These circumstances varied according to both the type of programme that was on but also the time of day it was broadcast; on a daily basis we would all watch the news together as a family – even though my brother and I would desperately attempt to change the channel. With friends I would most likely be watching some sort of live TV show or the weekly soaps and on my own would be a combination of everything really- depending on my mood as I was in charge of the remote control. There was a period in my life where I watched very little TV and that was at University last year as I lived in student dorms where we did not have access to a TV.
In general though, within my household in Brighton this year I always watch TV with my housemates and on a daily basis – the TV is basically always on when we are in our living room. At home in Athens however I watch much less TV but this is probably due to the quality of TV in comparison to the UK’s. There have been times when my TV choices were strongly influenced, even dictated, by the need to conform to the tastes of my peer group. This is due to the fact that there have been series that I felt I had to watch in order to ‘fit in’.
This began early on during my childhood years with the TV series ‘Pokemon’ because this was not just a regular TV series; all the children in my class were playing the Pokemon game boy game and were constantly switching Pokemon cards. Pokemon was such a big deal at the time that you were left out if you were not engaged with it and up to date with the series. So peer pressure combined with fashion (games associated with the series) forced me to watch ‘Pokemon’ religiously. However, there have also been times during my life, even up until today, that there are series I love but do not admit to watching…
I guess I can do so in this essay. When I was younger, my friends and I all went through a tomboy phase which meant that doing anything ‘girly’ was unacceptable. So whenever my friends and I got together we would watch action, adventure and thriller genre movies and series on TV. Yet when I was alone at home I would turn on the TV and watch really girly shows such as ‘My Little Pony’ and later on ‘Eastenders’. I felt that if I told my friends about my TV tastes they would think I was a loser. Even now, as an adult, there are TV shows that I follow but do not admit to anyone that I do so.
These are usually within the genre of reality television; one of these shows is ‘The Only Way is Essex’ which I watch with my roommate. Our close friends make fun of us so neither of us dares to admit to watching it within the wider public. Sometimes I like to say that I am a lifelong individualist in terms of TV viewing but deep inside I know that I have various guilty secrets within my TV watching. As well as that, I get sucked in to the shows and series my friends watch very easily, examples of this are ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of here! ’ and ‘Hollyoaks’.
Oh and I nearly forgot to mention the ‘Jeremy Kyle Show’. I grew up in a multi-set household; this meant that there was a TV in the living room, a TV in my parents room and a TV in our room (my brother and I – we shared a room until I was about 13). Obviously, this situation affected the way the TV was used. In my parents’ room the TV was most frequently on a news channel, in our room it alternated from TV series to shows and in the living room it ranged from cartoons to sports to the news and to basically anything depending on who was sitting in the living room.
Today, the difference between the TV in the living room in comparison to the one in mine or my parents’ rooms is that the TV in the living room has a Sky box set. Due to this privilege we all want to watch TV in the living room and even though we are all together a lot more often than before, we fight a lot more often than before about TV channel choice. My relationship with that most sacred and fought-over totem, the remote control, used to be good and strong but now, through trying to avoid arguments within my family/friend groups, I tend to stay away from it.
Changing tastes concerning TV is inevitable as you get older. However I do not attribute those changes to age alone; social groups as well as location play a huge role in these changes too. As I grew older, I stopped watching cartoons and began to watch adult-led programmes as well as documentaries and TV series. Yet throughout the process of my change in taste, I must say, that the largest change happened when I moved from Greece to Brighton. I have to point out that this change in taste was as much forced due to UK TV as it was optional.
Every now and then I feel nostalgic about once-favourite TV programmes such as ‘Thunder Cats’ but I have come to realise that this nostalgia stems from what came with the TV programme rather than the actual programme itself: company, friendship and games with my family and peers. Unlike at home where I tend to stay away from the remote control to avoid arguments within my family, here in Brighton it is much easier to negotiate taste conflicts when I am obliged to watch TV in communal contexts such as at home with my flatmates because we know what shows we all follow and have come up with compromises.
Of course channels with a +1 help the situation incredibly! To some extent I have a sense in which my own sense of cultural/ social identity shapes my TV consumption. This can be true in terms of my gender and ethnicity; the fact that I am a woman enhances my interests in TV programmes such as ‘Extreme Makeover’ and ‘Gok’s Fashion Fix’ as I am intrigued to see how certain little things can change a woman’s appearance. Being Greek and living in the UK affects my TV consumption in Brighton because if I come across a channel that is talking about Greece, I watch it without questioning the type of programme I am watching.
For example during an episode of ‘Come Dine with Me’, one of the contestants wanted to host a Greek night with Greek music and food. Normally, I would keep zapping through the channels to see what else is on but because I came across this programme consisting of my culture I did not. Another aspect of my social identity determines my TV consumption: the fact that I am straight. Because I am straight, I get intrigued with homosexual TV shows and series.
I recently started watching the TV series ‘Lip Service’ and ‘L Word’ which, together with living in Brighton, opened my eyes to the world of homosexuals. Furthermore, I find that I can relate to various shows and performers in a way that I can inhabit their identities; one example of this are the teenagers in ‘Skins’ which live a life of youth combined with drugs and relationships. I do not know whether to hope that being part of the media student realm for this module will affect my everyday consumption of TV or not.
I like to think that at the end of this course I will still be able to be an ‘innocent’ viewer while simultaneously being able to assess TV critically. It is interesting to note that before this essay I had never actually thought about my relationship with the TV and how my tastes have changed over time or what my attitudes towards TV in general say about the type of person I am – I am intrigued to find out what else I will discover throughout the process of this course.