News just in: TV has eaten itself and it is still hungry. Actually this is old news. In the heady days when people spoke about postmodern this and postmodern that (the 1980s and 90s – such talk was probably killed off by the millennium bug) TV was always eating itself. Shows like Max Headroom on the newly convened MTV and films like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure seemed to be as much about TV as about the world. The wonderful Royle Family from the late 1990s seemed to herald the final move; here we – the audience – were positioned as if we were the TV watching a family that was looking back at us. A sort of mirror poking through the back of the TV into another room with a family looking back at the screen and getting on with life. Not a window on the world, then, but a mirror reflecting back the domestic setting of TV.
But the Royle Family was not the endgame of such self-reflection, it was merely the last time that it seemed exceptional. Now we have Goggle Box where couples and families offer commentary on TV programmes. They too are positioned facing the screen and we view them from the TV. And in case anyone was failing to get all the references to the Royle Family, Goggle Box is narrated by Caroline Aherne who wrote and starred in the Royle Family. What is significant about Goggle Box is not the strange tautological fact that you are watching people watching TV on TV, but that this seems perfectly fine, as if this is exactly what TV is all about. And TV does seem to be about the watching, about the chat, about the comfy sofa as much as about the programme. Friends always understood this: the characters always seem to be watching any-old-thing – the enjoyment came from the furnishings, from each other.
Goggle Box though doesn’t present a hermetic TV world. It offers us the pleasures of connecting to other ‘just like us’ who are also watching TV, chatting, poking fun at some of the shows, discussing others, sleeping through the occasional one or two. When you watch Goggle Box there is no need to think ‘but I could do that’ – you are doing it, already. Ta da. Goggle Box is the materialisation of TV seen under conditions of social media. What is odd about it is that people just seem to be watching TV and talking; where are the mobile phones? Where are the tablets? Goggle Box has incorporated the pleasures of social media into its format and returned it to us as something like a sit-com with the emphasis on the sit.