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Television and Psychoanalysis

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Despite the prominence of television in our everyday lives, psychoanalytic approaches to its significance and function are notoriously few and far between. This volume takes up perspectives from object relations theory and other psychoanalytic approaches to ask questions about the role of television as an object of the internal worlds of its viewers, and also addresses itself to a range of specific television programmes, ranging from Play School, through the plays of Jack Rosenthal to recent TV blockbuster series such as In Treatment. In addition, it considers the potential of television to open up new public spaces of therapeutic experience.Interviews with a TV producer and with the subject of a documentary expressly suggest that there is scope for television to make a positive therapeutic intervention in people's lives. At the same time, however, the pitfalls of reality programming are explored with reference to the politics of entertainment and the televisual values that heighten the drama of representation rather than emphasising the emotional experience of reality television participants and viewers. A recurring theme throughout is that television becomes a psychological object for its viewers and producers, maintaining the psychological 'status quo' on the one hand and yet simultaneously opening up playful spaces of creative, therapeutic engagement for these groups. This collection of essays makes a timely intervention into the field of television studies by offering a distinctive range of psycho-cultural approaches drawn from both academic criticism and an array of experiences grounded in both the clinical and televisual scenes of practice.

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Chapter One: Psychoanalysis and Television: Notes Towards a Psycho-Cultural Approach

ePub

Candida Yates

There is much written within the field of media and cultural studies about the pleasure and influence of television in everyday life, including its role as a purveyor of ideology and cultural struggle (Brooker & Jermyn, 2003; Newcom, 2000; Seiter, Borchers, Kreutzner & Warth, 1992; Storey, 2006). Yet an understanding of television as an object of unconscious fantasy and emotional experience remains under-researched. This anthology sets out to develop such an understanding, by exploring the relationships between psychoanalysis and television. The aim of this chapter is to introduce the reader to some of the themes raised subsequently in the book by discussing ideas taken from the fields of psychosocial, cultural, and media studies with a view to developing a new psycho-cultural approach to the study of television as an object of psychological, social, and cultural significance. The chapter draws attention to the insights of psychoanalytic theory for an understanding of television culture past and present, and the view taken here is that the study of television needs to take account of the identifications and fantasies that take place between and within the viewers, the text, and the lived experience of the immediate environment, and also the wider context of culture and society (Yates, 2010a, p. 405). Holding in mind Freud's (1900a) concept of “psychical reality”, and an awareness of the unconscious processes that mediate everyday experience, this psycho-cultural perspective also challenges the conceptual duality of screen studies that pitches the processes of fantasy in opposition to the experience of “reality”, away from the film or television screen. Instead, I argue that the relationship between television and the shaping of subjectivity is complex, ongoing, and mutually constituted within the viewing habits of everyday life.

 

Chapter Two: Television as Rorschach: The Unconscious use of the Cathode Nipple

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Brett Kahr

What do suicide bombers watch on telly?

At precisely 8.50 a.m. on Thursday, 7 July, 2005, Mohammad Sidique Khan, a thirty-year-old al-Qaeda sympathiser, detonated an organic-peroxide bomb concealed in his rucksack, while riding on the London Underground, somewhere between Liverpool Street and Aldgate stations. He died instantly, killing six fellow passengers. During the next hour, three of Khan's comrades exploded their own home-made bombs, murdering a total of fifty-two women and men, and injuring approximately 700 others. Some three days before these atrocities, Mohammad Sidique Khan sent a poorly spelled text message to fellow conspirator, nineteen-year-old Germaine Maurice Lindsay, which stated, “I aint getting on no plain fool” (sic), a catchphrase used, apparently, by the television character “Sergeant Bosco Albert (B.A.) Baracus”, portrayed by the actor, Mr T, in long-running American series The A-Team (1983–1987). After receiving this text message, Germaine Lindsay sent a reply, which read, “Fuck u bitch dats my line” (sic) (quoted in Godwin, 2010, p. 15).

 

Chapter Three: Psychotherapy on the Couch: Exploring the Fantasies of in Treatment

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Caroline Bainbridge

In Treatment (2008–present) began airing in the UK in 2009 as the Media and the Inner World network was established. Its timeliness in relation to the concerns of the network was noteworthy. In particular, it chimed neatly with observations underpinning the network regarding the significance of an increasingly emotionalised cultural climate and the heightened visibility of talking therapies within popular culture. At a very obvious level, then, the appearance of In Treatment on television offered scope for reflecting on claims that we live in what has been variously described negatively as “therapy culture” (Furedi, 2004) or more positively as “therapeutic culture” (Richards, 2007; Richards & Brown, 2011; Yates, 2011). In its depiction of a psychotherapist engaging with different clients in his consulting room at the heart of the dramatic narrative, the series taps into our curiosity about the therapeutic exchange in a world where feelings are often seen as central to the shaping of our everyday experience. These feelings are frequently aligned with anxieties linked to the ever-more fragmented nature of contemporary life with all its playful ideas about identity afforded by engagements with new technologies and so on, which raises interesting questions about our uses of media objects in relation to lived emotional experience.

 

Chapter Four: BBC Play School: Playing with Transitional, Transitory, and Transformational Space

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Carol Leader

Introduction

Do you remember Play School? Did you ever watch it? It was a classic BBC children's programme that ran on weekdays between 1962 and 1988, and was intended for pre-school children. Over the years, it came to have a large following of people of all ages. I understand that there were even daily bets taken on which of the windows—arched, square, or round—the camera would zoom through into a short outside film! The resident toys, “Humpty”, “Hamble”, “Jemima”, “Big Ted”, and “Little Ted”, became famous. But Play School's main audience and the one that it was primarily intended for were the under-fives and its production values were about making a tangible impact on young developing minds. The programme is therefore an interesting candidate to explore through a psychoanalytic lens. But there are also personal reasons for picking Play School as a subject of analytic scrutiny. Let me set the scene.

Setting the scene

Having left university in the early 1970s, a kind of fate led me to become one of five founders of a new theatre company called Perspectives, that nearly forty years later is still thriving as New Perspectives in the city of Nottingham. This was the beginning of my twenty-year career as a theatre, TV, and radio actor, presenter, and writer after which I trained and qualified as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, firstly at the Association for Group and Individual Psychotherapy and then at the London Centre for Psychotherapy, now part of The British Psychotherapy Foundation. Although I was involved in a wide variety of work as an actor in the theatre and on television, it is as a BBC Play School presenter that I am still primarily remembered, such is the potent power of television, particularly in relation to the young child.

 

Chapter Five: Family Romances in Jack Rosenthal's Television Drama

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Sue Vice

Jack Rosenthal's writing for television is often seen to typify the “golden age” of British television drama, and his plays are viewed with nostalgia as an example of the era's gentle social comedy (Purser, 2004). However, a psychoanalytic perspective on his work reveals that the “gentleness” of the comedy, and the “taken for granted” (Silverstone, 1994, p. x) nature of the televisual medium itself, often relies upon unexpectedly disturbing and challenging elements. The narratives of Rosenthal's best-known television plays centre on individual and familial rites of passage, revealing how psychic conflict takes on dramatic form in his writing, while the psyche's formations are fleshed out in the form of individual characters. Such moments in Rosenthal's work include that of first love in P'tang Yang Kipperbang (1982), courtship in The Lovers (1970), parents becoming “empty-nesters” in Eskimo Day (1996) and Cold Enough for Snow (1997), and redundancy and retirement in Sadie, It's Cold Outside (1975). The source of this comedy is often far from gentle, as is clear in the examples I discuss here, which centre on religious and historical rites of passage that accompany the separation anxiety of acceding to adolescence. Rosenthal's award-winning works in the “Play for Today” series, Bar Mitzvah Boy (1976) and The Evacuees (1975) represent, respectively, a startling instance of the televisual trope of the “Oedipal dilemma”, in Candida Yates's phrase from the opening chapter in the present collection, and efforts by young brothers to rid themselves of a false mother and return to one who offers love and acceptance. In each case, comedy is integral to persuading audiences to consider disruptive and uncomfortable psychoanalytic truths.

 

Chapter Six: Spending too much Time Watching TV?

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Jo Whitehouse-Hart

Television and domestic viewing

The postwar twentieth and twenty-first century living room may have displayed an array of changing fashion, styles, and designs, but, for the most part, domestic spaces for relaxation contain a television, which remains an enduring and important entertainment technology embedded in everyday life. Understanding television's role in daily life and the way in which audiences respond to and use television has been a central concern of the academic fields of media and television studies. Perspectives have been divided between text-reader-interpretation and product-user-context approaches, with sociological paradigms dominating the various methods. Such divisions have also resulted in the relative lack of studies which take into account the text being watched, the audience (as located historically and socially), the viewing context, and associated practices (see Lacey, 1997 and Wood, 2009 for exceptions).1 Psychoanalysis has, for the most part, been rejected by television researchers, but has had considerable impact within film theory where it has been applied principally to the cinematic scenario. Such approaches have not been effectively developed to understand the viewing of films on television.2 This chapter will show that it is possible to bridge these restrictive theoretical and methodological gaps by arguing that television viewing should be explored as a psychosocial activity.3

 

Chapter Seven: Television as “Docutherapy”: An Interview with Richard McKerrow and Jonathan Phang

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Siobhan Lennon-Patience and Marit Røkeberg

This chapter contains the transcript of interviews with Love Productions’ Creative Director, Richard McKerrow, and television presenter and fashion manager, Jonathan Phang; these two interviews were conducted in connection with the documentary McKerrow and Phang made in 2009 about the 1989 Marchioness disaster: The Marchioness: A Survivor's Story (2009). The documentary, produced by Love Productions, tells the story of the sinking of the pleasure boat, Marchioness, on the Thames: a horrible accident that took the lives of fifty-one people, including some of Phang's best friends. The focus in the documentary is on Phang's journey, in which he comes to terms with what happened, as he returns to emotionally evocative locations, seeking out other survivors and relatives of people who died. Throughout the documentary process, Phang's recollections and thoughts about the disaster and his life before and after are recorded, as well as his emotional experience of encountering memories and old friends and acquaintances.

 

Chapter Eight: TV Times at the Freud Museum

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Ivan Ward

The Freud Museum has had a long engagement with television in one form or another—production companies wishing to film at the museum, TV screens and video installations used in contemporary art exhibitions, and, in 2010, the museum itself becoming the subject of a BBC documentary Behind the Scenes at the Museum (2010).

There were even occasions when I had the temerity to approach TV myself. I once wrote to Lewis Bronze who had recently taken over from the legendary Biddy Baxter as producer of the BBC's flagship children's television programme, Blue Peter (1958-present), proposing a biography of Sigmund Freud. Intelligent biographies of famous historical characters were a regular feature on the programme, and it seemed to me that Freud was a suitable choice. What sort of story would it be? Obviously a story of “growing up”; being clever at school, falling in love, making a great discovery, being driven from his home, and dying here in England. The biography would be a tale of courage and achievement, hard work and triumph over adversity, from childhood poverty to international fame. There were the years of “splendid isolation” and rejection, the tragedy of his sisters’ deaths in concentration camps, the final triumph of his legacy helping thousands of people suffering from “mental problems”. My intention was to present an inspiring story of Freud's life while trying to educate in a child-friendly way about some of Freud's ideas. Needless to say, the pitch was not successful, but the rejection letter did not give a reason. The production team were off on their summer break but I could rest assured that, if a suitable opportunity arose, they would get back in touch. You can probably guess that I am still waiting for the phone call. I like to think that the reason for the rejection was more obvious. You can't get round the “sex” thing, or as Freud put it in his BBC recording of 1938, his “unsavoury ideas”. Most people did not believe that Freud was a proper subject for children's TV.

 

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