‘There's No Place Like Home’: emotional exposure, excess and empathy on TV

Kristyn Gorton

in Media Audiences

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print September 2009 | ISBN: 9780748624171
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748670956 | DOI:
‘There's No Place Like Home’: emotional exposure, excess and empathy on TV

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This chapter considers how emotion functions within reality and lifestyle television. It argues that emotion is sometimes used as a social tool in a way that obscures differences of class, gender and race. Thus, while superficially operating as light entertainment, many reality or lifestyle television programmes such as Wife Swap seek legitimacy through a suggestion that they play a deeper pedagogic role: they invite us, the audience, to reflect on our intimate feelings and relationships through an empathetic engagement with the participants. Using devices such as the 'video diary' and the staging of final meetings between participants, programmes such as this use emotion as a tool to suggest that differences of class, race, sexuality and gender can easily be overcome through the emotional medium of a 'good cry'. Programmes such as Wife Swap play an ideological role in establishing notions of 'home' and in transmitting the emotions we should associate with 'home'. As viewers, we are drawn into an emotional engagement with the participants which on many levels reiterates our feelings of community, belonging and humanity; and yet, we are also complicit in perpetuating an individualised society that encourages us to make judgement on those around us.

Keywords: Wife Swap; Reality television; Lifestyle Television; Individualism; ‘Ugly feelings’; class

Chapter.  6294 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies

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