The Soul selects her own society,
then Shuts the door.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Turn Around, Get on Yr Face.
Daytime Television: A View of Oprah & Cops as Confessional Apparatuses
The oral-technological operation of confession, as it is executed in first-person discourse in TV shows such as Oprah and Cops, is reflective of binaries regarding power and pleasure which requires a positioning of the person or "guest star" as subject (on the show) for the viewer to exert administering patterns of scrutiny and categorization. The main subject of the TV show and viewer (also a difference in "live-studio audience" viewership versus being situated in front of a TV) equally participate in a culturally-specific confessing arena. Confession, as spectacle, is also exclusive to the space in which it occurs in; the tight ventilation of a confessional booth in a Catholic church versus an accessible, vast, and participatory production studio, such as Oprah's Harpo Productions or the selective "on-site" geographical (usually economically down-trodden) pockets of America portrayed in Cops. "...Social and spatial operations of the TV set [...] focuses attention on the ways in which the audiovisual and material forms of TV blend with the social conventions and power structures of its locale." (McCarthy, 2) Spatial (in terms of location, audience, and live performace in which the first-person discourse is contained and captured) difference between Oprah and Cops effects their contextual, and therefore, confessional scripts and modes of "confessional production." While both are "on-site" or on location, Oprah's studio audience is fixed in Chicago, while Cops exploits an array of "moral truths" via cinema verite, in an attempt to stir, anticipate, and capture acts of misdemeanor. "The term site-specific is generally used to describe a certain genre of installation art-work designed solely for a particular place or institution, work that cannot be transplanted elsewhere." (ibid) In turn, the ritual or commodity of confession (generated and framed by TV production and it serving as a filter to execute certain modes of confessional styles and not forgetting the costs for airtime) is subject to site-specificity since the confessional gesture is pre-determined, installed, and made available for distribution, which, in part of the viewer, can be interpreted as being "heterotopical" (in another place or medically, a collection of normal neurons in abnormal locations) depending on the location and etiquette of the confessional venue. "There are also, probably in every civilization, real places-places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society[...]all the other real sites that can be found within culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. Because these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about, I shall call them[...] heterotopias. I believe that between utopias and these quite other sites, these heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, joint experience, which would be the mirror." (Foucault. 1967) Analogous to a mirror is that of a TV screen, in which the viewer too, can reference parts of his/her self through the actions and/or "faults" of the first-person subject on the TV show. Foucault then goes on to compare the mirror, in relation to his position in front of it, as a "virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not[...] but it is also a heterotopia insofar as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position I occupy." (ibid) It can then be said that Oprah and Cops, in their differences and similarities, unfolds permutations of confessionalism through a subject (or messenger) which mediates (or unknowingly relays) culturally specific moral codes to the viewer (be it on studio location, home, or public space). They also provide a means to examine how the audience and featured guest or "sacrificial lamb" are mutual receptors of obtaining pleasures from effects of power, revealing that confession as spectacle, when appropriated into a culturally specific currency of power and pleasure, provides a rate of exchange between subject and viewer and how both are equally participating in the particulars of a moral code. Apart from confession being "an enclosed , private process, crucially secret and therefore immune from any democratizing possibilities of open speech in the 'public sphere', [it serves] as an open de-ritualized [arena]." (Dovey, 107) Oprah and Cops (which I consider TV utopias in their own right) stages and administers two different types of "utopian-confession." One being that the first-person subject, or lets just say person, has made the choice to seek and objectify his/her absolution through affirmation or negation of a public, and the latter being caught red handed to the extent of self-reflexive parody. Oprah and Cops, as logos or doctrines (both TV shows which provide instances of speaking) will be viewed in their productions of"utopian-confessionalism" and the way in which the first-person speaker is subject to the workings of dominant power interests behind the veil of self-empowerment.
Confession, with regard to TV that has an ability to frame, produce, reproduce, and endlessly generate commodifiable emotional states is divided by episodes or simply, time slots. One example is the apparition-esque appearance of Britney Spears on the syndicated Oprah Winfrey show on February 4, 2002. A young woman wrote to Oprah stating that it was her dream to meet Britney Spears after having gone to several of her concerts in every attempt to meet her. Oprah meets the young woman backstage, greets her to the light-hearted and literal reaction of "you white girls all look the same" and leads her to the main stage where an audience awaits in a bright cascade of studio lighting as though descending through clouds above, praises stapled upon the atmosphere in a thunder of clapping until they are standing, in camaraderie, at the center of the stage. Oprah then reveals, with her hands at the center of her chest, the "original" (as though handwritten) letter of the young woman pleading for Oprah to perform the miracle of Britney Spears to appear. The woman's words are read aloud by Oprah as though one of the criteria's to make Britney appear is if the plea were first released out onto the public to gain an inevitable stamp of approval, as the crowd too, desires it for themselves. Part of what evokes the bargaining gesture to be categorized as a "confessional" one, is that the woman begins to cry during the recitation of her letter. It is unclear to the viewer as to why she is crying, perhaps a montage of various registers: excitement, happiness, embarrassment that Oprah is reading her letter aloud, anxiety, not any singular drive that could stand solidly on its own. Perhaps no one will really know except herself. The woman, as a subject to be scrutinized and/or empathized within the gaze of the audience and Oprah (as a sign and/or organizing persona/replica of omniscience), exerts an ecstatic reconciliation of her fantasies coming to life and in the flesh through a more or less poetic and inarticulate code; that which is quantified and mediated through her tears within the confessional ring.
The woman has become subject to a tripartite relationship between power, pleasure and confession. The role of confession serves as a tool or mode of the Greek root techne for the former drives to be commanded in such a way within the confessional container, be it in a booth, closet, or TV show. In the case of Socrates who ironically saw the operation of techne or technology as a threat to order and Aristotle who viewed it as a human imperfection in an attempt to imitate nature, both interpretations of techne are applicable when assuming that the act of confession (derived from its Christian DNA) is on the brink, if not already a commodity of technological expression within TV production. Confession, as a televised working (socio-political) currency which requires production, and not metonymical, sets a specific tone and atmosphere for discourse to emerge between the talk show host, subject, and viewer. "Talk shows not only promote conversation and debate, they break down the distance between the audience stage." (Shattuc, 171) However, the distance between stage, audience, and outside viewing also speaks to the lack of distinctions between them. "They elicit common sense and everyday experience as marks of truth." (ibid) The tight circuit between subject and viewer is needed in order for common problem-solving and solutions to be made, problems which are relevant to themselves, including the viewer, in which the subject serves as an epicenter for the discourse to emerge. In regard to typical daytime shows that "... do not discuss specific governmental institutions, they are clear debates about the public sphere's growing intercession into the family, the home, and the regulation of the individual body," Shattuc privileges Oprah to the extent that her program "privileges process over a single truth or closure." (173) With the lack of distance between audience and stage and the value of "process" (perhaps also motivated by confession as an apparatus to link all three) considered as an ultimate approach to problem solving, certain moral codes also seem to be exclusive in that it caters to a specific 'species' of participants or viewership, and therefore, thrusting a pedagogy of "Oprahism" (also now being aware of creating neologisms as a potential drive for power in the act of naming), which is then returned to the subject and viewer as a mark of pleasure/empowerment or as a purple ribbon of open-ended reconciliation. "For Foucault, 'speaking out', naming, confessing, are part of a 'perpetual spiral or power and pleasure'." (Dovey, 106) In relation to this specific power drive executed within/through language, it is clearly executed in the baptismal fountain of identity-politics on the Oprah set. "The ubiquitous guest labels or "I.D's" (in production parlance) underline the social representativeness of the guests[...] The labeling offers a popularized version of the logic of identity politics, which attempts to break down the hegemonic notion of homogeneity or that "we are all one." (Shattuc, 174) However, although a hegemonic breakdown seems to appear on the surface, they collectively and literally wear their problems on their sleeves as labels, as in "a mother who wants to give away her violent child" (ibid), making them distinct individuals within the overall Oprah arena of "process" based discourse. If the label is a sign of individuality, then there is automatically a concern for where such a confession is taking place if self-identification is already in debt to the daytime talk show as a potential producer of identity in itself. However, individuals which actively participate and adhere to "process" oriented problem solving and to the identity-politic taking place, Oprah (also as an ideology) would inevitably be a source of self-empowerment, since part of the nature of a self-sustaining TV production is that it must maintain its own creed in order to build trust from its viewers and participants, hence, a self-reflexive flow of continuity provided by the entirety of the utopian-production. Power interest may have begun in a linguistic impulse to name and categorize, which is partially what the Oprah Winfrey show promotes on the flip-side, if an audience member claimed "Don't tell me how to feel. I am my experience." (178) Yes, one can claim to own how one feels, however, its a question of "owning" and "feeling" within a site-specific discourse in which it takes place inside of and to what extent an audience member is critical about what exactly it is that they "own" and "feel". Perhaps if society (or TV society) were truly self-empowered, there would be no need for daytime talk shows to imitate the need or seek it, but instead, realize it within themselves in a place where there'd be no need to display it under scrutiny or categorization if the empowerment could occur anywhere, far removed from any mediated gaze and more often in each others eyes, and where there'd no longer be a need to evaluate and affirm the "I" in relation to "experience" if it were simply lived without having to create a spectacle of it.
A 2003 episode of Cops begins with a few police officers gathered in a tattered office station in awe of a bicycle manufactured by Mercedes Benz in which they, as though playfully, make their way into a low-income pocket of America to implant the bicycle as bait on a sidewalk in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood. A middle-aged Hispanic male sees the bicycle leaning against a wall and decides to "go for a ride" in which he is already being studied by several positions: the hand-held camera, cops, producers, entire camera crew, and TV viewers. Not long after riding around a parking lot for roughly twenty minutes, it is as though a conglomeration of all the mentioned viewing positions rushed towards the man (as though a sale in a department store erupted where doors break open) through an artifice of rugged cinema verite convention. He is then man-handled and questioned for taking the bicycle in which he responds to the honest effect of "I took it because it was there." His "confession" is one that is pre-ordained, plotted, and provoked; the "scene of the crime" is staged in order for a discourse of confession to emerge which will then be used as a currency to buy him time if he admits to it. His confessing-subjectivity is clearly displayed as a mantle-piece or plaything on the altar of male policing while the cops themselves do not know how to gauge the honesty of his "petty theft." Moreover, the staging of the crime is self-reflexive and (ready) made available for anyone in the neighborhood to find himself trapped in the "interactive-installation." Participation in the pre-determination and parody-making of a crime is one that adheres to a shrewd limitation of free-will while part of the production of Cops is to produce (if not only the image of) "criminals." In effect, the production of criminals is heavily weighed upon developing a consistent stereotype of criminality which casts a net toward lower-income individuals in suburban pockets nationwide. In terms of power, especially when certain "moral codes" are instigated and enforced upon, this specific episode exemplifies that an object so neutral as a bicycle could serve as a symbol and medium for power to be exercised and where the "victims" of the plotted crime are seduced/manipulated into becoming unaware social actors for the sake of criminal production taking place within a theatricized arena. In this context of Cops, targeted individuals that play a criminal role unawares are ironically trafficked into the situation in which money is ultimately being made from their existential expense. In this sense, confession functions as a monetary tactic which cashes out at the vertex of live-video recording of the criminal's often forced submission to power partially based on a scripted plot. The police officers are in an equal position; a penumbra to the criminal's shadow since it takes both contrasts for monetary ends to inevitably emerge from the drama. Either way, the criminal is not only subject to serving as a social actor, but falls victim to an ongoing circulation of Cop's financial revenue which passes through his utterance of "I took it because it was there."
Posted by HAIR hearts FLIP at 6/20/2008 12:37:00 AM