The Mick Sinclair Archive: Uninvited Guests




Laurie Taylor &

Bob Mullan




book review


Laurie Taylor & Bob Mullan

THE DUSTY academics and so-called experts who would have us believe that television is an undesirable palliative, a tool of manipulation and cause of all kinds of violence, while seeking to impose draconian restrictions on our viewing choices, spend so long refining their vitriol that they probably never have time to watch the stuff themselves.

I frequently want to grab these specimens by the coat tails and scream NO! IT'S NOT LIKE THAT I WATCH TV AND AM NEITHER A PSYCHOPATH NOR A ZOMBIE!

Fortunately Uninvited Guests might save me the trouble. It charts virgin territory because its intimate secrets (the title is used with an ironic tabloid-esque glee) come from the viewing public themselves, arranged in discussion groups and probed meaningfully about their relationship with the box.

The results is like much of the most cogent sociology – it tells us what anybody with an ounce of suss already knows but puts it in the context of serious research. Taylor and Mullan gather responses to soaps, quizzes and comedies and intersperse these with curious asides like viewers' favourite positions. Alice (35) doesn't like to slouch when watching the news; meanwhile Janet (37) likes to sit by the radiator so much that she's burnt her back.

I've always known that Bet Lynch isn't real but as a raw youth strode purposefully into a pub for the first time and ordered simply "a pint" a la Rover's Return. And the kernel of the findings, particularly in regard to soaps, points to audience recognition of that half-ground between fact and fiction.

Eastenders' Angie Watts can become a real part of a viewer's life without necessarily being perceived as a 'real' person (and her lack of acting ability needn't make her part less enjoyable – in fact it sometimes enhances the pleasure!). Instead she projects a metaphor of real person. Just as Dallas projects a metaphor of a particular lifestyle and its attendant intrigues.

So it pains me deeply when people are accused of 'believing' all this gunk. Disillusioned Louise (42) – I went to America and was expecting to see all these beautiful women walking round with really outrageous clothes wherever I went. But they weren't. They were all fat. No different to us" – happily emerges as the exception rather than the rule.

Essentially Uninvited Guests presents the British viewing public as individuals of flesh and blood not as a great amorphous mass immobile and wide-eyed before the box.

On the downside, the authors do gloss over the interesting area of 'TV guilt' (e.g. feeling that not watching in the morning is penance for watching in the afternoon) and devote little space to the impact of Channel 4.

Still, any bored readers can amuse themselves by pondering the relationships between the likes of Lucy (27), Bob (35), Jan (51), and just who is the father of Jessica (10)?

It's almost as much fun as television ...


mick sinclair

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