Talking back: Monstrosity, mundanity, and cynicism in television talk shows

Fertile grounds for theoretical inquiry can be found in the oddest corners. Contemporary television programming provides viewers with several talk shows of the grotesque, as I will call them, in which the aim of each episode is to put some monstrous human phenomenon on display with the help of a host and a participating studio audience. In this paper I will try to support the unlikely claim that these talk shows, which include The Jerry Springer Show and Sally Jesse Raphael (among others), provide remarkably fruitful foci for theoretical attention. My plan is to give a reading of the ideological structure of talk shows of the grotesque. In particular, my interest lies in a relatively recent strand of ideological theory that has treated questions concerning the nature and reproduction of ideology as serious ontological questions: questions that go to the heart of our philosophical understanding of subjectivity, autonomy, and the metaphysics of belief and other intentional attitudes. Here I take the work of Louis Althusser, Judith Butler, and Slavoj i ek as paradigmatic and seminal representatives of this type of theorizing. My eye, in this paper, will be turned toward showing how the contemporary talk show of the grotesque provides us with a case study through which we can productively interrogate this new theoretical turn in our understanding of ideology. After spending a substantial amount of time laying down some theoretical groundwork, during which I take a selective and usurious tour through recent theories of ideology, performativity, and the constitution of subjectivity, I will analyze the talk show phenomenon by dividing it into four levels of participatory activity: those of the host, the guests, the studio audience, and the television audience. I will argue..
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