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TV talkshows modern forum for confession

AUT academic dubs TV talkshows the modern forum for confession

Talkshows and reality television are the modern equivalent of confession, complete with declarations of guilt and absolution, according to AUT University's Professor Barry King.

"Reality shows and talkshows draw on the confession heritage of the Church for a set of background expectancies of what constitutes a 'true' confession, in order to nurture popular interest and engagement," says Professor King.

The format of demotic shows – Oprah, Dr Phil, Jerry Springer – owes much to the Protestant practice of testimony and bearing witness before the group, he says.

"The basic dramatic materials are personal testimony, argumentation, frank exchanges and cross-examination, consciousness-raising and the acceptance of the need for 'starting to stop' negative practices and bad behaviours, and the recognition of self-complicity in inflicting such behaviours."

Professor King also notes the disparity in the way regular guests are featured in talk shows, in contrast with their celebrity counterparts.

"Not all confessants are equal in the process of self-disclosure."

"The 'celebrity talk show', unlike its more demotic variants, represents a controlled process of revelation which is designed to display the person from a position of authority in relation to the host, as a professional equal, and the audience, live and mediated, as an admiring mass."

Professor King says Tom Cruise's couch-jumping antics in his 2005 interview with Oprah Winfrey were shocking to audiences because they were outside the routine pragmatics of the celebrity interview.

"It is an example [of a celebrity interview] which, through its ungainliness, was widely perceived as laughably abnormal."

Professor King is delivering his inaugural professorial address "On the Para-Confession" at AUT University this week.

Trained as a sociologist at City University, London, Professor King received his doctorate from the London School of Economics. He has taught in universities in the UK, US and Sweden and his research interests lie in the areas of communications and cultural theory.

Professor King is director of AUT University's Centre for Performance Studies, located in the Creative Industries Research Institute.


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