Talking Trash: The Cultural Politics of Daytime TV Talk Shows

Talking Trash: The Cultural Politics of Daytime TV Talk Shows

Talking Trash: The Cultural Politics of Daytime TV Talk Shows

Talking Trash: The Cultural Politics of Daytime TV Talk Shows


"An important contribution to our understanding of the talkshow genre and its cultural political funtion." - American Journal of Sociology

"A wide-ranging exploration of some key theoretical issues in cultural sociology centerting on subjectivity, sense-making, and cultural heirarchy." - Contemporary Sociology

"A cogent analysis of our culture." - The Times

When The Phil Donahue Showtopped the ratings in 1979, it ushered in a new era in daytime television. Mixing controversial social issues, light topics, and audience participation, it created a new genre, one that is still flourishing, despite being harshly criticized, over two decades later. Now, the daytime TV landscape is littered with talk shows. But why do people watch these shows? How do they make sense of them? And how do these shows affect their viewers' sense of what constitutes appropriate public debate?In Talking Trash, Julie Engel Manga offers a fascinating exploration of these questions and reveals the wide range of reasons viewers are drawn to "trash talk." Focusing on such shows as Oprah!, Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones, and Maury Povitch, and drawing upon interviews with women who watch these shows,Talking Trashis the first examination of the talk show phenomenon from the viewers' perspective. In taking this approach, Manga is able to understand what talk shows mean to the women who watch them. And by refusing to judge either the shows or their viewers as good or bad, she is able to grasp how viewers relate to these shows-as escape, entertainment, uninhibited public discourse, or an accurate reflection of their own hardships and heartaches. Manga concludes that while the form of "trash-talk" shows may be relatively new, the socio-cultural experience they embody has been with us for a long time.Absorbing, entertaining, and keenly perceptive,Talking Trashilluminates the complex viewer response to "trash talk" and examines the cultural politics surrounding this wildly controversial popular phenomenon.


The objects of our criticism are not close calls. They are shows
that typically cross way over the line. We have described their
contents as cultural rot. How else could one describe shows
whose typical subjects include a 17-year-old girl boasting of
having slept with more than 100 men, a 13- year-old girl talk
ing about sexual experiences that began when she was 10, or
“Women Who Marry Their Rapists”? (Bennett 1996: B9)

The talk show can be seen as a terrain of struggle of discursive
practice … because of the nature of the format … What is con
ceived as confrontational devices become an opening for the
empowerment of an alternative discursive practice. These dis
courses do not have to conform to the dictates of civility or the
general interest. They can be expressed for what they are: par
ticular, regional, one-sided, and for that reason politically
alive. Few other shows on television today can make that claim.

(Carpignano et al. 1993: 116)

“Alternative discursive practice,” “cultural rot,” something else entirely, or many things at once? Why is it that certain television talk shows are so controversial? Why do those who criticize these shows consistently seem to have such strongly felt, often morally tinged opinions about them? Why, on the other hand, do millions of people watch these shows daily? And, who, if anyone . . .

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