Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Core Response #2 : TV While You Work (Out)

In her chapter, “Television While You Wait,” Anna McCarthy argues that “one of television’s central institutional tasks in spaces [...] is to accompany - and, in the case of place based media, commodify - the act of waiting” (195). McCarthy’s chapter is a fascinating analysis of the function of television (both in terms of broadcast content and physical placement of the set) in a variety of public spaces, and she makes a cogent argument about television’s ability to structure and fill our experience of “empty” time (time spent waiting). As I embarked on my own journey to watch TV in a public space, I was struck with the realization that there are two areas McCarthy pays little (or no) attention to in her piece. Firstly, she seems to theorize the act of waiting entirely from the position of the customer / consumer waiting for service, rather than from the point of view of the employees who work in and around waiting rooms. Secondly, she does not attend to the specific function of television in the fitness center, where TVs surround gym members who are all in paradoxical states of static mobility (you’re running on that treadmill but really going nowhere). 

In both cases, the spectator is not in a full state of waiting (as he or she is occupied by work / working out), but is simultaneously waiting for the workday / work out to end. In this hybrid state of waiting while working (or waiting to stop working), the spectator is allowed to distract him or herself (intermittently for the office worker) through watching the television sets placed in the room. At the gym, the TV seems to offer the illusion of privacy (as discussed in Morse’s piece) in that it places focus on the content of the screen rather than on the other members surrounding the spectator. Trapped in the state of static mobility, the gym member is exposed to the view of others; he is a spectacle himself, running, jumping, grunting, etc. with no immediately visible reason motivating the action (ie running away from a herd of raging bulls, or jumping to reach fruit in a tree). Thus, he is made vulnerable, self-conscious, subject to ridicule. The TV in the gym offers a sense of relief and escape; one not only forgets that one is exercising, but also forgets that one is exercising in public. The notion that everyone in the gym is gazing at TV screens and not at each other makes the act of working out slightly more bearable, as it allows us to imagine that we are not, in fact, visible (or as Morse more elegantly writes, mobile privatization offers us "privacy amongst community, and an autonomy of protected self-hood" 208). We console ourselves with the idea that, certainly, no one is secretly self-conducting Rorschach tests with the giant sweat stains on our t-shirts to pass the time, nor is anyone observing the disturbingly rhythmic rippling of our rolls of fat as we jog along on the treadmill, because everyone is futilely attempting to read largely inaccurate and/or incomplete closed captioned text on an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Thank God for TV!

-Eszter Zimanyi  


  1. Eszter,

    I agree with the notion that the TV at the gym transports someone out of a mental idea of a public space, into an internal "private" one, though the body is still exposed... we forget about those around us in dissolving into the TV. I wonder if the TV in this space has had an impact on health? Are more people going to the gym as a result of television???

    1. Hey Lauren

      Thanks for your comment! That would actually be a really interesting study to try to conduct... I don't know if more people are going to the gym *because* of television, but it would be interesting to see if gyms kept records of their membership retention rates before & after installing TVs. I would imagine that after TVs were installed, some people would have felt a greater incentive to keep coming back; at the same time, members don't usually have control over what is playing on gym TVs so they may not get as much pleasure out of watching as they would at home. You've definitely given me something to think about! :)

  2. I guess it depends on the gym, but I actually heard about gyms in New York City that have higher attendance rates and more people signing up during seasons of premium cable shows. I guess it's cheaper to pay for a gym membership for a few months and watch Game of Thrones while you work out than spring for HBO.