Research Seminar: To (not) grow up with television: autobiography, disability and television spectatorship

The significance of Disney movies in life and relationships.

In a recent documentary Life, Animated (Williams, 2016), based on the book of the same name, journalist Ron Suskind chronicles the role and significance of Disney movies in the life, relationships and subjectivity of his son Owen, a boy growing up with Autism. For Owen and the Suskinds’ the home viewing of Disney videos were embedded in family life through routines and rituals of care, offering an important framework for and point of connection within the family and providing a means for expression and communication. Growing up with a younger sister with cognitive and physical disabilities, for me, there was much that resonated with the Suskinds’ repetitive and therapeutic use of Disney video. 

Sibling relationships invite comparison and make visible patterns of sameness and difference – of two sisters growing together but in different directions. In this presentation I consider video and film viewing in the home as part of the practice of television (or as ‘audio-visual siblings’ [Newman]) and as a pre-history to more recent time and place-shifting devices and platforms (such as ipads, mobile phones etc.). This is a media practice integrated into the home as a machine of rituals and repetitions – of after-school routines and teatime tantrums - accompanying the physical and emotional labours of care. Here, television is positioned within the context of the familial and the familiar as my sister Alice and my family’s own use of Disney videos are recalled to think through the iterative potentials of television as a site of comfort, safety and therapy as well as frustration and boredom.

Michael Davidson has argued that a value of disability is how it can be understood as ‘making normal life strange’ and it presents an avenue through which to rethink the ‘taken for granted’ and normalized uses of television in everyday life. Alice’s relationship with television (and a portable TV/VHS unit taken everywhere with us) offers a way in which to widen our understanding of media use and to complicate notions of ‘growing up’ and prevalent (normative) conceptions of childhood. I also consider how Alice’s story offers a way of opening up our understandings and analyses of television texts and experiences through forms of life-writing, offering a way to capture the medium's characteristics of intimacy, familiarity, repetition and duration as they are lived over time.  

Amy Holdsworth is Senior Lecturer and Head of Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on television and domestic media as interdisciplinary objects of inquiry, and her work has drawn upon theoretical traditions and frameworks within memory studies, childhood studies and disability studies. She is the author of Television, Memory and Nostalgia (Palgrave, 2011) and co-editor of Discourses of Care: Media Practices and Cultures (Bloomsbury, 2020). Her most recent monograph, On Living with Television (2021), has recently been published by Duke University Press.  

Please contact before 12 pm on 16th March to request an invitation.