Television Viewing Rituals

Artist Martin Creed, Turner Prize winner 2001, creates artworks, many of which hinge upon repeated processes patterns and progression. Some of his work is also quite visceral. He reckons that facing such things is quite difficult and horrible but you feel better afterwards. Critics have speculated they somehow represent a kind of obsessive working through of various underlying fears to which Creed responded ‘ I think that must be the case…I’m sure everyone has their own things – its like your own religion almost, your own ritual.’

When I read this I started thinking it sounded a bit like what some of us may go through when we watch all things Nordic Noir on TV. Ritual is, loosely defined, a sequence of activities, a ceremony or procedure, performed in a certain place designed (perhaps) to influence forces on behalf of ones interests. Ritual can be lonely but is often a community supported or performed activity. Through sharing our rituals and shared experience a sense of community is built.  When we sit down to watch our favourite TV shows we do so knowing that others are watching too and that this experience can be shared through social media and conversation.

My personal rituals for watching a Nordic Noir drama on TV are that it must be past the time that I will be disturbed (no knocks at the door or phone calls), the children must be in bed, the living room is tidy and cosy.  I make myself two cups of tea before I start watching.  This ritual developed over time from one cup, which  I would instantly drink without noticing because I was gripped by the opening of the show. Ten minutes into the programme I’d reach out for my tea and find an empty mug, I wanted tea but didn’t want to stop watching, hence the two cups these days. In the days when this blog started (as part of a fan group and academic study) and we were all watching on live TV at the same time (BBC4, 9pm), I would check Messenger or the hashtag on Twitter quickly and see what was being said. This heightened the excitement and anticipation of watching.  Now that we all mainly watch shows at different times I will still check the hashtag (but maybe not with as much frequency or expectancy). I might message a friend who I know has watched/is watching the same show to say that I am going to start watching it but its not quite the same.

I did love the sense of community online when the first series of The Killing and The Bridge aired on BBC4. It was beautiful and lead to some hilarious moments.  Now that spontaneous comment seems to be lessened by the way we watch, with a hashtag perhaps initially growing but mainly gathering material over a longer time. I might check social media again after watching to see what people’s chat and opinions were.  I used to love checking Vicky Frost’s blog on the Guardian online after The Killing to see if I had missed anything or had a different take on a particular aspect.  That was fun!

I remember talking this idea over with Sheila, a member of our group who is no longer with us.  She had a lot of experience with ritual through her study of Karate and T’ai Chi. When doing these activities she told me that performing the rituals repeatedly allowed her to learn new things about a move every time she did them.  When thinking about ritual and watching dramas (and probably to some extent listening to The Archers – she was a huge fan) Sheila said ‘ I guess I am influenced when I’m watching these programmes, by the fact that I know I’m part of a group of people who are watching, or who will watch in the future, and that we will talk about them. This, perhaps, makes me think about the programmes in a different way – so and so will like that bit, what will such and such think about that? So is this a sense of ritual influencing me? (I originally watched the Swedish Wallander programmes without knowing anyone else, apart from my other half, who watched them and so there was no-one to talk to, about them.)’ Being part of a group, be it in the flesh or online definitely brings something to our viewing experience.

Getting back to the original thought of Martin Creed that the ritual process helps you to deal with some things which are quite difficult and horrible…it makes sense when you think of the darkness of many Nordic Noir shows.  The violence, twisted thoughts, betrayals, blackmail, secrets that these shows portray feed into our underlying fears.  Most people with any empathy will watch and feel something, some shows leave me completely drained.  Our rituals provide some physical and mental comfort and let us work through and cope with what we are watching and in the case of many of these shows we know beforehand they are going to be dark and violent. We know we are not alone and through our viewing rituals we provide ourselves with a space to process the fears and issues raised by the drama. 



  1. I loved those BBC4 9pm days! And I love your 2 cup strategy!

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