WHAT THE PROJECT IS ABOUT:
Overbaked & Underproofed proposes to look closely at the language used in the judging segments of The Great British Baking Show (GBBS), a reality TV baking competition that has been on-air for more than ten seasons and has been one of the most-streamed original tv-shows in the US during the pandemic. As the only reality TV show in the top 15, it placed third in the “original content” category, only surpassed by Lucifer and Squid Game in 2021. GBBS accumulated more than 13 billion viewing minutes on streaming platforms in 2021.
Overbaked & Undreproofed (Ob&Up) is named for two of the most common words used by the judges when critiquing the “bakes” created by contestants, and these two words might already represent 10% of the limited judging vocabulary in use.
The project wants to probe how evaluative language works in GBBS and illustrate why the narrow vocabulary of judgment fundamentally fails to transmit anything evocative about the multi-sensory nature of the often complex edible objects at the competition’s center. Instead, Ob&Up argues, this paucity of language further flattens our screen-mediated relationship to the sense of taste. GBBS diverts attention from the lack of descriptive language by relying exclusively on visual elements. As viewers, we must taste with our eyes only.
Nuanced and descriptive language, which could take us beyond the visible, does not attempt to expand our experience. For example, the judges might only let us know that while a cake looks beautiful, its “flavors aren’t coming through .” Hm. As an audience member savoring and exploring what is tasted along with the judges is not available as an option. This discrepancy between the visual and the verbal points to the way in which —in the televised and virtual worlds— all senses seem to be required to recede and grant primacy to the visual. Considering the power of descriptive language to appeal to other senses in a medium that cannot produce taste, smell, and touch, the project wants to consider how this reliance on visual primacy excludes some audiences entirely and limits all audiences considerably.
To allow viewers of GBBS to explore how sparse and evaluative language contributes to a sub-par experience of “the bakes,” Ob&Up wants to mix an academic approach with a playful one. Part of the objective is to develop a watch party bingo game (see a low-tech version above) that viewers can play and then share via social media. By guiding viewers’ awareness to notice evaluative expressions, the simplistic framework of judgment, and the bland experience they offer, Ob&Up aims to induce a shift towards more conscious media consumption, ultimately producing a new and expanded media literacy.
SKILLS THE PROJECT WOULD HELP US DEVELOP AND PRACTICE:
Realizing this project would give us the opportunity to:
- Create and annotate/tag/organize a unique corpus (by extracting judging language from one season of the show)
- Work with text analysis tools and methods to explore the corpus and probe for other linguistic patterns, which might let us formulate additional research questions and yield additional insights
- Utilize data visualization tools to make our findings legible for a public audience
- Present a narrative of our findings to the audience via a website and social media
- Think about, develop, and integrate a simple “judge-this-bake” bingo game, which would serve a pedagogical function by fostering critical viewing via interactive engagement. (This could be a downloadable and printable bingo card.)
AND ONE MORE NOTE:
Alan Liu’s question “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” has been hugely influential in developing this idea, and Liu’s text is the reason why the project’s focus is on using the insights and evidence a new corpus can yield to investigate aspects of a cultural phenomenon. An endeavor that wants to explore, contextualize, and criticize a recent artifact of popular culture (an artifact like GBBS that is often coded as trivial, low-brow, and feminine) by employing DH methods can serve as an example of DH-informed cultural criticism and can also help to bring DH approaches to a broader audience. The playful context of the project should appeal to the many people who are fans and viewers of GBBS, as well as to people interested in linguistic and rhetorical aspects of evaluative language and the connection between language and the rendering of the sense of taste in digital environments.
Hey Maria, I am so onboarded with your project! You know I love it; I remember messaging you during your presentation. The GBBS is such a must-watch that, thanks to Netflix, has recently become a global phenomenon. When I first started in London, everyone was talking about it in the office, to the point that I had to start watching the show myself to avoid feeling cut off in conversations! For the record, I don’t bake nor cook that much, but I now know everything about cake glazing and pudding recipes, from Victoria sponge to Garibaldi biscotti! On a more serious note, I do agree with your point on how images and visual inputs are gradually replacing words and verbal/written discourse. Additionally, the limited glossary utilised during the assessments can be interpreted as a lack of depth in the dialogue, which often appears as a one-way exchange where the contestant is brutally diminished in his or her abilities and performances.
And I think that your playful approach is possibly the best way of showing this!
There is only one thing I would like to point out though, I believe it could be a good idea to include potential upsides of this type of tv-shows, and one of these could be the fact that they can help non-native speakers, at least to a certain extent, to pick up on English expressions and figures of speech. Now, the counterargument could be that, exactly because of this kind of tv programmes, people tend to learn a basic version of a language and stick to it instead of extending their vocabulary; however, this is what I would classify as a chicken-and-egg dilemma.
Anyhow, I cannot wait for your presentation!
Thank you, Gemma! That is a great idea. I think a GBBS corpus would lend itself to be used in a multitude of ways. Looking at how GBBS influences language (around baking and beyond) outside the show’s framework would be amazing. I think part of my obsession with how judging language in a British TV show works stems from the fact that English is not my first language either and that I always pay attention to how cultural context shapes/transforms/creates language from moment to moment — so I can figure out how to belong.
This is a great write up – I really appreciate the explanation of the humanities significance of this analysis, as well as consideration you put into listing the skills participants will be able to develop.
I agree with the premise that repetitive, shallow language on shows like this can flatten what we imagine/understand about taste; I’m curious about the impact of this language and how it becomes embedded and maybe even self-perpetuates over time. For example — as the show goes on season after season, each new batch of contestants is more familiar with the show, including its limited expressive range. I know this might be too much to do in a semester, but comparing a corpus from an early season to one from a recent season might help illustrate this flattening. Since the contestants are also viewers, do you think the flattening effect would show up in their own language? For example, do you think contestants in later seasons might be more likely to use the judges’ typical language in evaluating their own bakes?
This is such an interesting question, Elizabeth! And certainly one that a larger/multi-season corpus could help answer. Changes over time within this linguistic universe would be fascinating to track. One thing I am immediately thinking of is the emergence of “the Paul Hollywood handshake,” which was not part of earlier seasons: When a bake is so successful that its tasty splendor transcends the judges verbal capacities, judge Paul Hollywood just offers his hand for a silent, congratulatory shake. So, we might even propose the theory that the verbal language gets progressively sparser (and will eventually disappear).
Hi Maria, I haven watched a handful of episodes for fun awhile ago. This is definitely an interesting project, specifically because I do enjoy doing NLP work a lot. I think there are a lot of NLP techniques that could be useful here (entity, type-of-word encoding/ recognition, etc.).
My main question is: Is the caption of the show already readily available somewhere? If not, how do we plan on creating the text corpus?
Hi Maria! I’ve never ever watched GBBS but after reading your proposal maybe I’ll start! Fun fact I did collaborate and coordinated a project in a museum that asked bakers around NYC to come up with their own Gingerbread creations for the Holiday season. So, if you every wish to reach out to nyc bakers for their most used terminology and their multi-sensory vocabulary I have some people we can talk to! LOL On a more academic note, I’m so taken by your critical approach to DH investigating a subject that is fun and popular. Would love to see if what you find doing this project in terms of lacking or narrow vocabulary about sensory experience like taste or smell can transfer to a broader cultural critique of our current consumption of media. There’s many theoretical work, I think, that has been done on the primacy of the visual vs. any other sense… not just to describe experience (for example eating a cake) but also in terms of producing knowledge (data/evidence) about the world… are you going to explore more down that road of the limited vocabulary of the senses or you rather focus on other parts of the project?
Super cool project proposal Maria! I have not watched GBBS but now curious to check it out. I like the topic and it has the potential to improve viewer experience. I think exploring and evaluating the sparse language usage of the judges, by the viewers, would be very telling. I am interested in watching other baking/cooking shows and focus on the descriptive language usage. I wonder if the language usage/script on GBBS is intentional. I imagine future technologies will have an impact on viewer experience for a show like this. An example would be a multi-sensory device (similar to an Alexa) that would release the scents of the baked items in the home as one is watching the show. I look forward to your pitch tonight.
Great project idea- as a linguist in this specific field I’m definitely interested. My concern comes from comparisons- if we’re doing textual analysis of GBBS and hypothesizing what the language is or isn’t doing, we need corpuses of other baking shows. That’s a lot of work without someone with Python skills, but it can be done. I know some of the linguistic differences are cultural, as many have pointed out the difference between American baking shows and British ones, but otherwise I’d love to figure it out and compare the two. I also have access to a tool called JGAAP that we can use to analyze the demography or etc characteristics of the text, provided we have a corpus to compare it to, and not to mention Voyant as a tool. If we have someone who can use Python, we can also do sentiment analysis. …Basically it sounds like you can count me in, lol.