Set Top Box: An artwork that watches and deconstructs the transcript and video of soap operas

Set Top Box is part of a series of artworks that deconstructs a television broadcast in real time to reveal hidden patterns of language. The software uses a computational linguistics tool called Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (LIWC) created by James Pennebaker at the University of Texas at Austin. By counting the incidence of specific categories of words speakers use, we can make judgments about their psychological states.

For this artwork, we pointed the software at the Soap Opera Channel. The melodrama of the broadcast is deconstructed into an annotated transcript and a shifting topography of color. In addition, a computerized voice tells the viewer when a character in the show is being emotional – more or less all the time!


Eric Gunther was born in New York in 1978. He studied Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at MIT, where he also worked on his Master's thesis in tactile composition at the MIT Media Lab.