Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Burns and Thompson - Television Studies

Burns, Gary, and Robert J. Thompson. Television Studies: Textual Analysis. New York: Praeger, 1989.

Most of this collection of essays dealt with analysis of specific TV programs or types of programs. The more interesting articles were the first two (debating each other) and the last one, although it's not particularly brilliant (a bit of audience research). Let's quick hit essay...

Mike Budd and Clay Steinman - "Television, Cultural Studies, and the 'Blind Spot' Debate in Critical Communications Research
Rather Marxist. Criticizes television analysis that is purely cultural study which leaves out the political economic factors of television. The final sentences sum up the argument nicely: "When cultural studies, like film/TV studies, abstracts texts from the social and economic institutions of consumer capitalism, it imitates rather than critiques their decontextualizaion, their commodification of experience. Blinded to the socioeconomic, media studies all too easily slips into celebration, missing the urgent critique of domination's newest forms."

John Fiske - "Popular Television and Commercial Culture: Beyond Political Economy"
Post-Marxist. (One-upmanship!) Fiske (explicitly critiqued by Budd and Steinmen) counters with an accusation of a blind spot on their side: the audience. He begins with a simple yet intriguing chart that combines political economy (he calls it financial economy) with what he calls cultural economy.

The first circulation of TV's financial economy: (PRODUCER) Production Studio produces a (COMMODITY) Program which is sold to a (CONSUMER) distributor.

The second circulation of TV's financial economy: (PRODUCER) Program produces a (COMMODITY) audience which is sold to a (CONSUMER) advertiser .

[The Marxists, like Budd and Steinmen, would stop there. But Fiske insists on the importance of studying a second economy.]

The cultural economy: (PRODUCER) audience produces a (COMMODITY) meaning/pleasure which is sold to (CONSUMER) itself.

Here he sounds just like Frith (in Sound Effects), Stu and others, emphasizing that "the people are not cultural dupes and are not readily manipulable, either by the greedy barons of the industry or by benevolent paternalists who claim to have their interests at heart." (31)

Building his argument, Fiske uses Stuart Hall (Encoding/Decoding) and discusses polysemy - the capacity for signs (in this case, TV texts) to have multiple meanings depending on the audience. In fact, Fiske emphasizes, "Popular texts, then, in order to be popular, in order to meet the diverse needs of a diversity of audiences, have to be polysemic." (31) Fiske also complicates Hall's theories of dominant, negotiated, oppositional readings (expanding on this in a footnote on p.36) by suggesting that since people occupy different social positions from moment to moment (even within one session of viewing TV) their social alliances are constantly shifting. (26)

He ends with a swipe at the erosion of Marxism..."Those of us who wish the broaden and extend the range of cultural products in our society...have more to learn from the cultural industries..than we do from many traditional academic and economic theories whos ecentral position in academia is now being challenged." (35)

"Dallas" Refigured - Marsha Cassidy
refiguration - as the Dallas soap opera unfolds serially, the problems and the character development are subject to a constant transformation in the minds of the audience. This relies on the audience's memory of the story's history. The most dramatic example: Bobby's death turning out to be a dream, thus forces a refiguration of everything that happened on the show during that dream. The cliffhangers of the show make Dallas particularly notable as an example of refiguration. (I kept thinking of Lost as a more recent example, and one that plays with refiguration almost consciously.)

Cassidy also notes how refiguration allows characters to move from being good/sympathetic to evil/detested.

Flatulent Conceptions: "The Young Ones," Inoculation, and Emesis - Murray Smith
"The Young Ones" is a British sitcom that was (as I understand it) a borderline sketch comedy show because of its sharp, surrealistic plot turns. It was subversive because instead of confronting small doses of acknowledged evil and thus inoculating against it (Barthes) as most sitcoms would, TYO vomits (emesis) anarchistic behavior. This provides the intense pleasure of the show. Smith's larger aim is to complicate the sources of pleasure from TV from Fiske's suggestion that "pleasure always involves some form of resistance to (rather than complicity with) the ideological codes offered by any given cultural product." (72)

(American parallel...Perhaps...Sunny??)

Collective Blindness and American Television - THE Robert J. Thompson
Thompson marvels at the failure of audiences, even the most educated, to pick up on the subtle bathroom humor of Hill Street Blues (as well as St. Elsewhere). He compares it to "Three's Company," a critically panned show which similarly played with obscenity and filth just below the surface. He suggests audiences are just not used to watching/listening for the scatology etc. that Hill Street Blues revels in. BT suggests reasons: artistic (reflects the filth of the city), ratings (related to T&A TV), pleasure of an inside joke.

"He's Everything You're Not...": A Semiological Analysis of "Cheers" - Arthur Asa Berger
Cheers is a fairy tale: a story filled with signs containing multiple meanings (start with the names) built on semiological oppositions (elites v. middle class and lower).

And Justice for All: The Messages Behind "Real" Courtroom Dramas - Wende Vyborney Dumble
Court TV shows aren't realistic, and may dampen an audience's desire to use the justice system.

The Ratings "Sweeps" and How they Make News - Meg Moritz
During sweeps, local news coverage tends to become ratings-driven and horrible.

The Graphication and Personification of Television News - Herbert Zettl
The graphics of TV news tend to make the space look flat, and may the emphasize the anchor as more "personified" and "real."

Representations of Race in Network News Coverage of South Africa - Wendy Kozol
Simplified news reduces complexities to stereotypes. Representations of protesting blacks in South Africa is problematic, but it does give them an important voice on TV, thus enhancing their status towards a more equivalent position to whites.

Propaganda Techniques in Documentary Film and Television: AIM vs. PBS - Martin J. Medhurst
Emphasizes documentaries are NOT meant to be unbiased "documents" but rather reflect the perception and opinion of the author. Thus, a critic should analyze whether they are good or not by how well they act as propaganda.

TV's World of Sports: Presenting and Playing the Game - Jimmie L. Reeves
Sports tend to have conservative values, thus a crisis in the world of sports signals an "ideological rupture."

Invisible Fictions: Television Audiences, Paedocracy, Pleasure - John Hartley
Begins by addressing the comments of John Ellis (in his preface to Visible Fictions, first edition) that one nation's TV is incomprehensible to observers to other nations. Ellis says that "Broadcast TV is the private life of the nation-state." (quoted on 224) Ellis would later point out the value of approaching the unfamiliar, as demonstrated by Raymond William's famous observation of the "flow" nature of the TV medium.

From here, Hartley engages with Benedict Anderson, suggesting TV is one of the most powerful forces of national identity.

paedocracy - The TV industry imagines itself as a regime addressing its viewers as children, with childlike preoccupations and actions. Programs attempt to appeal to the "playful, imaginative, fantasy, irresponsible aspects of adult behavior." (234)

Hartley also clumsily uses Said, suggesting that the industry "orientalizes" the audience because it exists as an other "almost wholly within the imagination and rhetoric of those who speak on their behalf."

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