Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Some Thoughts on TV + the Publics

In Prime Time Ideology, Todd Gitlin points out, “(Television’s) most powerful impact on public life, may lie in the most obvious thing about it: we receive the images in the privacy of our living rooms, making public discourse and response difficult.”(255) Whenever we watch TV, we are addressed by the content and interpellated by the medium. Located in a private zone, the interpellation of television is particularly effective and powerful, because it infiltrates everyday life, weaving ideological hegemony into normality. On the other hand, Gitli’s statement implies television's limits as a public forum. Television on one hand carries an implication of publicness -- it claims to be and is believed to be public; on the other, it inevitably involves privatization of public discourses.  
This relation between the public and the private somehow reminds me of the last scene in Amayao Nanae’s book Hitori Biyori ("A Perfect Day to Be Alone"): when the main character says she wants to go see the outside world, her grandmother replies, “There’s no outside or inside in this world. Don’t you see there’s only one world?” In the case of television, the border between the private and the public is also leaky. Drawing on this idea of “one-worldness”, I am not denying the significance of mapping cultural and social topography with the dimensions of the private and the public, but alert to their constructedness and the blurred border in between. In this light, television is a medium that is constructed and imagined as an entrance/a window from the private to the public; but its actual capacity in generating public discourse is open to doubt. 
Here I would like to talk about denmaku (means bullet barrage or bullet screen), which is nowadays popular in East Asian online media culture. On certain websites, viewers can type in contents while watching a web series or a live video; and these contents will immediately appear on the screen, just like bullets -- so called "bullet screen". This way, viewers watch a video along with a “barrage” of other spectators’ responses -- a public viewing experience in a private viewing environment (And the "barrage" in some sense even "visualizes" the publicness of the medium). This collective communicative viewing experience enables the viewers to reach out to the public, but privately, distantly. Television with "bullet screen" to some degree echoes with the idea of “cultural forum”, not only in the sense of presenting “a range of responses” in different shows, but also involving spectator participation right on the spot -- a forum of both media producers and spectators. But I would say, although bullet screen suggests a possibility of public viewing experience, it is far from an ideal public cultural forum, as it does not really create meanings (most of the contents are trivial expressions of a certain emotion, shocked, excited, sad, etc). The meaning of bullet screen perhaps mostly lies in the imagination of a shared company, in the desire for an imagined public. 

An example of bullet-screen television watching: The Black Books, S1E01

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