Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Thinking Live

Jane Feuer challenges a general sense of liveness and its role in the medium specific role of television. However, I wonder if we can think about the usefulness of liveness through two different ways that Feuer's essay brings up. I agree with Feuer's general consensus that liveness works as a way to "lend a sense of flow which overcomes extreme fragmentations of space" (19), but what exactly is liveness and what makes it unique in television.

"Just imagine yourself trying to throw yourself into the climax of a serious play. At the crucial moment you’re right in the mood. Then, suddenly you see an electrician or a camera man trying to steal second base right before your eyes." This is Dennis King, a popular actor in the 1950s live television era, complaining about how exactly liveness has changed his performance style. Newscasters are meant to carry a certain persona style that is quite different from film, and while I'm not exactly sure I believe this, McCluhan said in the Australian TV debate that sports players changed the way they moved based on the presence of cameras. Whether we want to see performance style as part of television's medium specificity or as simply an effect, liveness has certainly shaped some of TV's perception when it comes to performance. Even Feuer's description of the performance of David from GMA reveals TV's liveness (18). 

Feuer discusses the role of advertisers in the role of its program's "mode of address" and its opaqueness (21). But thinking about the specificity of advertisers, this reminds me of a way we can think about the medium specificity of television in its historical place. When movies feature advertisers, they have to be extremely broad—product placement, or perhaps "Buy War Bonds" in 1940s American films (I guess the theaters themselves can be hyperlocal). In TV, however, often advertisers have a better idea of who is watching, not just in terms of space, but also TIME. We often think of television liveness in terms of its broadcast content, but what about its reception. Advertisements are often thought of in terms of their live reception (say, cleaning products in the morning, beer commercials in the evening). So perhaps there is a live element to reception that must be considered when thinking about why television works the way it does?

—Peter Labuza

Dennis King quote from Arthur Altschul, "From Stage to TV: Dennis King Finds That Video Presents New Challenge to the Performer," New York Times, Feb 20, 1949.

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