Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Gender, Class, TV, and the Doctor's Office - Core Post 2

In “Television While You Wait,” a chapter from Anna McCarthy’s Ambient Television, McCarthy explores the role that television plays in regulating time in public space. At the beginning of the chapter she notes that television in the domestic space plays a crucial role in establishing gendered power dynamics, and that TV’s function as a device that structures power also extends into public space (pg. 195). This division of power is further complicated by the fact that TV commodifies the act of waiting. Although McCarthy explores a number of different ways television is allocated to spaces of waiting, I am particularly interested in her dissection of television in the doctor’s office waiting room, and the complicated relationship between content, provider, and viewer.

McCarthy uses medical programming provider Accent Health Network (produced by CNN) as a specific example of place-based media that is found exclusively in hospitals and doctor’s offices. According to sociologist Barry Schwartz in Queuing and Waiting, “modern society might easily be divided into two classes: those who have to wait and those who don’t,” (pg. 198). And as McCarthy points out, “for many people – women, the poor, and others who occupy particularly disadvantaged positions within systems of social administration – the long wait is a time-consuming and inevitable requirement of basic access to goods and services in modern life,” (pg. 198). While Accent Health is intended to provide health-information based content for those who spend time in waiting rooms, in 1998 each hour slot included 40 minutes of health-related programming and 18 minutes of advertisement. The advertisements were (and presumably still are) designed with each office’s specific focus in mind, whether pediatric, OB-GYN, sports-medicine, or otherwise. The result is a promotion of consumption within a medical facility, which has ethical implications without the added complication of the power structure of the waiting room. As McCarthy points out, it seems that freedom from advertisement is only afforded to the doctor’s themselves – both patients and employees are subjected to content and consumerism that is virtually inescapable (a divide that is often delineated by gender and economic status).

Out of curiosity I decided to check out Accent Health TV’s website (http://www.accenthealth.com/) to see how they are marketing their programing. What I found is that their promoted demographic of would-be waiting room viewers (both patients and doctor's office employees) is almost entirely women and people of color. In particular, when clicking on their information for potential advertisers, all of the images were of women (holding a bottle of medicine and standing in front of a medicine cabinet, for example) which I found extremely unsettling. This strange link between for-profit medical endeavors and patients/consumers only further complicates the already complex structuring of space in the waiting room.


  1. I'm happy you brought up the thought of consumerism as an issue with the programming in a doctor's office waiting room. It's understandable that the programming is meant to educate the patients on different issues as they wait but the addition of ads seems a bit much to me. It just goes back to how society is more concerned about consumerism than the actual people. I don't remember which one of our past readings touched on consumerism and how it became more common and prevalent because of television. The doctor's office waiting room seems to be one of the least likely places to advertise and get people to buy things but it's how Accent Health is trying to make a profit. Also, I remember the AH programming from when I was younger and even recently. They are a complete bore and none of the ads makes me want to buy anything.

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  3. I love this idea of the TV in the waiting room as being a comfort rather than a bother. Christal, you bring this up nicely here (and Raymond brought it up nicely in his post too). I think the idea of TV as selling us something as necessarily being a bad thing is curious, because we really don't know any media that does not sell us something. The alternative to all this stuff is reading a book printed by an artisan (all magazines have had and many books promote other books by the same imprint or author). This seems particularly relevant this week with the Super Bowl, which get's more viewers than anything else on American TV and which many people watch for the ads, somehow ignoring that while they enjoy or are discomfited by "puppy monkey baby", they are actually learning that Mountain Dew has a new drink (that we might not ever use). People are much more shocked at Peyton Manning for promoting his own interest in Budweiser/AB InBev as if the post-game interview is something more sacrosanct... as if the sponsored jersey or hat he's wearing in the same shot isn't doing the same thing.

    One last comment about Julia's post is that I recently found out that when Twitter gives you a "verified" account, you stop getting ads. Something about that makes me uncomfortable... along the lines of Doctors not seeing so many ads in their waiting rooms. (I actually think they are constantly barraged by ads from Big Pharma and the like, though I take your point, Julia.)

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