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.