Several of the readings this week critically address the notion of quality TV. Feuer tackles the so-called difference between primetime and daytime soaps. McPherson examines the masculinization of the serial form. Kackman posits the “elitist aesthetics” of quality TV are threatening to obscure TV studies roots in feminism.
These readings, combined with readings from other works, reinforce the suggestion that quality TV has come to mean rich, white, masculine, appropriated the serial form, and adopted cinematic aesthetics. Yet, I’m wondering if the embrace of cinematic aesthetics is truly a detriment to TV. Kackman would say so. He writes, “I’d argue that our pleasure in the operational aesthetic doesn’t come simply from observing the workings of a finely crafted watch, but from a sense that the product of its machinery will be something more broadly meaningful – it tells us what time it is. This is, essentially, a cultural operation, not an aesthetic one.” Both McPherson and Kackman chide 24 for its treatment of women characters, as well as its troubling nationalism. But that does not mean 24 cannot deal with other cultural issues. McPherson notes, “Finally we can read this multifaceted ambivalence as a manifestation of (and perhaps a latent critique of) a broad cultural and individual sense of having lost control: of information, of time, of technology, of gender boundaries, of the comforts of genre, of our work lives, of our government” (186).
The show seems to meet most of criteria for quality TV (maybe not rich since it was on network TV), and it even meets Kackman’s requirement since it taps into cultural anxieties. Yet, there is a hesitancy to hold up the show because of its conservative values. The devaluing of feminist criticism in favor of aesthetics seems to afford shows like 24 a pedigree it may not have been granted had it arrived in a cultural context other than immediately post-9/11. Do aesthetic or formal considerations have to depoliticize criticism? After all, the recognition of cultural anxieties in McPherson’s piece came from the recognition of 24’s use of running clocks and split-screens.