Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Core Post 5: Going Big, But How To Go Small Again?

At SCMS this weekend, there was a very good panel about the various production cultures surrounding Hollywood in the 1920s-1940s, that were not necessarily the studios themselves. During the response, Brian Jacobson (Critical Studies alum!) asked an important question: what can all these studies of the industries tell us, if we cannot return to the actual aesthetics of the objects involved?

While one can contend what means by aesthetics, there is a possible question that comes under the discussions by Holt and Cladwell, which is whether there is a point of studying media industries if there is little to no consideration of the media involved. Holt writes, "The process [of deregulation] paved the way for the global media expansion and the intensive conglomerate consolidation that characterises the entertainment industry today" (26), but what does that mean in terms of how it affects what we watch?

I don't mean this necessarily as a critique—it's a question that's at the very center of my own project—but thinking about maybe what it means to be a media scholar, and the continuing diversification of the field. Is there some sort of duty, per say, to at least consider the objects at hand? Holt is not per say getting rid of aesthetic considerations, more as she is trying to fill in a gap left by the other scholars who are exploring the actual objects created by media. But what ultimately makes "must see" TV different from regular TV? Holt considers the development of certain slots and business considerations, but I do have lingering questions of how the production cultures themselves develop these shows.

Certainly, Cladwell attempts to return to aesthetics in his coverage of "the pitch," though at the risk of reducing the aesthetics of Miami Vice and Pee Wee's Playhouse could result in more nuance (as well as his lack of mention of Justin Wyatt's work on "high concept" is somewhat striking) (58). This might be the one weakness of the type of large scale media industry study—it can't account for small-scale decisions, points of "weirdness" made on the fly, or singular moments. Cladwell calls for a study of the "culture of production," but there might be a flaw in assuming large scale models (45). Every legal contract starts from a model, but each etches out certain exceptions and provisions that are unique to that particular show etc.

I have no doubt in the methodology of this type of work, as I subscribe to it, though it almost makes me wonder if the use of "media studies" almost no longer fits (maybe we should call ourselves #content studies?). My only question is by going so large, what are we losing? As important as it is to look at huge trends, they can't explain every show or every choice (business, legal, or aesthetic), and we may need to complicate the story once again.

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