Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Conservative Interpretation of Parks and Recreation

In this otherwise unremarkable critique of President Obama's executive actions, check out a Conservative writer's interpretation of seven seasons of Parks and Recreation.

Some Thoughts on TV + the Publics

In Prime Time Ideology, Todd Gitlin points out, “(Television’s) most powerful impact on public life, may lie in the most obvious thing about it: we receive the images in the privacy of our living rooms, making public discourse and response difficult.”(255) Whenever we watch TV, we are addressed by the content and interpellated by the medium. Located in a private zone, the interpellation of television is particularly effective and powerful, because it infiltrates everyday life, weaving ideological hegemony into normality. On the other hand, Gitli’s statement implies television's limits as a public forum. Television on one hand carries an implication of publicness -- it claims to be and is believed to be public; on the other, it inevitably involves privatization of public discourses.  
This relation between the public and the private somehow reminds me of the last scene in Amayao Nanae’s book Hitori Biyori ("A Perfect Day to Be Alone"): when the main character says she wants to go see the outside world, her grandmother replies, “There’s no outside or inside in this world. Don’t you see there’s only one world?” In the case of television, the border between the private and the public is also leaky. Drawing on this idea of “one-worldness”, I am not denying the significance of mapping cultural and social topography with the dimensions of the private and the public, but alert to their constructedness and the blurred border in between. In this light, television is a medium that is constructed and imagined as an entrance/a window from the private to the public; but its actual capacity in generating public discourse is open to doubt. 
Here I would like to talk about denmaku (means bullet barrage or bullet screen), which is nowadays popular in East Asian online media culture. On certain websites, viewers can type in contents while watching a web series or a live video; and these contents will immediately appear on the screen, just like bullets -- so called "bullet screen". This way, viewers watch a video along with a “barrage” of other spectators’ responses -- a public viewing experience in a private viewing environment (And the "barrage" in some sense even "visualizes" the publicness of the medium). This collective communicative viewing experience enables the viewers to reach out to the public, but privately, distantly. Television with "bullet screen" to some degree echoes with the idea of “cultural forum”, not only in the sense of presenting “a range of responses” in different shows, but also involving spectator participation right on the spot -- a forum of both media producers and spectators. But I would say, although bullet screen suggests a possibility of public viewing experience, it is far from an ideal public cultural forum, as it does not really create meanings (most of the contents are trivial expressions of a certain emotion, shocked, excited, sad, etc). The meaning of bullet screen perhaps mostly lies in the imagination of a shared company, in the desire for an imagined public. 

An example of bullet-screen television watching: The Black Books, S1E01

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Streaming Cultural Forum- Core 1 Katherine Robinson

 Horace Newcomb and Paul Hirsch argue that television is a forum of public thought. Television has taken the place of cultural ritual as a location of cultural debate and negotiation (563-4). Television does not so much indoctrinate or perpetuate cultural hegemony, as argued by Todd Gitlin in “Primetime Ideology: The Hegemonic Process in Television Entertainment,” as provide an apparatus for the discussion of timely cultural issues. Conflicting, multiple meanings can be read into television programs, allowing different groups to collectively consider a topic in the common space of broadcast television (569). Television is the modern bard, allowing a variety of cultural meanings and conclusions to be gleamed from one common product (571).

Heather Hendershot points out in “Parks and Recreation:The Cultural Forum” that Newcomb and Hirsch’s argument is rooted in the network era. She asserts that the decline of mass viewership has resulted in a loss of television’s status as a universal, confrontational force (205-6).  Television shows like Parks and Recreation still tackle controversial topics, but they do so for a niche audience. It is difficult to assert that television is a forum for differing interest groups to collectively confront cultural topics when most interest groups are not watching the same programs. Even so, Hendershot asserts that contemporary niche shows like Parks and Recreation still provide a kind of cultural forum by presenting a variety of conflicting viewpoints on cultural topics and refraining from asserting a definite opinion (211).

I argue that Hendershot’s assertion that television no longer holds the mass viewership necessary to function as society’s bard is itself rooted in the era in which it was written. With the emergence of streaming television, we have seen a resurgence of  a mass debate around television programs, albeit not always immediately post-release. For example, Netflix’s recent Making a Murderer (2015) engages controversial cultural topics and has quickly engendered a huge amount of debate from many different groups. Whether viewers agree or disagree with the program, Making a Murderer has served as a touchstone for topical debates. Viewers may not all watch the show at the same time or in the same way, but they are able to gleam multiple meanings and utilize both the program and the conversation around it in negotiating their position in the zeitgeist. The “flow” and “strips” of television may have changed, but its position as a cultural forum remains intact.

Brothers & Sisters: Situated Within the Hegemonic Ideology (Core)

            A cursory analysis of ABC’s primetime soap opera Brothers & Sisters (2006-2011) would seemingly support the notion of the cultural forum as established by Horace Newcomb and Paul M. Hirsch.  The show centers on the Walker family, who are forced to pick up the pieces of their personal and professional lives in the wake of the patriarch’s death (this occurs in the pilot, so no spoiler alert necessary).  Within this family is a composite of various American demographics.  The mother, Nora, is a die-hard liberal alongside her openly gay son, Kevin; they often come into conflict with the staunch conservative daughter, Kitty who later falls for a Republican Senator running for President.  The youngest child, Justin, is a Iraq War veteran who is also a recovering drug addict. 
            These conflicting identities allow the program to pursue a variety of contemporary issues and hot-button topics.  However, it is done within the framework of an upper class, white nuclear family from California.  Throughout the show’s run, the consistent conflict—outside of interpersonal drama within the family—is the Walker family business, and its struggles to survive.  The capitalist venture that informs the family’s upper-class values creates the prism through which they view the world.
             This blind spot in the Walker family is a similar blind spot to the one in Newcomb and Hirsch’s own essay.  While the cultural forum is certainly a beneficent potentiality of the television medium, to extricate it from the institutional practices of the television business ignores the hegemonic ideology that constructed the forum in the first place.  As Todd Gitlin says in his essay, “Major social conflicts are transported into the cultural system, where the hegemonic process frames them, form and content both, into compatibility with dominant systems of meaning” (264).  I do not intend to insinuate that hegemonic ideology incapacitates resistant spectatorship, nor that television is monolithic in its cultural objectives.  Rather, I simply wish to assert that the “cultural forum” is situated within a larger structure.

Core Post 2: the Status Quo vs Niche TV

In “Television as a Cultural Form,” Horace Newcomb and Paul M. Hirsch put forward a cultural basis for television analysis. This cultural view sees television as a distillation of public thought, wherein questions and discussions about popular problems of the day are asked, but not answered (564). They then suggest a forum model for analysis, placing each show in the context of the shows around it so that discussion is generated not only by the content of the individual shows but also by the contrast of shows in a TV night, day, or week.

When analyzing network television, this is a model that holds up surprisingly well. ABC’s Scandal, for instance had an episode on March 5, 2015 called “The Lawn Chair” which touched on Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement with a story about a protest that starts after a black man is shot by a cop. As foreseen by Newcomb and Hirsch, Scandal backed away from an ending that landed firmly on the side of the protesters or the police; the killer cop was revealed to be racist and corrupt, so the police force disowned him and the protesters were mollified.

Zooming out from the individual episode of Scandal, the show was scheduled as part of TGIT, three shows executive produced by showrunner Shonda Rhimes. On the night of March 5, the episode of Scandal was sandwiched between an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, a show lauded for its diverse cast which nevertheless focused primarily on its white characters’ problems, and a rerun of How to Get Away with Murder, the Viola Davis-headed show that features people of color and LGBTQ characters even more prominently. Looking at Thursday night from this level, the dominance of Shondaland can be seen as one successful example of burgeoning diversity in representation and plotlines. Though if we zoom out even farther, we see that the rest of ABC’s programming is still primarily white and male, Shondaland’s Thursday night dominance being the exception rather than the rule.

This mode of cultural analysis sits more precariously when we look towards cable and online television, though. The latest season of Orphan Black (BBC America) and Jessica Jones (Netflix), both of which are scifi shows with online fanbases, recently tackled rape culture. In both cases, the male villains had nonconsensual sex with women, leading to serious repercussions. Rather than generating a discussion of these issues or approaching it from multiple sides - in this case, the side of the rapist - both shows portrayed their female heroines defeating the villain and making him atone for his sins. Both shows eschew discussion for a clear message: rape culture is dangerous and prevalent. I wonder if their new mode of distribution explains why. Both shows appeal to niche audiences (cable and online), so they don’t have to appease the status quo. A more directed focus, not only in content but also in message, may be what differentiates our burgeoning niche TV culture from the mass appeal broadcast culture of the past.

Response to WEEK 3 Readings - Raymond Talovera

            This week’s reading delved into the ever so frequent discussion of hegemony within television, its power as a super structure, and how each respective time period featured television programs that reflected their respective zeitgeist.  What is new to me is the position that the shows were not merely taking a side and pushing forth a specific political agenda, but instead as Newcomb and Hirsch suggests, is providing a space for a forum. Rather than looking towards one specific episode to see a show’s standpoint, an entire series can add depth to the conversation.  Throughout its airing, shows often have moments of change through opposing standpoints and shifting beliefs.   Even though not as extreme as primetime television before the turn of the century, few shows today feature this same shift as characters are older, or writers obtain new beliefs or new levels of fame.  I think of even a cartoon like family guy, one that started off with messages and then perhaps somewhere in Macfarlane’s popularity, shifted toward tactless comedy. Also it was mentioned that certain shows ran the risk of complaint and even cancellation when certain topics became a bit too salient, and how in our day and age, with television spreading across multiple platforms and reaching niche audiences, it is much harder to offend.  Often because certain shows may go unnoticed at first by certain groups, as suggested by Hendershot in reference to the show Parks and Recreation, it is easier to push boundaries and go beyond the status quo in ways former broadcast television could not.

            I would argue even further that in today’s television, there are shows that still are trying to take on that traditional patriarchal hegemonic family structure, with often some kind of post racial, neoliberal attachment to it.  I think of shows like Fresh off the Boat and Black-ish, which are essentially the same shows that All in the Family and Father Knows Best are, just perhaps with race being part of the joke more often. In other shows, mostly shows on cable, there are sitcoms that are taking more risks, putting there political agenda in the open through character rants, for example Master of None, where episodes are literally discussions, but favoring a perspective.  Other times shows are so ridiculous that they lose their point all together and try to see how far they can push things.  They both kind of disregard the notion of a forum since one clearly takes a point and cannot in my opinion be argued against by other shows with opposing views, since people may not know about the other show.   The second example in a way destroys the forum by laughing at both sides, such as a show like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Core Post 1

Reading Todd Gitlin’s essay, “Prime Time Ideology: The Hegemonic Process in Television Entertainment," felt like watching an episode of Black Mirror. The experience was one of marvelous reverie followed by creeping distress, and Gitlin’s commentary – much like that of the British TV show – is incisive but deeply bleak. Setting out to describe the hegemonic thrust of certain TV programs, Gitlin eventually asserts that major social conflicts are brought into the body of cultural production and made digestible, regardless of whether they began as alternatives to dominant thoughts and assumptions. In fact, it’s the unique nature of the hegemonic system to reproduce and reconfigure itself by negotiating, managing, and overriding these oppositional forms (264). Even though TV may allow for varying currents of thought, those sundry currents are inevitably made to be “compatible with the core ideological structure” (263). Meanwhile, in “Television as a Cultural Forum,” Newcomb and Hirsch echo this conception of TV as a cultural form that relays, reproduces, processes, and refocuses ideology rather than creates it: “Our most traditional views, those that are repressive and reactionary, as well as those that are subversive and emancipatory, are upheld, examined, maintained, and transformed. The emphasis is on process rather than product” (564). Essentially, both essays converge on the idea of TV as “the terrain on which” fault lines in American society “are expressed and worked out” (569). However, Gitlin might understand the cultural forum as powerless to effect change in the face of routine workings of the market and commercial culture. 

            This feeling of futility permeates the Black Mirror episode, “Fifteen Million Merits,” and not just on a narrative level. In the episode, people toil for the chance to compete on an X-Factor style gameshow called Hot Shots. After one character’s friend goes on the show and is bullied into becoming a porn actress, he hatches a plan to draw attention to the corrupting and unfair system in place. Interrupting his own stage act, he holds a shard of glass to his neck and rants about the cruelty of the system, but his moment of uninhibited passion and eloquence is transformed by the judges into a “performance” worthy of his own show. Here illustrated is Gitlin’s position that hegemonic systems override and reconfigure alternative thoughts in order to make them more compatible with the core ideological structure. In this case, real oppositional emotion becomes evacuated of its potency by being labeled and then repeated as a performance. “Fifteen Million Merits” should probably be lauded for conveying this idea, but what’s troubling is that even Black Mirror seems vulnerable to absorption by the system it satirizes. As the show becomes a “legitimated” form of opposition – by being picked up by Netflix, for instance – it just slots neatly into the hegemonic system, which seeks always to commodify new trends. If Gitlin’s conception of the hegemonic system in TV seems plausible, then “Fifteen Million Merits” has portended Black Mirror’s demise by absorption. Or, perhaps Gitlin has fashioned an argument equally as impervious to opposition as the system he describes.

week 3 reading response

     Heather Hendershot, in her article “Parks and Recreation: the Cultural Forum,” redefines the pattern of television as a cultural forum and marks the concept of the cultural forum presented by Horace Newcomb and Paul M.Hirsch in their article “ Television as a Cultural Forum” as the old cultural forum. Hendershot claims that “narrowly targeted niche TV thus provides ‘self-confirmation,’ leaving little room for the old cultural forum ideal of ideas in conflict” (206). Both articles keep away from the left-right debates about hegemonic beliefs and neutrally describe television as a cultural forum that puts emphasis on “process rather than product, on discussion rather than indoctrination, on contradiction, and confusion rather than coherence” (211)(564). However, I would like to borrow a sentence describing “hegemony” from the third article, “Prime Time Ideology: the Hegemonic Process in Television Entertainment,” to comment on the idea of the cultural forum that if something explains everything, it explains nothing (252, Gitlin).
     Thanks to the third article, which pulled back to face the debate of hegemonic ideology in television directly, because the development of communications technology is for military and political operation (12 Raymond Williams), there is no doubt that, from the perspective of producers, hegemonic ideology has always existed in television as a cultural forum, whether it is new or old. Nevertheless, I am interested in the effectiveness of the hegemonic process in these two different development periods, or in other words, how audiences can be manipulated by the intention of hegemonic ideology. In the old culture forum period, Victor Turner presented the view of the liminal stage (563), which was an unstable stage for cultural hegemonism because individuals were looking for texts that matched their preexisting experiences (570). This meant that individuals still had the attitude to choose between two options: to be persuaded or not. However, in the “new” culture forum, “narrowly targeted niche TV provides refined ‘self-confirmation’” to manifold audiences, so that individuals can have different options: to be persuaded by A, B, C, or D. Therefore, describing TV as a cultural forum is inappropriate because a discussion does not exist between TV and the audience. Instead, audiences are accepting the other indoctrinations from A, B, C, or D.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sports Entertainment and TV Hegemony (Core Post)

I'm impressed with how much of Gitlin's argument about hegemonic strategies of network TV still holds up. In particular I'm interested in his section on televised sports and how it changes the way the audience understands the game and the structures of the televised game itself. He says that when watching sports the announcers "are not simply describing the events, but interpreting them..." (258), and that there are "extra time-outs to permit the network to sell more commercial time" (259). Both of these arguments remain true, and can easily be seen on and NFL broadcast.

As I write this with the AFC Championship Game on mute, I just saw what appeared to be a *backward pass* (frustratingly known as a "lateral pass") that was not caught and picked up by the other team. Without any sound the play clearly looked one way to me (a turnover with the ball going to the team on defense). I put on the sound (and rewound the game for a few seconds) and heard the announcers explaining the rule: If the ball was thrown forward and dropped it would be the end of the play, but if it were thrown backward and dropped it would go to the other team, in this case. As the trajectory of ball was very close to perpendicular, they didn't want to make any statement about what they presumed would happen after an official review. They kept saying it was too close to call and as a result the ball would stay with the offensive team. Meanwhile, having not heard this dialogue originally, I was already convinced it was a backwards pass. In the end the review agreed with me.

Without the interpretation of the announcers, I was a much more active viewer, must less affected by the hegemonic view of "both sides are equally right here" that pervades most national sports games. This makes me realize that when I do watch with the sound of the TV announcers, I am clearly affected by what they say, either influenced by their interpretations or frustrated they don't see what I see. On my own, with less hegemonic power in my head, I can take a more open look at a play and make up my own mind. (This famously happened at the end of the Super Bowl last year where the announcers claimed a play that went bad was "boneheaded," which many commentators later said was unfair because it was a 50-50 decision; today, this play is remembered as boneheaded.)

Gitlin also argues that "the way to understand things is by storing up statistics and tracing their trajectories. This is training in observation without comprehension" (259). I think in the 37 years since he wrote this, sports statistics have changed dramatically and are no longer just the province of geeky collectors of knowledge. The rise of rotisserie/fantasy sports over the past 20 years as well as technical innovations (like having more cameras and having every game in every game televised across the four major sports) has led to a dramatic rise in the variety and strength of statistical collection and analysis. I have many friends who are not particularly big sports fans who have fantasy football or baseball teams as a way to keep in touch with friends.

In baseball, new statistical categories known as Sabremetrics (named for the Society for American Baseball Research) now looks at things nobody would have considered in the 1970s. This new way of watching has changed the baseball landscape so much that last World Series (the biggest games in that sport's television year) had a simulcast of the game with sabermetricians talking about their new view of the game and tracking stats. This is to say that although Gitlin didn't know it at the time, statistic has become observation that includes comprehension—arguably more comprehension than we get without these stats. These statistics are still part of the TV/sports hegemony and viewers will still get the same amount of advertising, but now the stats generally considered to be more central to the sport and not simply "observation without comprehension."

Ultimately his point is rather silly because the only reason people would collect stats is for watching the game (or now playing a fantasy sport), and the only reason the game exists today is because of TV hegemony—that baseball, say, has fallen from being America's most popular sport to second place is because of the rise of football on TV. Yes, sports are totally part of the television hegemony, but they have figured out how to lock people into it (either on TV, radio, online fantasy games, etc.) and not let them experience it in some pure way outside the control of the networks or advertisers (which has essentially not existed for about 100 years).

Saturday, January 23, 2016

(Core Post) Tony Soprano: Keeping it All in the Family

            Contemporary television scholarship often delineates the modern era of TV sophistication with the premiere of David Chase’s The Sopranos. The show brought cinema-level visuals, top-notch acting, and a complex, serialized narrative centered around a challenging protagonist to the small screen. Critics frequently interrogate Chase’s influences, from Martin Scorsese to Sigmund Freud, when pinpointing what made the program so cutting edge, but a recent viewing of both The Sopranos and Norman Lear’s All in the Family revealed to me a deep connection to television’s past that is often elided in analysis of Chase’s opus.
            Horace Newcomb and Paul Hirsch describe television as a space for public forum, where social and domestic issues of the day can be discussed and debated in direct ways. While we saw this in Father Knows Best, it was All in the Family and other Norman Lear productions that modernized this discourse, revealing the often contentious societal divisions that can exist among even reasonably functional families. Each week was an argument as much as a dialogue, usually caused by the stubbornly old-fashioned world view of Archie Bunker. Tony Soprano, who shares a number of physical similarities with Archie, also situates himself in the same way. He is old-fashioned, socially conservative, and openly distasteful of progress in the world, Archie by way of Don Corleone. The dynamic between him and his bright daughter Meadow even mirrors that of Archie and Gloria.

            Moreover, The Sopranos, while incorporating elements of mob drama and crime thrillers, often engages in domestic drama and explicit social discourse that can seem straight out of Norman Lear (In the case of a particularly weak episode I watched last night, this can sometimes be to the show’s detriment, dropping subtlety in favor of direct address). Despite its revolutionary elements, could this familiar rhetorical strategy be part of the reason that the show was so readily embraced, especially compared to other HBO dramas of the era Deadwood and The Wire (which gained critical accolades, but struggled to find wide audiences)? To what extent do we as viewers in the post-Sopranos TV landscape still look to TV as a public forum for the issues of the day? (And is this sort of discourse confined to network programs like Scandal or Black-ish now?)

Mass Culture is Not (The Walking) Dead Yet (Also, a Defense of Fan Studies) [Core Post 1]

Disclaimer: Apologies for going way over the word count, everyone. Text looks much shorter when composed in Blogger's interface than in a word processor! Oops.

The most striking thing I noted about one of the core arguments proposed by Gitlin and followed-up on first by Newcomb and Hirsch, then later Hendershot, is that it's a familiar one. I'd encountered it before through Fredric Jameson's Marxist reading of popular culture found in "Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture," which was published the same year as Gitlin's article: 1979. Jameson agrees that it is probably impossible for mass culture to truly subvert hegemonic ideology; instead it appears to engage with alternative or radical ideologies by offering dialogue and contradiction, but ultimately reifies the status quo, because commercial culture must support the continuation of the commercial systems that allow it to exist in present form. As Gitlin says, "Commercial culture does not manufacture ideology; it relays and reproduces and processes and packages and focuses ideology that is constantly arising both from social elites and from active social groups and movements throughout the society" (253). Jameson would add that the sum-total of the ideological product must be less than that required for social revolution--it's a zero-sum game between the hegemony and the subaltern that ends in strategies of containment.

Hendershot's more recent suggestion that the "mass" is being replaced by the "niche" in contemporary popular culture would certainly complicate this model, but I have to disagree with the perspective that "in a niche-viewing environment...viewers tend to gravitate to content that matches their preexisting interests" (what about hatedoms?) and "Narrowly targeted niche TV....[leaves] little room for the old cultural forum ideal of ideas in conflict" (205-6). Though we have greater diversity (and "niche-ification") of both content and audiences than ever, contemporary popular culture also boasts some of the most-watched shows in the history of television, like The Walking Dead, which (like all zombie fiction) is unironically about mass culture itself. The masses are, perhaps, more alive and well than they should be.

Many popular shows continue to reach mass audiences, and the ones that do continue to introduce just enough subversive elements to make them interesting before ultimately reifying the dominant ideology. Breaking Bad criticizes the war on drugs by positing a situation where a normative, white, heterosexual family man (the conservative "everyman" figure) is given justified cause for subverting the law and traditional American family values alike--a journey on the wrong side the normative that we, as the audience, are invited to find pleasure in. But to counteract the likability of our drug manufacturer, we have a likable DEA agent brother-in-law. Just as Father Knows Best did with feminist career choices, we're presented with a milieu of conflicting perspectives on the drug war throughout the series--smoking marijuana may be not-so-bad, but Skyler still doesn't want her child doing it; relatively likable people get into "harder" drugs to their detriment; the war on drugs is necessitated by the evilness of those involved in the trade (though some are perfectly nice folks too). Breaking Bad allows folks along a wide socio-political spectrum to enjoy the show, but ultimately ends with Walter White's self-destruction, placing it firmly in the camp of reifying traditional values. Though we were invited to enjoy imagining doing so, no, we should not all go out and become drug kingpins. Status quo reified, we have not overthrown the war on drugs yet. Zero-sum game.

But the canonical text of Breaking Bad is only half the story. All of these authors agree on one point: reading is a dynamic negotiation of meaning that is largely under the control of the audience, both individually and collectively. I find it interesting, then, that none attempt to read fan responses to popular works, given what seems to be consensus that reception studies could provide critical intervention in understanding the changes and history of dominant ideology. Popular texts themselves can tell us a great deal about hot topics in public consciousness just by virtue of being widely-read, but we must turn to fan studies if we hope to gain more nuanced understanding. Only then can we see that Skyler is a widely-hated character (a fact that invites multiple complex readings, from conservative anti-feminist perspectives to anti-conservative ones, sometimes with messy simultaneity: "Why won't she just shut up and support her husband in subverting the dumb war on drugs?"). Fan works routinely rewrite or comment on ideologies of popular texts in ways that tell more about the ways the text was actually received than studying the text itself ever could: what does the prevalence of slash shipping (fannish readings of canonically straight characters as queer) among fans of Supernatural tell us about how different audiences read the notably masculine and heteronormative text? What do we make of Fifty Shades of Gray, the Twilight fanfic that nearly outstrips the original story in popularity by sublimating Twilight's conservative eroticization of abstinence into a "BDSM" sex-saturated narrative? Navigating the differing politics of feminine sexuality alone between the two works (and their own respective fandoms and hatedoms) would be a complex undertaking both massive in scope and potentially quite fruitful to the project of providing, as Gitlin wants, "a satisfactory account of how audiences consciously and unconsciously process, transform, and are transformed by the contents of television," or media more generally (253). Yet only a few have attempted such projects, and these projects rarely seem to get the attention they deserve.

This is not to suggest that fan works, as non-commercial responses to commercial products, are necessarily more culturally subversive (though they have more room to be if they like). My point is that just like commercial culture, they relay, reproduce, process, package, and focus ideological discourse. Only by reading them can one know which specific pieces of this discourse are of interest to whom, in what ways, and--hopefully--why.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Vince Gilligan on campus Jan. 26th

"In the spirit of starting this semester right, USC Speakers Committee and USC Special Events Committee are proud to present Vince Gilligan: Breaking T.V.!

A consummate creator and life-long artist, Vince Gilligan has changed the landscape of television through his extraordinary work as a creator, writer & executive producer of Breaking Bad, its spin-off: Better Call Saul, and The X-Files."

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Janet Jackson: Hot, Cold, or 14,000 Miles Away from Real Controversy?

I have been a wee bit skeptical of Marshall McLuhan’s claim in both The Medium is the Message reading and interview that television is a cool medium. McLuhan’s examples of JFK’s debate performance and funeral that support his argument of television failing to incite audiences seems to be merely anecdotal without any real citations of individual reactions.

In “Television: The Timid Giant” McLuhan says, “TV is a medium that rejects the sharp personality and favors the presentation of processes rather than products” (341). This makes me think of America’s favorite fascist (and other TV celebrities) Donald Trump. I never really watched The Apprentice or other shows that feature mean bosses like Hell’s Kitchen, but it makes me wonder if the reason these shows were/are successful is because people are tuning in to see these personalities, or are they coming back, like McLuhan suggests, to see the contestants in a perpetual process of becoming?

Elsewhere in “Television: the Timid Giant,” McLuhan cites Howard K. Smith’s statement, “‘The  networks  are delighted  if  you  go  into  a  controversy  in  a  country  14,000  miles  away. They  don't  want  real  controversy,  real  dissent,  at  home’” (341). I buy this argument a little more. I was thinking of the recent 2014 midterm elections when the Ebola Outbreak was a hot topic that quickly faded once Republicans captured the Senate.

Also while I was reading, I thought of the Super Bowl XXVIII Halftime incident where Janet Jackson suffered a wardrobe malfunction and one of her breasts was caught on the live taping. Unfortunately, I do not think the reaction to that can be classified as cold given the enormous response from both the audience, who filed a massive number of complaints against the broadcast, and the FCC, who raised the fines on incidents of indecency after the event.

Can the difference in reaction to the all the events surrounding JFK and Jackson be boiled down their gender differences? Was outrage with Jackson another Republican conspiracy by President Bush to wag the dog and create a media distraction from the War in Iraq? Whatever the answer is, I think the coolness of TV may be overplayed by McLuhan.