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Television, capitalism and advertising
the story of invention of television — peopled by competitive inventors, imperious capitalists, and Norman Jean before she
became Marilyn Monroe — is as sensational as any popular soap opera.
How was TV made
The cathode ray tube (CRT) is a vacuum tube containing one or more electron guns, and a phosphorescent screen used to
it deﬂects the electron beams onto the screen to create the image
the images may represent electrical waveforms (oscilloscope), pictures (TV, computer monitor), radar targets or others.
discovered by Johann Hittord in 1869
http://lib.myilibrary.com/Open.aspx?id=6785 by Williams
1. Why is the debate between technology as cause or eﬀect sterile, and what does Williams propose as an alternative?
2. What does Williams mean when he describes technology as emerging from a a “crucial community of selected emphasis and
intention” (p. 11)? And how is that manifested in the documentary?
3. What was the social need that supported broadcasting?
4. How are radio and television diﬀerent from preceding technologies?
5. What is the deep contradiction television needed to solve, according to Williams? Why do you think this is important to him?
What is at stake?
Williams was very interested in the interrelated dynamics among people, the state, markets, and cultural practices. One way
of approaching this intersection is by examining the links between commercial television and mass advertising.
Advertising underpinned the dominance of the commercial broadcasting model over the public broadcasting model, at least
in the United States, during the early years of television in the 1940s.
In Europe, the public broadcasting model prevailed until the 1980s; in Canada, until the 1960s
Huge proﬁts from advertisements allow television stations such as NBC, CBS, and ABC to develop the business of television
independent from the state.
Television, on the other hand, “seems almost tailor made for” mass advertising.
The cultural historian Jackson Lears writes:
its speed, its shallow but alluring slickness, and its combination of the visual and aural make it the perfect medium for
serving up 30-second segments of idealized life.
Television also make it possible for the advertiser to use the most powerful device of suggestion — repetition
Thanks to endless, hypnotic repetitions, even the most sophisticated consumers ﬁnd themselves in the thrall of the
jingle of the hour, whether they are reaching out…. to touch someone, or receiving… the precious freedom of choice.
Whether it convinces all of the people some of the time or just some of the people some of the time, TV advertising
does sell goods.
The ﬁrst advertisement costed 9 dollars, whereas the price of a 30 second sport in this year’s Super Bowl: 5 million dollars
Jackson Lears Article:
1. What are the diﬀerent stages of advertising, as told by Jackson Lears?
2. Name three important shifts in the ways advertisers thought about what they needed to do to sell products.
3. What is the role of magic? Why does Lears think it’s important to the history of advertising?
One aspect of advertising that Lears does not address is the issue of transnationalism and globalization— that is, commerce
beyond US borders. Many advertisers faced dilemmas as their American-made products and ads became part of a
transnational traﬃc in goods and services.
Analyzing iconic Coca-Cola advertisements from Latin America, South Asia, Eastern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the
How do these ads imagine the “local” and the “global”? How do notions of “belonging” and “consumption” ﬁgure in these
imaginings? Links to the advertisements will posted on the resources page.
For Thursday, March 10th, after reading and watching the materials above, write a blog post on the
most memorable television ad that you have ever seen. What is the magical, sensorial, and
emotional appeal of this ad? Find a recording of this ad on YouTube or anywhere online and
supply a link in your blog. We encourage you to post your blog before the class begins. We will
cover a few of your posts in the discussion.