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CMNS 110 (60)

Week 8 Reading Notes

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Simon Fraser University
CMNS 110
Gary Mc Carron

CMNS 110 – Week 8 Readings pp. 117-129, pp. 130-146, pp. 147-159, and pp. 160-169 Fear and Self-Loathing in Couchland: Eight Myths About Television by Mark Kingwell Current state of television: dismal state, suffused with mediocrity, jangling with advertising, numbing in its pointless variety - Irritating and worthless, particularly because of its unbelievable accommodation of advertising Television is the dominant medium of information and entertainment of the age - This dominance may fade unless we watch and think about it Eight Persistent Myths about Television... leaves our fear and self-loathing about the TV intact 1. Television is a neutral medium. o People in television production still cling to the idea that the medium itself is just an empty conduit, a pure vessel for content. (as opposed to McLuhan’s “the medium is the message”) o Don’t blame television as a medium; blame the people who make the shows o Ignores what McLuhan saw: media, in extending our senses in particular ways, restructure our experience and our world o Technorealism Manifesto: a great misconception of our time is the idea that technologies are completely free of bias… that because they are inanimate artifacts, they don’t promote certain kinds of behaviors over others. In truth, technologies come loaded with both intended and unintended social, political, and economic leanings. Every tool provides its users with a particular manner of seeing the world and specific ways of interacting with others. o Television is a time-based medium o Medium dominated by the power of advertising 2. Television is controlled by individuals. o How are decisions made in this time-based medium? o The field of television is pre-structured, biased by advertising money, and that structure is internalized by anyone who holds a high position in the television world  the rules of the game control the rational decisions that TV executives make (therefore TV is not controlled by individuals) o Taking refuge in the claim you have to give the people what they want is not going to help 3. Television is democratic. o Democratic = crudely populist; ratings numbers rule, the viewer (at best a demographic niche-market slice) is always right o Numbers so how that viewers are mostly dumb, unsophisticated, apolitical, and inclined to violence.. favorites: Cops, Jerry Springer, Judge Judy, Baywatch, and WWF o Programmers can either (1) give the viewer what he wants or (2) slip some quality past him when he’s not looking  Programmers, in turn, hollow out their characters, and in TV’s version of a sick co- dependent relationship, they begin to despise themselves for making a career of satisfying someone they despise (the viewer)  Self-loathing then becomes an occupational hazard o People want it, you give it to them – end of story  Reductio absurdum of viewer populism, is the studio audience wired to record their minute changes in approval or disapproval as some performer or item passes before them; instant judgment, democracy in action o Elitism  Good: the application of high and defensible standards of aesthetic judgment to the products and activities of a medium  Bad: viewer thinking that the elitist is saying that “everyone should like what I like” 4. Television is all junk. o Television is not a medium that welcomes or rewards discernment o Television permits junk, and sometimes actively encourages it – but it also permits brilliance, drama, brains, and emotion o Mostly, television is good at being entertaining, on a relatively obvious and non- challenging level o Amusing ourselves to death (Neil Postman) o Television critics are not performing their role – they do not articulate (for viewers) the critical standards that the viewers wish they could articulate themselves  Failed in the duty to assess television in ways that call out the best of the medium’s possibilities 5. Television is responsible for the world’s evils. o What is interesting? What will interest the viewer? What will hold his interest past the commercial break? o The all-new: children today are more violent than ever o The ever-thus: children have always been violent o The already-thought: the so-called interest that moves easily on television; ideas and forms that are most familiar o Simplicity of worldview, which wants to trace a clear line between the event and the cause o People fear complexity, and fear their own complicity in events or systems that are ugly or corrupt o Television thrives on quick judgments, which is why it’s so good at domesticating criticism o Critical discourse about television is learning not to judge too quickly 6. You can talk about television on television. o Bourdieu’s “Sur la télévision”  Attacks “les fast-thinkers” – made-for-TV intellectuals o Being a TV panelist opened Kingwell to mocking, and his academic work being ignored o Doing TV talk is a bit like dating someone psychotic: nothing you do is ever taken at face value, all behavior is entirely unpredictable and you are always (by definition) wrong o Kingwell thought he was able to do genuine media criticism within the medium he was criticizing  No critic has the real control necessary to make a medium good, namely choosing when, how, and where an opinion will be expressed o Good natured jabs at TV addiction in shows like the Simpsons or Family Guy are ultimately self-defeating. Media criticism on here is made subject of further interior criticism, pushing the situation to new levels of self-reference but not of insight 7. Intellectuals are right to disdain television. o Most intellectuals do not consider television worth their attention o Scorn of popular media leaves the teaching mission of academics in a sorry state, a failure which is then passed off as maintaining intellectual standards 8. Television is beyond saving. o Go more slowly; judge less quickly; reserve your blame; challenge what seems to make sense; question your instincts; never underestimate yourself or your audience; embrace complexity; consider the structure, not simply what the structure supports; think more An Alternative Current in Surveillance and Control: Broadcasting Surveillance Footage of Crimes by Aaron Doyle Broadcast TV and video surveillance were made for each other (Norris and Armstrong, 1999) Visual Surveillance – relies on human informants (TV audience) instead of collecting data - As a media product, showcases often-horrifying “realness” - Reinforces a prominent system of meaning about crime, where crime is portrayed as random, inexplicable, violent acts by strangers - Broadcasting surveillance footage is “anti-actuarial” - Can exaggerate some crimes simply for its TV purposes Explanations for the trend - Public cameras were given a boost as part of the wave of new security measures after 9/11 - Broadcasting surveillance footage so that the public can identify suspects is also part of a rising culture of informing - Where informing or “babbling” on someone was once associated with negative attitudes, informing is now seen as an act of good citizenship Contemporary forms of surveillance are in part in response to the rise of privacy (Nock 1993) - The breakdown of local trust and of informal social control that previously existed through local social ties - i.e. insurance investigators must go to databases now for information about people they might once have obtained from neighbors, because these days neighbors are more and more often strangers Police forces provide the media with surveillance footage - Police are the central source of crime news more generally, often dominating its production - Police use video wanted posters on TV news or programs to call on the TV audience and help with the investigation - Police gave footage to TV even if the suspect is not in it; footage of murder victims are shown shortly before they were killed, which may jog the memory of potential witnesses - Why would police hand over footage to the media? o To publicize the technology itself.(CCTV) o Police use media to promote their own successes; i.e. successful sting operations o May turn footage over as quid pro quo to maintain favorable relations with the press o May be paid for footage Influences of broadcasting surveillance camera footage Medium Theory – Joshua Meyrowitz - Analyzes the social impact of relatively fixed properties of communication technologies such as broadcast television, the video camera, and the Internet - Examines the speed, direction, and kind of encoding that characterize a particular medium , and which of our senses it engages - TV and other electronic media made different social situations more visible – they had a liberating effect o Included many more people in new “information systems” o i.e. had a massive effect on social leveling between politicians and ordinary people o new communications technology has the potential to enhance democracy through making everyone more visible and thus promoting equality Specific Effects on Criminal Justice Processes and Institutions – these usually work to the advantage of dominant institutions and groups, and against the less powerful 1. Police institutional factors – police attribute crime on individual evil and pathology and rarely mention broader social causes 2. Media institutional factors – ‘event orientation’ where reports focus on day-to-day events; don’t examine underlying issues 3. Existing broader cultural understandings of crime – inequality in criminal justice can be seen by making the crimes of the lower classes as more visible than those of elites o Public surveillance are more likely to be present in poorer areas o Who do the camera operators choose to monitor? Young, male, and black were systematically and disproportionally targeted 4. Properties of visual media themselves Audiences often actively resist dominant representations and create their own meanings from television texts - The public is more educated and more critical of major social institutions than ever before - People also have alternate sources besides the media Public understandings of crime and surveillance evolve in a complex interaction of people’s direct experiences, popular wisdom, and broader beliefs about society, people’s interactions with their immediate social networks, the media, and other sources of media (police, politicians, etc) In broadcasting surveillance footage of crimes, TV has the following properties which shape both its wider cultural effects and its effects on criminal justice processes and institutions: 1. Television is emotive. o Meyrowitz: while written and printed words emphasize ideas, most electronic media emphasize the feeling,
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