The readings this week both challenged and aligned with my understanding of television today. In Hirsch and Newcomb’s “TV as cultural forum” I completely agree that, especially when networks dominated what views engaged with, there was an exchange of cultural discourse between the program and viewer, and assumingly amongst the viewers themselves. Their statement, “it is now our national medium” (563) resonates today, at least in my mind I consider television in the broadest sense a national medium (as it is across screens and platforms). Is this still true? Is there a new national medium? However I would push it further today in that it is not just a central process of public thinking, but an outlet for public thinking, performance, creativity, possibility and discourse.
I found the Father Knows Best episode last week INCREDIBLY charging for 2015 and found it intriguing that the writer of that episode later mentioned he didn’t like the neat little bow at the end that seemingly unraveled the entire progressive arc of the first 20 minutes of the episode. The show actively challenged a cultural norm of the family home and also gender roles and teased the viewers with the possibility… just what IF she goes through with this, only to tread lightly and ultimately let us (and perhaps those early viewers) down by retracting it’s earlier statement. But regardless it’s presence on television, in hundreds of homes enabled a discussion, a hope, an argument even for the public to “deconstruct the world of ‘common sense’” as Newcomb and Hirsch asserted. The episode was a good example also of how far character development has progressed as shows complicated their story arcs and the flow of programming itself aided a more connected/ serialized sense of storytelling. As Gitlin mentioned, “week to weekness obstructed the development of characters”; you couldn’t really trace a character’s development over the course of an episode as you can in say, a whole binge of Sex and the City, The OC or House of Cards (254). I personally find binging on television more rewarding in that regard, rather than the older model of relying on the “previously on____” to retrace your character steps. THANK YOU, ABC programming for enabling the more realistic character development more consistent with our world of common sense and dramatic conflict. If a character is pushed and they struggle against it, they are going to come out different on the other side. TV is now a reflection of that reality and it enables multi dimensional characters.
Changing gears, I would like to comment on Gitlin’s discussion of televised sports, given the upcoming Super Bowl on Sunday. Here is an example of a highly publicized cultural forum. The Super Bowl this year is unique in that it will be the first time the game will be streamed online. I think this is a wonderful opportunity and truly enables accessibility of many things: the game itself, the halftime show, a discussion on the game and commercials. It enables a liveness for everyone who may not normally have access to it and is also a “free” trip to the game. Think, would you rather spend $800+ on tickets and travel only to not even have good seats, or get the game on your big screen or your tablet and be free to engage with it how you will? I agree with Gitlin’s point about TV sports as an entertainment genre and thus intertwined with commercialism. HOWEVER, I disagree with Gitlin’s point about the triviality of naming statistics and trends during the commentary, “The message is: The way to understand things is by storing up statistics and tracing their trajectories. This is training in observation without comprehension” (259). But don't we also name character traits in TV shows? And what if you are someone ( there are a lot of these people) who don’t understand the rules or concept of the game… statistics are a tangible way of understanding. If I tell you, they’ve got a great punt return or they play T formation well, or their D line isn't effective. People may not get that. But if I tell you they’ve gained 40 yards every punt return you can understand that’s better than 20. You can see a guy who has completed 20 receptions is doing better than one with 8…. Quite simply because that is what winning is. Granted, networks have to succumb to certain commercialization ( on the field, etc.) but I can definitely say that because televised sports have remained a constant in the development of TV they’ve made the announcers more appealing (they’ve all played in the NFL or are an analyst) and are NOT as Gitlin says “not only small minded but incompetent to boot.” (259). Completely wrong in today’s playing field: they analyze during the game, and replay enhances our engagement, and enables viewers who may not understand the game to see strategy and skill. Not to mention, the creativity ( and obviously expense) that goes into the Halftime show and the commercials themselves. There is an EXPECTATION for what we will see, what will engage us, what will make us laugh and ultimately instigate participation (whether that be at a super bowl party, or on social media outlets or purchasing power). The commercials will definitely play a part on the vein of “cultural forum” and it will be interesting to see what the tone of that will be in the 2015 live TV.