Tuesday, January 27, 2015

CORE RESPONSE: Who Exactly are the Agents of Ideological Hegemony in the Current Era of TV?

We are currently experiencing one of the golden eras of television. The convergence of artistry, craft, storytelling, and performance across genres, network and cable, and stories that speak to different lived experiences has cemented the commercial and quotidien relevance of television over film. Considering that we live during a time of (perceived) increased transparency with regards to corporations and state agents, it seems prudent to apply the analytic frameworks posited by Newcomb & Hirsch, as well Gitlin (with an assist from Gramsci) to case studies that will identify the agents of ideological hegemony of the shows with the most critical and commercial appeal (the usual suspects: Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Breaking Bad).

Victor Turner's "liminal stage" is a site for further analysis. It is the space in which banal and mundane is deconstructed into cultural units, which are then reconstructed into, in this case, television. (Newcomb & Hirsch 563-564) I wouldn't want to be reductive and make literal something that shouldn't be, but which people and interests are informing and dictating the negotiation of life and society in the liminal stage? Is it the content creator (writer, the showrunner, producer) or corporate interests? Or do interests and agency not even factor in this space, but rather socialization or social norms? I don't say this diminish the need for accountability of The Man, but understanding the crushing weight of oppressive social systems may be constructive.

In his section "The Hegemonic Process in Liberal Capitalism," Gitlin provides a macro look at the hegemonic process. With that as a foundation, and applying Gitlin, as well as Newcomb & Hirsch's work to contemporary television, who are the agents of ideological hegemony with the current crop of TV? Are shows that seemingly put artistry and storytelling first working for the purposes of control? (Newcomb & Hirsch 562) If so, what people and interests are negotiating a status quo reality into shows that create space for transgender people (OITNB), question the nefarious nature of the U.S. government (House of Cards [yes, even though it is a remake]), take down the White Savior myth (Game of Thrones [assuming the forthcoming seasons are critical of Daenarys as much as George R.R. Martin is]), and so on and so forth. In this vein, it seems that a holistic case study, from optioning/development to airing and marketing, of these shows, of governmental, corporate, and artistic interests is necessary.

These shows aren't bastions of radical thought by any means. But it is hard to argue with the critical nature and increased visibility of marginalized groups, that is present in today's most commercially successful shows. I'm cynical so I'm wary of The Man lulling people into complacency, but that's me.


Gitlin, Todd. "Prime Time Ideology: The Hegemonic Process in Television Entertainment." Social Problems, Vol. 26, No. 3 (February 1979), pp 251-266.

Newcomb, Horace and Paul M. Hirsch. "Television as a Cultural Forum." Quarterly Review of Film Studies.  Summer 1983, pp. 561-573.

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