Sunday, January 25, 2015

Television and Negotiated Reality

by Myah Williams (Core Response Week 3)

Many of my worldly "experiences" growing up in a quaint Southern town were gleaned from what I saw on the small screen. Therefore, the concept that television engages us as an audience in a "negotiation of reality" is particularly striking. Newcomb and Hirsch observe that in a society such as ours that is permeated by television, plots and story lines become the "dramatic logic of public thought" by deconstructing and examining societal discourses (564). They examine not only the tendency for television programs to engage social themes and constructs, but also the audience's ability to digest and discern it.

Newcomb and Hirsch go on to observe the employment of genre in television and how different genres engage public discourse. For instance "situational comedy" is positioned as a mechanism to deconstruct "the world of 'common sense' in which all, or most of us live and work," (565). The episode of Father Knows Best that we screened last lecture is used as an example here. In it Betty's fight to defy gender norms and become an engineer is seemingly subverted by a traditional ending with her shedding coveralls to show off a pretty dress and impress a male suitor. However, Newcomb and Hirsch posit that the progressive themes tackled in the episode do their work simply by testing or stirring the views of the audience. The message is therefore not counteracted by the conventional ending. 

Ultimately, Newcomb and Hirsch provide that television both represents and challenges aspects of our lived experience. Audiences agree and disagree with television content for a multiplicity of reasons, all of which come with the freedom of discernment for the individual viewer. Steven Hall's dominant, oppositional or negotiated categories of interpretation imply that the reading of the television program text is not determined by the content itself, but rather by the individual viewer's point of reference (569). Therefore, we as an audience "negotiate reality" constantly while engaging with television. Reality shows such as Sister Wives and Keeping Up With the Kardashians come to mind. There are no doubt some viewers who identify with the subjects in these shows (be they polygamists or Hollywood socialites themselves), however I would argue that a significant amount of viewers either "hate watch" or approach these programs with skeptical amusement.   

Hendershot's examination of the more recent NBC Comedy Parks and Recreation raises interesting questions regarding the evolution of television as an active agent in the public sphere. Has the diversity of programming fragmented audiences? Hendershot observes that these days it is more difficult for a program to create controversy because viewers can simply ignore shows that challenge their own point of view. 

However, I see that with the rise of social media engagement such as "tweet watching" (especially in primetime blocks) it is increasingly more difficult to ignore popular shows and their impact on society. For example, Shondaland's newest drama How To Get Away With Murder and HBO's Girls or Game of Thrones among other highly "tweet worthy" shows, broaden exposure across social platforms. Therefore, even if more conservative audiences choose not to tune in to programs that promote graphic violence, explicit sex and other forms of social "deviance", Facebook and Twitter make them nearly impossible to entirely avoid. 

No comments:

Post a Comment