Raymond Williams said it outright: “television has altered our world” as audiences, as consumers, and personally, as a storyteller (5). I cannot imagine a world without it. Is that wrong? My concept of television and my parents’ is drastically different. As Williams highlighted in his recap, TV has progressed from public service/news announcement programming to “the newspaper, the public meeting, the educational class, the, theatre, the cinema, the sports stadium, the advertising, columns and billboards” (36). I can access it on a computer, a tablet, a phone even, as compared to the only set my parents remember at the fixture of their living room. I can hold TV in my hands: stop it, and replay it and hyperlink it and comment on it in a way my parents could not. To engage Marshall McLuhan, “perhaps the most familiar and pathetic effect of the TV image is the posture of children in the early grades.” That was me circa age six when I used to sit “W” style (really bad for the knees) in front of my TV whenever Nickelodeon was on and I was simply a passive observer because I didn’t have TiVo or anything fancy. But then when I had the power to control how I watched TV and what I watched, everything changed. Time is in my hands now.
Williams asserted the nature of television programs “incorporating advertising from the outset, the initial conception as part of the whole package,” (83). That is what I despise most about television. I cannot stand the interruption or “segmentation” as Jane Feuer states—my focus, as a lover of cinema and storytelling, is that of full concentration, and maybe that is just me. When I sit down to read a novel I want to devour it—the same goes for TV, which is why I have found Netflix and the like as such desirable facets of TV: I like my story uninterrupted just like going to the theaters to see a feature. One could argue… then just go to see a movie instead. Bottom line is, I don’t have the resources to cough up $15 every time I want to experience a good cinematic story. Television is more accessible and mobile in that way. McLuhan articulated some good points regarding this, that a TV view is more engaged in a response, but I am wondering, what is that a result of? Is it the ongoing nature of programming itself, whereas a theater going experience is 2 hours (more or less, a fixed end point)? What would McLuhan say about programs such as Netflix or on Demand?
Lastly, I did want to touch on Williams’ point regarding the nature of sports on TV. As a fan and former athlete, I cannot praise the liveness of sports on TV enough. The ability to see a baseball game, hockey game, or football game with the proximity and intimacy that not even the live crowd has is a tip for TV. As viewers, we don’t have the distraction, the hassle or even the price of being at the venue itself, but we have the game sense and most especially the replays and the close ups: glimpses of gold from the athletes themselves; the blood, sweat and tears. I appreciate Williams’ point regarding the nature of commercialism in televised sports—it too, serves as an interruption. Even in the games themselves they may pause for commercial break on the ice and interrupt the intensity of the game, and now that is a staple of professional sports; it’s like a time out for everyone. But, as I mentioned earlier, it makes the games more accessible for spectators but also “potential participants” (61). Think of the Olympics, and of all the access unheard of athletes and sports receive and the connectivity to the games themselves across nations... THAT makes me want to celebrate live TV.