Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Core Response: What happens when the TV set moves?

In this week’s readings, both Tania Modleski and Lynn Spigel offer interesting analyses of the relationship between television and domestic space. Modleski offers a cogent argument about the (de)structuring role of daytime television programming for the housewife, noting how the fragmented nature of soap operas helps women acclimate to, and accept, a life of overlapping responsibilities that regularly interrupt each other, while Spigel’s article discusses a number of anxieties caused by the addition of a TV set to the home, including the increased confinement of women within the house and women having to compete with the TV set for their husbands’ attention. In both these pieces, I found it interesting that the position of the television set is always assumed to be in the living room or kitchen area, where the entire family has access to viewing it. This assumption holds true for many of the advertisements Spigel analyzes within her piece as well, which depict the television set as part of an open, continuous living space. These early advertisements depict the act of watching television as a communal or family activity, or at least an activity that should take place within the most communal space of one’s house. By locating the TV set in a communal space, the spectator has the ability to continue to be “involved” with the rest of his or her family, and can potentially be monitored by the family to ensure that he or she does not become too absorbed in the television. Spigel’s deconstruction of a 1952 Motorola advertisement at the end of her chapter speaks in particular to this idea. She writes, “Even while the husband neglects his wife and household chores to gaze at the screen woman, the housewife is in control of his sexuality insofar as his visual pleasure is circumscribed by domestic space. The housewife’s gaze in the foreground and cited commentary further illustrate this position of control.” (pg 32). Here, it seems that it is because the TV set is in a communal space of the house that the wife is able to exert some control over her husband’s viewing practice. 

With this in mind, I am interested in thinking about the TV set’s shift in location from the communal space of the living room to the more private space of the bedroom (now a common place to have a TV). This shift in location brought about new anxieties as well as perceived benefits. There have been long standing debates, for example, about whether having a TV set in the bedroom inhibits intimacy between couples, and a cursory google search shows that a number of relationship advice websites continue to suggest removing the TV from the bedroom (or risk irreversibly damaging your relationship!). Yet recent articles in The Daily Mail and the Independent both claim that new studies suggest having a TV in the bedroom can actually increase intimacy between partners. While adult couples potentially benefit from having a TV in the bedroom, the New York Times and U.S. News both released articles in 2008 arguing that TV sets in the bedroom are particularly harmful for children and teenagers, leading to obesity and lower test scores at school. The argument here is that a child’s access to unmonitored TV watching encourages less activity and study, and that TV sets should remain in the more “public” areas of the home so that children’s TV watching can be regulated. Whether or not such claims are true, it is interesting to consider that although television sets have been a staple of American family life for the last 60+ years, we continue to feel anxiety over the potentially negative effects of watching television and fear the idea that TV might be controlling too much of our lives. 

- Eszter Zimanyi

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