Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Global Television Studies as both necessary and impossible

In Shanti Kumar's chapter, "Is There Anything Called Global Television Studies?" he investigates the question of what exactly global television studies means. The first problem in answering this is that he's troubled by the language of globalization in general. The way in which globalization is discussed, while attempting to encourage diversity, often allows a kind of colonialism of thought where the louder (Western) voice coopts the conversation. (p. 137).

Further complicating the matter is the fact that global television studies hasn't been well defined as a field of study. (p. 138). To try to answer this question, Kumar posits another question, what are the uses of TV? At its best, it seems to encourage a kind of cross-demographic communication, but because of the challenges of language, as well as other cultural and socioeconomic forces, this use is dubious at best.

So Kumar then turns to a field of study that's been around a little longer. What are "cultural studies?" He finds no more clear answers here and quotes Stuart Hall from the Centre for Conteporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham as saying no one knows exactly what cultural studies are. Who determines what is "cultural," what is other? (p. 141). Often cultural studies, and global TV studies uses a kind of "East meets West" philosophy, but in a way that plays by Western rules. Otherness is defined in contrast to a Western norm. (p. 145).

Kumar seems to find some comfort in the idea of discipline in an academic sense. Perhaps this is the path to understand such an all-encompassing phrase like global television studies, but he abandons this as well arguing that the discipline of TV studies is at once necessary and impossible. It's necessary in order to fight the universalizing tendencies of Western culture, but it's impossible because it will always be an unequal dialogue. (p. 151).

It's hard for me to get to the end of an essay like this and not want to see more of the discipline Kumar himself calls for. I don't need to study global TV until language itself breaks down, as he suggests. You can push any study to the point where language breaks down, but where does that leave us? Language and cultural context are limiting and insufficient, but they're the mediums we're stuck with. Perhaps a more specific and concrete lens to consider it through, like production studies, could lead us to a more fruitful understanding of global TV studies. The television showrunner system, for example, is almost exclusively a US phenomenon. The rest of the world creates television though the director/auteur theory of film. How do these differences influence the product, and how do they influence the way television is exported to other cultures?

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