Channelling in to Television Cultures

Why I just flipping love Dr Who.

I have a confession to make.

…………..

…….

I am a woman.

And yet, I watch Dr. Who.

I don’t even understand computers! Or find any interest in science! But Dr. Who…. My word! It gets me.

I say this, and really I am just totally an amateur fan of The Doctor. It is probably mainly because the latest one (Matt Smith) bears a striking resemblance to my boyfriend.

The Doctor (Matt Smith)

aaaaand… My BF

Okay you can’t see it here!!!! But he seriously does!

In fact I haven’t even seen any of the seasons prior to Matt Smith. I will watch them some day, though. For now I am content to continue watching my boyfriend’s doppleganger flit around on my television screen 🙂

What is the intrigue?! Why do I shuffle uncomfortably on my seat on the train, wishing I was on the couch on a Friday night watching Dr. Who? Why I do I wait and wait for the next installment that will get me through the week? Why do I find myself having strange dreams that I am a time-lord?

Well, personally, I find the writing of the show to be amazing! Steven Moffat is a legend. Like, seriously.. Nobel Prize worthy. He doesn’t write episode-to-episode, but somehow manages to stretch storylines out over the seasons and tie everything together beautifully. Like the scintillating cracks we find in random locations across Matt Smith’s first season, Moffat reveals in tiny, exciting sections what is coming: whether it be ‘the end of all things’, or the death of The Doctor himself.

The characters are quirky and loveable. The set is amazing, colourful and ever-changing. We find ourselves (because of course, I travel with The Doctor) in the jungle, in space, in Ancient Rome, on a pirate ship and so on. Relationships and character development are irresistible – nawwwwww Amy and Rory!
But…. Mostly the thing about my boyfriend I guess 🙂

Bring on Season 7!!!!

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Week 6: Matters of Taste – Yum Yum Yum Yum

I have a radical idea to put forward: each person that watches and experiences a TV show will read it in a completely different way. Essentially this is Stuart Hall’s main argument with his Reception Theory of communication: the encoding/decoding model. Sounds like a pretty obvious thought, really. How, then, can we have words that box these viewers into generic stereotypes, like ‘fans’? Williams is on to something when he suggests that there is no such thing as ‘masses’, only ways of seeing people as masses. (Williams, 1960).

We are all unwillingly thought of as ‘masses’, particularly by advertisers, scholars, broadcasters, producers and others who see us as ‘the audience commodity’. To them, what matters about a television show’s success, is not necessarily its particular reception, but how its rates. Jenkins points out that

‘ratings reflect only a narrowly chosen segment of the television audience – a “commodity audience” – which can be sold to national advertisers and networks, but which reflects neither mass taste nor the taste of an intellectual elite’ (Jenkins, 1992, pg. 29).

For example: the first episode of Dancing With the Stars (season 1 Million, or whatever we are up to) might have high ratings, but does that mean it is considered by “the public” to be a “good” show? Chances are, no. In fact, Myles McNutt points this out in a blog post:

Kate O’Hare, who writes for Zap2it, was discovered to be a fan of Dancing with the Stars: accordingly, one of the comments that made it onto her review before she shut down comments suggested that
“Once you said you watched trash like dancing with the stars, your opinion became worthless.”

Some shows, like this – and often it is reality TV shows – are really looked down upon. I don’t know how they survive. To quote my friend Gareth:

“People need to get over reality TV. It needs to go away.” (Fishwick, 2012)

Point is: ratings do not equal success. And they do not indicate taste whatsoever. Taste is where things change a little, and where people really just can’t get placed into a ‘fan’ box. What is the line between regular viewer and ‘fan’ anyway? Who decides what is fan-like activity? Particularly in today’s society, in which the Internet and television are such important parts of our lives. Doing a little more research on TV shows is normal, as is engaging in conversations through social media and becoming more ‘immersed’ in the following of the show. You don’t have to go out of your way to watch webisodes or read reviews, it is simple enough to just stumble across them. Surely happening to stumble across something on the Internet relating to a TV show is not fan-like behavior. Or perhaps it is true that being a fan is more mainstream now. Maybe we all join in the following of our favourite programs just because it is so easy to do so and because television is an integral part of how we live.

Back to the subject of taste. As Brian pointed out this morning, there is always a hesitation regarding our particular tastes. We are all a bit concerned about how our tastes will align with those of others. It is a personal thing, and I think this is what I was a bit wary of when I wrote my first post on this blog. I was just so self-conscious about the fact that I watch Dr. Who, Once Upon a Time and How I Met Your Mother. It really shouldn’t matter, and people obviously don’t care that my tastes are different to theirs! But still, there’s that worry that because our taste coincides with our identity, there will be some judgment from others.

Perhaps this is what reviewers struggle with when they start discussion on a new TV show. Game of Thrones, for example. I can imagine the mental tension that would have ensued, particularly for a female, having watched the show and then deciding how to write it up. How much can you trust your own taste? Do you go by your initial impressions alone? Or do you have to take into account the history of television, genre and gender? It is hard to say whether Gina Bellafante was expressing her own views on her review of Game of Thrones, or whether she just wanted to get a good reaction. Which she did.

Taste, as we can see from the hysterical responses to Bellafante’s review, is not dependent on gender or genre. On female blogger put it like this:

“the growing numbers of modern female fantasy fans might suggest that the genre is heading in the right direction… A cursory glance of the blogosphere shows there are many female fantasy fans.”

There are women who enjoy fantasy. There are men who are not so into it. There are some that may love fantasy but don’t like Game of Thrones! So on and so forth… Taste is not subject to preconceived presumptions about audiences, because we all read and experience texts differently. RIGHT STUART HALL????!!!

Yet somehow there is still a general overall assumption that taste can be collective. I think this is all related to how audiences are viewed as ‘masses’, and as a commodity in themselves. Raymond Williams points out:

“It is worth noting, finally, that the idea of taste cannot now be separated from the idea of the CONSUMER. The two ideas, in their modern form, have developed together, and responses to ART and LITERATURE have been profoundly affected… by the assumption that the viewer, spectator or reader is a consumer, exercising and subsequently showing his taste.’ (Williams, 1976, pg. 315)

 

 

SOURCES

Williams, R. 1976. Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gina Bellafante, ‘A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms’, The New York Times, 15 April 2011.

Williams, R. 1960. Culture and Society. Doubleday & Company Inc.

Jenkins, H. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Psychology Press.

Myles McNutt, Cultural Learning Blog
http://cultural-learnings.com/2011/04/09/questions-of-taste-dissecting-the-dissection-of-early-reviews-of-hbos-game-of-thrones/

geekgirlDIVA, ‘To Ginia Bellafante REgarding Your “Review” of Game of Thrones’, geekgirlDIVA blog, 15 April 2011
www.geekgirldiva.com/2011/04/to-ginia-bellafante-regarding-your.html

‘Game of Thrones: Girls want to play, too’, The Guardian

www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/apr/18/game-of-thrones-girls-fantasy

Geographies: From the National to the Transnational

I think it is amazing that moments in time can be recorded and experienced again and again. Television can defy time and space, bringing us images of the Eiffel Tower from 1930 as we sit comfortably in our Australian suburban homes. It crosses time zones, borders and nations. Yes, my friends, it truly is transnational.

‘Define for me transnational’ you say? Okay, well Word lists synonyms such as:
– international
– multinational
– transcontinental
– intercontinental
– global
– worldwide
– large-scale

What we mean by transnational television is the crossing over of cultures and national values through the medium of television. As Brian put it in the lecture this morning, “culture matters”. Countries pour their values, beliefs and traditions into the media they produce, and in general this resounds throughout the nation. However, TV shows can be popular in different countries with different national identities, and this is where ‘transnational’ applies.

There is a lot of speculation around ‘globalisation’, and how many assume this simply equates to the ‘Americanisation’ of the world. However, as pointed out in the lecture, this can be as naïve a view as The Hypodermic Needle Theory of communication. A lot of the world watches American TV shows, however this does not make us turn into Americans. We can watch and appreciate Friends, but still be Australian (Korean, Japanese etc.) on the inside. Koichi Iwabuchi states that ‘the historical process of globalisation has not simply produced a Westernisation of the world. Its impact on the constitution of the world is much more heterogeneous and contradictory’ (2005, pg. 19-20). Globalisation has affected all nations and cultures. It is not simply America stretching its arm out across the world and engulfing it. All countries, and all cultures are able to cross borders in a way previously impossible.

With this in mind, I’ve watched a bit of the Japanese show Long Vacation. It’s so interesting to see such a different sort of program – not that it is different from Australian or American shows, but that in this country we never hear about Japanese television. Watching the opening sequences of episode one, as Minami runs down the street in her wedding costume, I was reminded of the first episode of Friends in which Rachel runs into the coffee shop in her wedding dress. Both characters are devastated about how the wedding has turned out, and are acting irrationally. However, watching the Japanese show, though there wasn’t much difference in camera work or action, but it felt different for some reason. There is the obvious fact that it features Japanese actors, and they are speaking Japanese, yet there is also an apparent difference that goes beyond this. The culture of Japan speaks through the program. Characters speak more slowly and thoughtfully; there are periods of extended silence and long glances. It is something I can’t quite understand myself.

Another interesting thing about Long Vacation is that it features songs in English. Even the opening credits have a mixture of Japanese and English words, which could potentially show the influence that English-speaking nations have on Japan (???). It would be strange to hear songs so obviously in a foreign tongue in an American or British show.

I have never watched Japanese television before. Except for Studio Ghibli films by Hayao Miyazaki. Good stuff. I can see how something like Long Vacation could become as addictive as Australian/American/British television though. Storylines are interesting, characters are believable and lovable, and you can be drawn into the action, wanting to know what happens next.

SOURCES

Iwabuchi, K. In Erni, J. and Chua, S. (eds.). Asian media studies: politics of subjectives, (pg. 19-36). Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub. 2005.

Lecture 4: Transmedia Trends

When my brother used to read weird Star Wars kids’ books when he was younger, I thought it was the silliest thing ever. There were lots of different ones… but I remember this one series about a bounty hunter called Bobba Fett or something (does that mean anything to anyone???). It was weird because it was all a Star Wars thing, but the stories were completely irrelevant to the action that takes place in the movies, as far as I am aware.

(I suppose it was a similar thing with me and The Saddle Club…. I mean what?! No I didn’t say that! Pssht!! That’d be embarrassing!)

Little did we know, as kids, that we were experiencing “transmedia” – a delightful new concept to consider.

I have to agree that transmedia was around long before the Internet. As kids we read these odd fan-fiction type books that corresponded to the movies and television shows we liked. We bought the PC games. We went on websites and played the little games on offer there (dress up your horse, or something like that). We “immersed” ourselves in the story world.

Frank Rose’s book The Art of Immersion (that has a nifty little website that goes along with it!) discusses how “we approach television shows, movies, even advertising as invitations to participate—as experiences to immerse ourselves in at will.” He takes this stance quite strongly, indicating that the direction media is moving towards is ‘deep media’: a form that takes you deeper than the length of film or a half hour television show can.

Relative to the Internet, and particularly ‘webisodes’, I personally haven’t had much experience with this ‘deep media’. I watch the television shows I like, and kind of just leave it at that! No need to pursue them any further than my television screen. The only exception is when I happen to forget to tape an episode of Once Upon A Time, and must then watch it online. This brought me to the disappointing discovery that after a certain number of days (28????) the website must take the episode down by law.

I am quite a fan of the US version of The Office, and didn’t know until last Friday’s lecture that they had made webisodes for it. I can see, however, that ‘The Accountants’ webisodes would have provided a lovely segue between the first and second seasons. In Season 1 (which was only 6 episodes) Michael Scott was the only character that seemed to have any personality, while the rest of the characters were minor and acted more like ‘regular’ people than actors. In the second season the dynamic had completely changed and all characters were further developed. The Accountants series really set this up to happen, showing that the minor characters did have personalities.

My further research into The Office webisodes reveals that transmedia has become even more apparent to the series since ‘The Accountants’. There are several more webisodes series, behind the scenes clips, full episodes available online, games, screensavers and other interactive functions. All can be found here. It is quite amazing the little ‘The Office’ world that has been created online to complement the series.

In talking to my boyfriend on the whole transmedia scenario, I discovered his engagement with online media was a lot more advanced than my own. He considered ‘webisodes’ to extend to short videos created for YouTube channels. I suppose this would fit under the definition of “a text viewed on online which has some relationship directly or indirectly to the television medium”. My boyfriend subscribes to heaps of channels and watches the short clips as they come out each week, month etc. Furthermore (what a great guy, being my example), he pointed out that he even preferred these short online clips to actual TV. ‘It is more interactive,” he said, showing me how people comment on the videos and can even get direct feedback from the people who make the videos. One comedian he showed me replies directly to people who comment on his posts. It is pretty funny:

Basically, I guess this is where the future generation is headed. They want interactive transmedia forms, that allows them to not only immerse themselves in specific narratives, but in television, webisodes and the Internet as a whole. They want to be a part of the process, not just spectators.

Max Dawson suggests that television networks are conning onto this:

Not content to watch this “generational” shift from the sidelines, television networks and studios have adapted their programs for viewing on digital platforms. To bring television programs to PCs and mobile devices, networks and studios clip, condense, and distil thirty- and sixty-minute long episodes until they fit into containers of between one and five minutes in duration. These digital shorts comprise a significant portion of the content available on networks’ and studios’ websites, on video aggregation websites like YouTube.com, and on portable devices such as iPods and mobile phones.

 

SOURCES

Dawson, M. Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency: Convergence Television and the Digital Short in James Bennett and Niki Strange (eds.) Television As Digital Media(Durham: Duke University Press, forthcoming).

Rose, F. The Art of Immersion. W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition ( 2011)

The NBC Website: accessed 08/08/12

www.nbc.com

 

Back to the subject of post-broadcast television….

I feel like I have to back-track a little bit, and cover last week’s “post-broadcast” concept. Like, I was there in the lecture and the tute, but I didn’t really think about it or try to wrap my head around this strange new word: post-broadcast.

Well, like it was for many I think, my first stop has to be Graeme Turner’s book Television Studies After TV: Understanding Television in the Post-Broadcast Era. In this, he really defines the period of time in which broadcast television began to decline:

“The decline of the broadcast era in the West has seen increasing industrial and technological convergence as telecommunications, information technology and the electronic media coalesce under the same corporate umbrellas, and as technologies themselves interact more directly than ever before.” (pg. 7)

Now, I am no scholar. Not even close. So in my simple terms this seems to suggest that the “post-broadcast era” speaks of new media technologies interacting in a way that traditional media never could. For example, we have the Internet, social media, and TV screens just about everywhere we look. A key word is “convergence”, as not only do these technologies exist, but they interact and work alongside one another. Watching TV also means picking up the phone and voting for your favourite celebrity, or scrolling through your Twitter feed to see what others are saying about the latest episode of your TV show.

Another thing we talked about in the tute was this whole thing about block viewing television shows. That is, sitting down with the DVD box set of a show and watching episodes in large chunks, rather than breaking it down and watching an episode a week as TV broadcasting allows. I love the way Mel Campbell puts it in her article Baying For True Blood: Binge Reading in Television’s Post-Broadcast Era:

“in the post-broadcast era, freed from the tyranny of being drip-fed single episodes in a set timeslot, we can now watch as many as we like, when we like: on DVD, TiVo or the Internet, engaging in voluptuous television binges, tearing through entire seasons in a weekend.”

I’ve been attached to a drip before, and I understand the need to be slowly medicated rather than having a massive medicine rush all at once. So perhaps this block viewing isn’t healthy? Maybe we can overdose on Madmen or Game of Thrones? Definitely can on Gossip Girl. Just saying.

 

 

SOURCES

Turner, G. Television Studies After TV: Understanding Television in the Post-Broadcast Era. Taylor & Francis, 2009

Third Lecture: Live Television

One of the things I have been rambling on about incoherently in my posts is the idea that television IS an everyday thing. It doesn’t seem extraordinary to us who have grown up with it. David Morley, in “Home Territories”, in a way argues this himself:

“being an “ordinary person” involves, among other things, a certain amount of daily television viewing.” (pg. 109)

This is just what we expect from people in our culture, as TV has such prevalence in the way we live. Morley goes further than my general idea, however, insinuating that television is such a huge part of our lives, that it even determines how we live. Quoting Stuart Hall’s view of the BBC, he identifies broadcast television as having ‘produced the nation which it addressed, it constituted the audience by the ways in which it represented them’ (pg. 108).

Underlying all this theory is an almost “Matrix-like” assumption that although we have created TV, it now in a way creates and controls us. Morley points out how ‘broadcasting marks (and helps construct) the annual regular festivals and occasions of the culture’s yearly, seasonal and weekly cycles’ (pg. 109), essentially keeping time for us. In fact we can tell what time of day it is even by what programs are on TV. If it is a breakfast show like Sunrise, we will know it is the morning; if it is a talk show like Dr Phil or Oprah, it is around midday; if it is a drama like Home and Away or Neighbours, it will be early evening…and so on.

In terms of live television, broadcasting brings into our lives what the world sees as important. Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz liken the “sacred” quality of media events to religious processions: in the same way a religious icon is paraded through a neighbourhood, public values “penetrate the private world of the residence”  in the form of media events broadcasted on our televisions. For example, the live coverage of the 2012 London Olympic Games was not only “the world’s longest commercial” as Brian put it this morning, but it was a linking up of a worldwide ‘virtual community’. Sitting at home, wrapped in blankets in the early hours of the morning in Australia, we could experience the ‘immediacy’ of the Games despite them taking place half a world away. However, to many the early hour of the screening did not matter. The Games are televised every four years, and it was again time to turn on the screens and take part in this ritualistic event.

The excerpts shown in class this morning clearly display the connection between television and the blurring of the private and public spheres. The Olympics Opening Ceremony, an obviously hugely public event, was viewed by billions in the comfort of their own home: a demonstration of how public events are drawn into private lives through the privilege of television. People no doubt sat around their screens discussing the events that were taking place, much as we did this morning in class. Conversely, the Sunrise clip demonstrates the opposite: the public newsroom was turned into a laid back space, almost like a living room in itself. This kind of Breakfast television demonstrates the ‘domestication of the national’ in that public events, even politics and finance reports, can be presented to the audience in the form of general discussion between two ‘anchors’ that act more like old friends having a chat.

SOURCES:

Morley, D. 2000. Home Territories: Media, Mobility and Identity. Taylor and Francis

Dayan, D. and Katz, E. 1992. Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History. Harvard University Press

What??? Watching TV isn’t homework?

I just watched the first episode in season one of Modern Family. By recommendation. From a few people.

Cast of Modern Family

Anyway, it was good! Sure. I think anything can be good if you have no assumptions about it from the start. And I didn’t. Had no idea what to expect.

As I was watching I began to notice the camera movement, and how it was obviously quite complex. As opposed to a TV show like ‘Friends’ which is made up of mainly long shots and mid shots, this show had closeups and cutaways, making it seem more like ‘reality’. It made me think of what we were talking about in our tute the other day: in relation to Blundell’s article about how film and TV has developed, especially camera technology. So much more can be achieved in TV today because of the way cameras now operate. Increased scope of filming allows the editor to eventually piece together a sequence of images that makes us feel like we are there in the room with the actors. A good editor will make the jump between shots seem so natural. Eg.

(Awkward… I was gonna include screen grabs of the relevant shots, but am too technically incapable.)

 

In a scene towards the end of episode one the whole family gets together, and it is noticeable that the camera pans really quickly between characters depending on who is the centre of the action and is talking. It is like us (the viewers) are a person in the room simply looking around and changing the direction of our attention.

Would have been better with screen grabs. Whatever. I’ll work on it.