While I found all of the readings this week quite engaging, I was most compelled and convinced by Tania Modleski’s “The Rhythms of Reception: Daytime Television and Women’s Work.” In it, Modeleski outlines the way that daytime television--speaking specifically of soap operas and game shows--interacted with, captivated, and affected the by-in-large female audience watching them (this sex-breakdown of the audience has to do with the time of day the shows were on--because they appeared in the afternoon, it is the housewife that the shows were targeting). And indeed, the housewife was targeted not only by the shows, which includes their format and content, but also by the commercials. Modleski argues that the flow--or rather the the interruptive segments--of both the content of the television shows and the commercials led to a state of distraction--distraction from both watching the show on display and from the often dull and monotonous work the housewife which the housewife must do. She writes, “Individual programs like soap operas as well as the flow of various programs and commercials tend to make repetition, interruption and distraction pleasurable” (73). While this statement can come off a little conspiracy theory-ly, Modleski, I think, aptly points to one of the effects of television--that is, its lulling into complacency. Of course, this is quite a large generalization and television has many effects, but I remain hesitantly convinced--perhaps simplistically so-- by Modleski’s claim which links the use of television as an outlet with the bored housewife.
Also in her piece, Modleski analyzes the use of close ups in soap operas, a move she locates as taking full force within this television genre. She writes, “Soap operas appear to be the one visual art which activates the gaze of the mother--but in order to provoke anxiety (an anxiety never allayed by narrative closure) about the welfare of others. Close-ups provide the spectator with training in “reading’ other people, in being sensitive to their (unspoken) feelings at any given moment” (70). If I hesitantly agreed with Modleski’s overarching claim above, I remain moreso convinced of her analysis of the use use of close-ups in soap operas. Close-ups, she states, train the housewife on how to read people, that is on how to figure out what people in her family are really thinking (this lack of knowing her family’s real thoughts and feelings is a problem that is also constructed in many daytime commercials, Modleski also claims, that target housewives as well).
While I have never before considered the use of close-ups psychologically, Modleski’s take seems to ring true outside of just the daytime soap opera. When I think back on my beloved pre-teen night-time soap opera, Dawson’s Creek, the use of close-ups was superfluous. Moreover, the entire point of the show seemed to center around the attempt to figure out what the characters were thinking: does Dawson love Jen and not Joey, does Joey love Pacey and not Dawson, is Jack dating Joey as a way to hide his homosexuality? These questions were all answered first, not verbally, but with the minute facial expressions of repetitive close-ups. In fact, I would venture that all of the night-time teenage soap operas of the late 90s / early 2000s make use of the close-up in this way. Thinking back on shows like Gilmore Girls, Everwood, and The OC, the close-up could have been another full character (but that’s for a longer paper another time).