Monday, January 30, 2017

Core Response, TV + Family

In her article “Installing the Television Set: Popular Discourses on Television and Domestic Space, 1948-1955”, Lynn Spigel ties the media outlets such as advertising, radio and television to understand the domestic space of the home and the role of the female body in it. Television’s role beyond as a visual storyteller occupied the women’s time and her space as a physical object. The commodification of the television as an object, as a piece of furniture, encouraged its ‘theatricalization’ of the home; thus, through analyzing various advertising from women’s magazines, consumers of television were offered the idea of the domestic space as viable alternative to movement outside of the home, in the real social space of live theatre. One can note that through the commodification of the television set, a women’s role as house-wife remained ingrained.

Spigel notes of the suburban housing boom, addressing the massive migration from the inner city to the occupance of suburban planned communities. The television was the form in which the wife was able to ‘leave’ suburbia without having to physically leave. The space between suburban planning and the city was closed through the images the television broadcast. However, the imaginary social engagement that television promoted didn’t convince housewifes who dreams of movement beyond the domestic space. Spigel notes “this problem of female spatial isolation gave way to what can be called a corrective cycle of commodity purchases” (14). The women is feigned the idea of pleasurably watching television whilst correcting her body into continuous domestic work.

Understanding the confinement of the female body that Spigel writes of, one can transition to the praisal of a narrative that the protagonist devotes its time to breaking from the home into stardom. Tania Modleski writes in “Situation Comedy, Feminism, and Freud” that Lucy Ricardo strived for a life outside of the gendered domestic space of the home. One wonders how this narrative is possible in a time of white nuclear family narratives. Modleski writes that Ricky’s “.. representation as the latin love/bandleader/crooner and slapstick foil for lucy’s pies in the face suggests that Lucy’s resistance to patriarchy might be more palatable because it is mediated by racism which views Ricky as inferior”. The housewife can upstage the male patriarch due to his race in mainstream programming. However, she never succeeds in leaving the domestic space. “She can never be a “real” public performer, except for us: she must narratively remain a housewife” ( Modleski 88). Her ability to move beyond the typical narrative of the housewife in early tv was afforded by her whiteness.


  1. I really enjoy how Spigel highlights the relationship between gender and emerging technologies as television made its way into consumer culture. Reading Spigel with contemporary society in mind, I can't help but think how the relationship between housewives and television has shifted through reality television displaying their lives and scripted struggles. Initially, television was made for housewives to be part of something larger in a post-War World II context, now they are within the television sets looking out. I also really enjoyed how Spigel commented on how the television set made its way into women's magazines, as objects that are desirable, along with home decor. (9 Spigel) Similarly, reality television portrays the lives of rich women so that viewers can escape into a world that displays material objects they may never afford.

  2. To make a connection between Spigel’s article and the “The Rhythms of Reception” and Alia’s response to it: the two pieces work well together in shedding light upon different aspects of how and for what ends the close-up is made to function in TV and its various genres.
    As for Spigel: as you point out, television was imagined and marketed as a form of device of communication, a consumer good that would “eradicate[e] distance] and “conquer space”, opening up the world for, or even actually bringing it, so to speak, to the viewer (Spigel, p7). In close relation to this promise and idealized function, television had to offer advantages over actually going to a theater or other live performance, rather than being perceived as a mere, secondary reproduction of, or poor substitution for, a live performance or a night out. I think Spigel convincingly argues for the close-up functioning for the creation of this sense of superiority of television by offering a kind of visual access to the aspects of a spectacle that a viewer who is actually there (rather than watching it on TV) would not have.
    So, in my reading of the relevant articles, in both Spigel’s and in Modleski’s example, close-ups on TV seem to work for some sort of perceptual-epistemological privilege, or at least a sense of it, which is implicitly or explicitly contrasted to the (relatively poor) real life/ physical bodily opportunities TV is supposed to override.