Sunday, January 15, 2017

Core Response Week 2

In thinking about this week’s readings, the question that underpins much of the material for me is, What relevance do these theories have for the way we consider the television landscape today? Both McLuhan and Williams allude to the relative rapidity of television’s introduction into our societal framework. What is equally significant is the way in which the medium has evolved over time. In chapter 1, Williams notes that “radio and television were systems primarily devised for transmission and reception as abstract processes with little or no definition of preceding content” (Williams 17). I think it’s interesting to think of this statement in light of streaming and web series today, which have made the definition of television more nebulous than it was at the time these theorists wrote. Just as plays, sporting events, films, etc. were transposed to television and helped define how television content was devised and understood, television series today have been transposed to the internet. Web and streaming-based series have completely redefined television content and the viewing experience we’ve come to expect with it-- but I think, just as Williams notes, web technology preceded this content revolution.

It is also interesting that much of what Williams says is endemic to the televisual medium has great relevance to the way we watch TV today. For instance, he notes that people “adapted to this inferior visual medium, in an unusual kind of preference for an immediate technology, because of the social complex...within which broadcasting, as a system, is operative” (Williams 21). Similarly, Feuer writes that the medium “insists” upon the “ideology of the live, the immediate, the direct, the spontaneous, the real” (Feuer 14). “Immediacy” and “directness” thirty to forty years ago seemed to be tied to the notion of the home. (I don’t have to go to the theater, the cinema, or the arena to see this; I can view it in my living room.) Today, these concepts are certainly tied to technological mobility, for one (I don’t have to wait until I’m home to watch this show; I can watch it on my phone now), and for another, streaming. (I don’t have to wait until this show comes on as a rerun; I can watch it now--or I can binge.) And Williams’s commentary around the television’s technological inferiority is reminiscent of similar conversations around the inferior video quality viewers have come to accept when they stream television.

I’m also curious as to how we might think of Williams’s (and Feuer’s) concept of flow and “liveness” in relation to television today. Feuer states that “only the ideological connotations of live television are exploited in order to overcome the contradiction between flow and fragmentation in television practice (Feuer 16). A contemporary example, I think, would be Williams’s discussion around news programs’ “cue formulas,” and how they work not only as transitions between fragments of information, but also as conveyors of the “liveness” and “instantaneousness” of the information (Williams 109-110). But how is this ideology realized today? Certainly, news programs adhere to the same types of formulas Williams describes. But I think the notion of bingeing and subscription (i.e., commercial-free) television might be a more modern actualization of this ideology. I think that, in a very interesting way, “fragments” in television today are not really segments of information or of television shows that are “interrupted” (to use Williams’s word) by commercials; the fragments are the shows themselves. Channels like HBO and services like Netflix have normalized the commercial-free viewing experience, to the point where we have become accustomed not to viewing segments of episodes in one uninterrupted flow, but rather segments of entire series or seasons. Bingeing is now the way that we “overcome the contradiction between flow and fragmentation,” and I think content creators do exploit this, as Feuer suggests, by writing series that try to draw us in for extended viewing sessions. It’s kind of funny how Williams talked about the first few minutes of shows being critical to getting viewers to stay on one channel. While that’s still important on Netflix, it’s now even more about those final few minutes--How can we get viewers to watch the next episode and stay on our platform for as long as possible?

This is somewhat unrelated, but I do find the way we talk about or qualify the “likeness” of television to be compelling. Feuer questions if this liveness “is not precisely an ‘effect’ at all, but rather a generalized ideological stance toward the medium itself” (Feuer 21). In reading this, I thought of Derrida’s commentary on “liveness,” which he does, interestingly, classify as an “effect.” Whereas Feuer seems to be concerned with that “contradiction between flow and fragmentation,” Derrida seems more preoccupied with the contradiction between the way in which television can be the “living image of the living” while also being “produced before being transmitted.” (I’m citing Derrida’s “Right of Inspection,” 39-40). Here the crux is more of the transmission itself, and how we control transmission and the production of the image. Just thought it might be worth noting!


  1. In the ever changing format of television and the multiple mediums television can be received, the creation of a definition for television is difficult to pinpoint. Jane Feur in “The Concept of Live Television: Ontology as Ideology” focuses on live television as the source of the essential nature of television. She points to Good Morning, America’s flow and fragmentation as the example of “ the essential nature of television” (13). I am interested in how Facebook can be defined as a medium for television reception. Through the social media platform various clips of network, cable, nontraditional programming like Tastee, Buzzfeed, Insider, etc., would pop up on one’s feed. The frequency and differentiation of these media items would vary according to the personal social media ‘echo chamber’.

    In tying with Feur’s discussion of live television, I am interested in how Facebook Live can be used as a reception of a live program, Feur adding that through a medium’s liveness it can position itself as an “ideological apparatus position[ing] the spectator into its “imaginary” of presence and immediacy” (14). Facebook Live fits the definition of the immediacy and presence necessary to define as live. Any thoughts on how Facebook Live will be used in the future especially in the oncoming presidential inauguration? Or perhaps how in the past it has been used as a political voice for those who are mistreated by the police force?

  2. Adding to the idea of the drastic changes to how television audiences regard and interact with "liveness" and flow today, I think of the absence of scheduling in different streaming websites like Netflix and Hulu. In contrast to the scheduling Williams breaks down in his fourth chapter, whether it's the " ‘moving along’" of trailing sequences "to sustain what is thought of as a kind of brand-loyalty to the channel being watched" (Williams 86) or the eventual maturing of content from morning to night (Williams 89-92), Netflix and Hulu disrupt this flow. If we look at the groupings of shows on these streaming sites, they are not shown in order of timing and scheduling, and are often not grouped together by networks, but rather by genre. The coaxing of audiences into brand-loyalty is no longer based on commercial airings and flow, as different network's shows are mixed in to one another, and can be watched at any time.

    Netflix and Hulu's invention cuts off a form of brand-loyalty because while "many of us find television very difficult to switch off" today just as when Williams wrote about television (86), we no longer switch on "for a particular ‘program’," and then "find ourselves watching the one after it and the one after that" (86). The necessity of tuning in for one program (because it is airing "live") no longer directly flows us 'into' another program from the same network. Instead, we are either steadfast in watching the series we have "clicked in" to see, or stop watching that program unless we make an active decision to chose another "program" to watch.

    Additionally, with these streaming sites, we no longer "tune in" during periods of time that are set aside for certain age groups. Netflix does not only show children's cartoons and soaps in the daytime, and more "mature" content in the evenings. Television is no longer time dependent when using streaming devices or recording devices like Tevo or DVR.

    Is this better for networks, that they can have such active consuming in any part of a day for a large portion of a day, even if it is not on cable television? Or does it keep new programs from being stumbled upon because of the lack of flow from one type of show to another? Or maybe internet hype makes up for the gap.

  3. Thinking about flow in this new streaming environment is really interesting. As Nicole mentioned, the flow has shifted from watching one program and then another, but rather from one episode flowing into another episode.
    Some of the ideas surrounding the so called "liveness" of TV is also really fascinating.