Sunday, January 15, 2017

Core Response Week 2

Slogging through the first four chapters of Raymond William’s Television: Technology + Cultural Form was a rather arduous experience but for me the biggest takeaway was his idea of flow, that both television programming and within the programs themselves there is a flow, a continuous movement that keeps viewers watching and the idea of commercials as sitting within natural breaks within programs (Williams 79-83).  Josie talks about this in her post as well, that with the prevalence of streaming and television that is intended to be viewed without commercial breaks has resulted in a modified way of creating and viewing. 

I think it’s interesting to consider then television that is viewed in ways that aren’t its intended form. Whenever I’m deep into bingeing a show on Netflix, one that was originally aired on television, there are no commercials. But there are still the spaces for commercial breaks, the abrupt cut where I was originally meant to be advertised a car or a birth control advertisement (or whatever type of advertisement that is meant for the audience that views that program at that time), jolts me out of the flow that Williams refers to. In this way, Jane Feuer’s addition to Williams’ flow: that there isn’t necessarily a flow, one continuous stream that keeps you riveted, but that there is both segmentation and flow, that flow exists only because there is segmentation (Feuer 16). The commercials were once part of that flow, a segment that kept the segments of the program together and once removed, I am allowed to be disengaged in those few seconds of black screen. (Whenever Netflix asks if I'm still watching something, it not only breaks this flow (and my binge) but I feel like Netflix is quietly judging me.)

Another prominent streaming service to consider is Hulu but where Netflix is ad-less, Hulu has advertisements (unless you’re willing to fork over $12 a month) but not necessarily the ones originally meant to be aired with the program. While certain advertisements on television are targeted to certain audiences/certain time slots, Hulu ads are targeted to the specific viewer, sometimes even interactive ads. Different ads, placed in the same places within the natural breaks of the program. Does this mean the flow is different now? Does it even matter? Also, as an aside, I found Marshall McLuhan calling commercials a folk art, a bastard child of television hilarious (Medium is the Massage 126).  

Another thing that occurred to me whilst reading McLuhan’s “Television: The Timid Giant” was the example of JFK and Nixon to talk about television’s influence. He refers to Nixon’s defined look backfiring on television: “For the hot movie medium needs people who look very definitely a type of some kind. The cool TV medium cannot abide the typical because it leaves the viewer frustrated of his job of 'closure" or completion of image” (365). Perhaps that explains why so many cannot look away from Trump when he’s on a screen: he’s certainly atypical and his lack of motivations/reasons for his actions lead us wanting a sense of closure, to complete his (ridiculous) image for ourselves. 


  1. It is interesting to see how candidate's televisual image has had a profound effect on presidential campaigns throughout the inception of the technology---JFK, Nixon, Reagan, and now Trump. Donald Trump is in a unique position where he is creating television through his rants on social media, a loop of television commentating on what Trump has said on Twitter. The only way to stop this endless loop is to not focus on what he writes on Twitter, however, him being the next President and the problematic comments he writes, makes it difficult not to focus on him.

  2. To join your contemplating on Trump, and the televisual image of presidential candidates commented on by McLuhan: to be honest, the relevant passages in Understanding Man were among those that I find to be mere musings, entertainment, social scientific and humanistic academia made fun of, rather than instances of theory to take seriously. McLuhan successfully provocates when going against what I presume may have already been common perceptions about TV as a passivizing media: he takes TV to be a "cool” media (at least in its early form when it was technologically underdeveloped compared to the cinema for instance) as in it calls for, it triggers a great deal of mental activity to "complete” its low-level input, its lack of rich and precise data so to speak. Okay. But then McLuhan goes on with a totally arbitrary and singular example of the supposed typicalness/definiteness of the looks of JFK vs Nixon, which supposed TV in/compatibility basically resulted in Kennedy’s (btw very narrow) victory. On the one hand, this example indeed examplifies the kind of strong casuality McLuhan carefreely constructs (when asking, for instance, "why it never occurs to [White] to ask why TV would inevitably be a disaster for a sharp intense image like Nixon's, and a boon for the blurry, shaggy texture of Kennedy”, p363-4 in our pdf Understanding Man). On the other hand, are we really to believe that Kennedy won by winning TV presence because his face was less definite on the small screen than Nixon’s? I would actually agree with McLuhan to the extent that the looks of political figures are actually far more significant in their appeal to people than it is comfortable for us to think. To be more precise, in the case of Kennedy vs Nixon and their image, wouldn’t it make more sense to consider, on the one hand, that Kennedy’s fair complexion made him to be read more white than Nixon—a factor that may have contributed to Kennedy’s victory in a racist society; on the other, obviously not unrelated to the construct and perception of whiteness, I suppose that Kennedy’s wide perception to be "good-looking” (especially in comparison to Nixon’s possibly much lower rank in the hierarchy of conventional male attractiveness) was much more significant a factor in Kennedy's success than his "blurry, shaggy texture”. Nevertheless, McLuhan’s comments, in their being originally mad, are a lotta fun to read.
    As for Trump, I really like your McLuhan-compatible reading of him as someone whose existence as such is a great enigma to many of us, which leaves us with a desperate urge to understand, and thus, curiosity, and the motivation to keep him in front of us and see what the hell will happen. At the same time, I would say that an oppositional reading is equally relevant and easy to make (and have been made loads of times): that of Trump communicating unusually radical and simplistic messages (as opposed to complex, refined, full of shades, or even ambiguous), which is precisely what has to be read as the key to his popular appeal and success.

  3. Just like Monica stated above it's going to be very hard not to focus on Trump and his crazy twitter rants over the next few years. Sadly it's almost like watching a train wreck and finding it hard not to look away and it really shows how much of an impact social media has on society. Through Trump's tweets whether he means what he says or not, the truth is him and his team know that what he says is still going to garner some form of attention. Even through his actual televisual image, you get a lot of polarizing of views of Trump as a person, depending on what channel a person decides to tune into. For example his image on certain channels is possibly to humanize him (potentially as a way of comfort/acceptance of what's to come) and then you have other channels that show how much they think he is not fit to be president and how much he is going to mess up the country. Either way it is an endless loop and a dire situation where America and the rest of the world can not help but watch.

  4. Asking "does it even matter?", makes me think about the larger purpose of television studies, which is to discuss notions of relevancy through the relationship between emerging technologies + culture, among other things. In terms of the future Trump era, I really enjoyed McLuhan's idea of media serving as an "extension" of "human faculty---psychic or physical" (26). To me, Trump being relevant on a television screen as a television host, for whatever reason trickled into the collapsing political sphere. Trump, as a brand, symbol and icon within media became an extension that infiltrated the human psyche. In other words, we are used to, fascinated, appalled, by what the symbol of Trump offers us. Media, "alters our environment", so Trump as media, alters our entire political sphere. (41) This is one for the books, but I'm certainly optimistic in being able to critique what is to come using a media studies approach.