The reading this week got me thinking about how television is engrained and a major part of all of our lives. While it was developed as a result of scientific and technological research, the results of television have been much farther reaching (Williams, 3). While Williams, McLuhan, and Feuer all have very valid viewpoints and in many cases extremely accurate observations about television, so much has changed in the thirty, forty, and fifty years since their writings were originally published. As McLuhan wrote, “The medium, or process, of our time- electric technology- is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social independence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted” (“Medium” 8). McLuhan is correct here, but just how correct has yet to be seen as television and information technologies are continually evolving and reshaping our lives on a daily basis. There are two areas in particular which McLuhan and Williams discuss which I would like to investigate further: namely media involvement in politics and the low-definition, inferior quality of television to film. While each of these topics could on their own lead to much larger discussions, I will only scratch the surface and hopefully open up some more questions and observations for greater discussion on the class blog.
According to Raymond Williams in 1974, television was in many ways, even after numerous technological advances over the years, still seen as inferior to cinema (22). But is this still the case today? As the well-known HBO slogan suggests, “it’s not TV, it’s HBO” television has advanced to the point where it has become something more than how it was previously conceived or thought of. There have been such huge advances in the decades since Williams first wrote Television: Technology and Cultural Form, I suspect that what we think of as television nowadays would have been unrecognizable in the preceding decades. Even looking back just 10 years to 2007 before the widespread adoption of digital broadcasting, in comparison to the television we are used to today, looks very dated. Today people have large-screen, high definition television sets and surround sound systems that many home viewing experiences are almost at the same level as a movie theatre. The production of television series has also changed and in many cases they are just as technologically advanced and cinematically and visually striking as any film and many times the budgets reflect that. The perception of what can be done on television has also changed drastically. As Marshall McLuhan wrote, “to contrast it with the film shot, many directors refer to the TV image as one of ‘low definition,’ in the sense that it offers little detail and a low degree of information... A TV close-up provides only as much information as a small section of a long-shot on the movie screen” (McLuhan, “Timid” 345). This perception of an inferior quality to television has all but evaporated. Television is now attracting some of the biggest actors and directors in Hollywood than would have ever been seen just a few years ago in which actors and directors worked toward making the leap from television to film and not vice verse.
Game of Thrones now has a budget on par with many summer blockbusters, which can be seen in many episodes, such as in Season 6 episode “Battle of the Bastards” directed by Miguel Sapochnik
Both McLuhan and Williams also discuss the importance of media in relation to politics. “A new form of ‘politics’ is emerging, and in ways we haven’t yet noticed. The living room has become a voting booth. Participation via television…is changing everything” (McLuhan, “Medium” 22). Williams also has some interesting observations about the role of news in this new, broadcast media environment in which he mentions how American broadcast news has become more about the appearance of presenting personal opinion. “In American television, there is a studied informality which is meant to create the effect of a group of men telling you things they happen to know. Even in network bulletins there is less emphasis on a script and more personal presentation” (43). With the extreme narrow-casting that has taken over the media news market, people can once again search out the news they want to hear. In much the same way, Williams says that in the early days of print news, people had the choice of what information they chose to receive. The layout of the newspaper made it so that “the act of reading a newspaper involved a glancing over or scanning, and then, within the terms of the newspaper’s selection, the reader’s selection of items on which to concentrate” (Williams, 40). However, as Williams continues to explain, with the advent of first radio, and then television broadcast news, the delivery structure became linear and the public no longer had a choice as to what news they heard and in what order (41). Now, however, there has been a return to this selective news model. The proliferation of so many news sources has allowed the public an amazing amount of choice as to where they can receive their news, each with its own unique brand of bias. This can be seen most drastically in the recent 2016 election. The majority of people were receiving their news from such limited sources, that when the election results first started rolling in, the prevailing reaction was shock. How could this be happening because everything these people had been seeing was directing their perception of the news in a very different direction. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the coming years and what we can learn by looking back on our interactions with television. What does everyone else think? What other changes have you noticed in our reception of television after the reading this week? Is the Medium really the Message or has the message changed with the medium?
McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Message: An Inventory of Effects. 1967.
Marshall, McLuhan. “Television: The Timid Giant.” Understanding Media: The Extensions of Men. New York/London.
Williams, Raymond. Television: Technology and Cultural Form. Routledge Classics ed. New York: Routledge, 2003.