Sunday, January 22, 2017

Week 3 Core Response

Newcomb and Hirsch discuss this idea of content creators or “hucksters of the symbol” and compare this idea to the medium of television. They say that television has a “multiplicity of meanings rather than a monolithic dominant point of view.” For the most part I agree with this idea. But, there are some points made earlier on by Newcomb and Hirsch that seem to add another layer of meaning to this to consider.

They suggest early on that in researching television we should consider establishing a correlation between the messages transmitted and the understanding of the audience. This is an especially crucial point since watching television is such a widespread phenomenon, with various effects and manifestations. In studying television, and any media, it is important to address not only the intended message but the fact that audiences may create more meanings through their participation with television. The message of those who created it is not always the same as that which each individual viewer perceives.

With that being said, I think the idea of television not being a “monolithic dominant point of view” might be wrong. Well, not wrong exactly, but not right either. If we consider last week’s discussion of McLuhan’s ideas of Hot vs. Cold media, television is a Cold medium because of audience participation. There are many ways in which television is participatory, and for this post I want to consider only one way: we choose what we want to watch. We create our own TV experience through our own choices of content. For example, a more conservative viewer might choose to watch Fox News over CNN. This does not all the available points of views on television to be transmitted to this viewer because they might depend solely on Fox News for their information. Thus, they create a monolithic dominant point of view through their television watching experience.

(After writing all of this I read through Hendershot’s piece and realized she said the same thing) So, I will end my comment with this: Considering the current state of television, can we consider any television to have a cultural impact on a large scale when we are so oversaturated with content being transmitted to us? Our choices become more and more narrowing as we create a content bubble that applies to us specifically and no one else. Even Hendershot’s example is specific to Parks and Recreation and the audience that either viewed it when it was airing or now seeks it out through various other channels. We are limited by our choices. I will repeat Hendershot’s question here: “if a program raises important issues, but no one is watching, does it matter?” I did not find her answer satisfying, so if anyone has any thoughts please share!


  1. I think you bring up some interesting ideas, Rachel and Hendershot's idea that television still functions like a cultural forum is interesting but kind of limiting. I think her supposition that more content means less need to fit into niches and thus media that is self-confirming (206) is analogous to the idea of the echo chamber of social media (like the example of people's own Facebook feeds supporting their own political views).

    And while Hendershot considers Newcomb and Hirsh's idea of television as a cultural forum, she doesn't really talk about how the same material can be read in different ways by different people. Since I don't watch Parks and Recreation, I can only assume there are multiple possible readings of the show but Hendershot relies on just her own interpretation as a way to support her own conclusions about the show.

    1. Jenn,

      I agree on your example of the echo chamber of social media and its parallel to niche programming. Hendershot addresses this by saying "targeted niche TV thus provides "self confirmation", leaving little room for the old cultural forum ideal of ideas in conflict". Although Newcomb and Hirsch explain that one program can be read by a range of viewers with differing political perspectives, their article was written when content wasn't as diverse as it is today. Will viewers watch content that they're not entirely invested if they know other content is available? It is hard to say. Hendershot ultimately deduces Parks and Recreation as a program that had "consistently poor" ratings, showing that programming which utilizes the 'one size fits all' mold is not viable in this era of myriad programming options.

  2. Rachel, I think your point around people creating their own dominant points of views through their viewing choices is an interesting one. I guess to your point around Hendershot's question, "If a program raises important issues but no one is watching, does it matter?" I would build on what she says a bit. To a certain extent, I think it's always going to matter how many people are watching a show. (To say that ratings aren't a "useful gauge" is perhaps true from a technical / logical standpoint, but I think it undercuts the value we still place on the amount of eyeballs on any given program.) However, I think the value and lifespan of programs is now dependent on a more factors than we saw in the network era of television. I think we're now primarily concerned with how permeable a show can be across the internet. For instance, a show like The Americans (one of my personal favorites, as I've mentioned) has never had stellar ratings, but has been kept on the air due to its critical success, which has slowly allowed it to gain some traction through online coverage. I think longevity can also be assessed through second screen potential, social media campaigns, etc. There are just more touchpoints now between viewers and a show that it's pointless to measure its impact purely based on the amount of people watching it at any given time. Sort of off topic, but it just made me think...if I don't watch Parks and Rec (just to use Hendershot's example), but I post Ron Swanson memes on Facebook (which I do not), am I engaging with the show on a certain level? Can I be engaged with something I don't watch? How do we assess engagement these days?

    Also, to your point around dominant points of made me think of Gitlin's theory that "major social conflicts are transported into the cultural system, where the hegemonic process frames them, form and content both, into compatibility with dominant systems of meaning" (264). I was thinking about how, you're right, people do elect what they want to watch, and how this might seem like a "freedom" we have. But in reality, many of these "fringe" shows that people choose to watch are still entrenched in some dominant mode of representation. Transparent, for instance, has gotten some flack for using a cis male to portray a trans woman, and for framing trans issues pretty much solely through the lens of the white upper-middle class. Orange Is the New Black is supposed to give voices to people of color and LGBT+ communities (within the diegesis of the show), but there are notoriously no people of color in the writers room. So I think it's interesting that even if we're solely choosing shows that align with our own belief systems (which, to your point, is problematic in and of itself), I think most of the time, we're still adhering to these dominant modes in one way or another (if we're talking about network-produced shows, anyway).

  3. In regards to Hendershot's question, I do think that a TV program can have a cultural impact even if viewership isn't particularly high. Freaks and Geeks and Arrested Development are amongst the shows that were cancelled due to low ratings and yet they definitely seem to have permanent spots in the broader cultural zeitgeist. This is for two reasons, one being that the devotion of their original fan base and the rise of internet streaming had allowed them to achieve second lives and reach more people. Second, is because if a show is high enough quality than it will reach the people who make TV even if it doesn't necessarily have wide, commercial appeal. The messages that you can get from a show like Parks and Recreation will more likely come up in later in other shows and indirectly influence cultural attitudes. As much as niche programming can divide audiences, and has unrealistic it is to achieve a dominant view, Hollywood is ultimately a small world with perspective overlaps that will permeate through different types of media. With that said, I do agree that my point applies more to scripted content and you are right to point out how perspectives formed by news channels can create dominant views in likeminded individuals.