Saturday, April 8, 2017

"Before TV, two world wars. After TV, zero.": TV, the Self-Savvy Medium? Core Response (to the readings of week 12)

Marry rich.
Kill husband.

Husband not funny?

The couch is your friend.

You can talk to your wife anytime.

Don’t worry. You’ve got billions of brain cells.

You’re breathing. We’re broadcasting. Let’s get together.

--These are examples of the slogans used in ABC’s yellow campaign introduced in season 1997/1998 John Caldwell refers to in “Convergence Television: Aggregating Form and Repurposing Content in the Culture of Conglomeration”, when he explains how branding as an “industrial trend (…) altered the very way that television looks and sounds” (54-5), in the era when the old networks had already lost their dominant market position and had to “rebrand” themselves (ibid). With regard to the yellow campaign, Caldwell notes that while new channels like MTV might have mastered post-modern irony in their actual content, ABC was able to foreground itself as hip through practicing “irony and pastiche [as] a part of every institutional and promotional self-reference.”

The trends of postmodern irony, and the constant performance of one’s knowingness and lack of gullibility (in our oh so postmodern world where the issue of one’s position of agency, power, control, submission, cooptation, and manipulation might have become definitely undecidable, and is embedded in infinite layers of potential critical reflexivity and hyper-reflexivity) have been noted and elaborated on in relation to, for instance, postfeminism and the popular media (see the Angela McRobbie article), or participatory viewership and online fan communities (by Mark Andrejevic). Now, in Caldwell we see an example of how the relevant trends were emerging in TV’s own, publically marketed self-image. The self-irony in the yellow campaign (based on the examples I found) is certainly limited, and is still mild in its cynicism and darkness; many of the slogans perform, instead, a knowing silliness that is not even overtly offensive (guys, you are useless).

Kinney Littlefield provides some relevant criticism on the campaign in a 1997 article in Chicago Tribunes, yet what I would rather emphasize is that themes of TV being potentially silly, boring, or that it may suck (“We broadcast mediocre shit most of the time”?) or references how “we as TV are after your money you stupid fuck” are not included in the campaign, which rather appropriates TV’s ambiguous image as indeed guilty pleasure and something that wholesome ideologies (the great target for irony) would treat as unhealthy, useless, and sick (therefore, you are cool to do be involved in it). 

In close relation to postmodern irony as intersected with postfeminism, it is interesting to read some of the slogans that mock both the ideal (“Marry rich…”) and the potential practical reality (Husband not funny?” etc) of marriage. At the same time, what I take to be a kind of pre-postmodern, non-ironic twist is that all the sarcasm and pastiche notwithstanding, some of the slogans seem to be aimed to directly incite a genuine sense of “us” between TV and its viewers, a feeling of community and belonging (such as the “We love TV.” slogan from 1998/1999); not to mention the indirect incitement of a sense of community through the kind of shared understanding, joking, and knowingness all slogans, individually and as a collective, perform.

 I’m wondering what examples there are where a brand would go a lot further in self-reflexive sarcasm and offensiveness than ABC did in 1997..?

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