Saturday, April 22, 2017

Core Post 5: Millionaire

Since I talked about how bingeing has affected the way we experience the flow (or potential lack thereof) of post-network television in my first core post, I instead wanted to think about some of Parks's claims around Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in the context of its current iteration. I think it would be really interesting to track how the show has changed over the course of its eighteen-year run (!), and consider the what the impetus for these changes might be. Obviously, I don't really have the space to discuss something of that scope here, but there are a few things I'd like to point out as potential food for thought.

I'll start with Parks's claim that "the return of the quiz show...[is] about the current moment of convergence and the ways in which dominant ideologies about gender, race, class, and technology become part of television's efforts to rearticulate itself as a computerized form" (Parks 141). She talks about the show's emphasis on "masculine" computerized technology, the show's general lack of female contestants and contestants of color, among other things. What I find interesting about the show now is that, to me at least, it seems to be much less focused on computers and screens than it was at the time of Parks's writing, and in subsequent format changes that came in the late aughts. I see Parks's point that Millionaire situated computers, and television's appropriation of them, as the site for knowledge production. (I find it interesting that Parks didn't mention the fact that, in the first iteration of the show, participation in the "hot seat" was actually dependent on how effectively and quickly one could navigate a computer screen. Hot seat contestants were selected from a group of people in an on-deck circle of sorts; the first person to correctly answer the question provided on their computer screens got to move into the hot seat and play for the million dollars.) I think, throughout its run on ABC, though, Millionaire has always shifted and negotiated its relationship with computers. A key example that stands out is the nixing of the "Phone a Friend" lifeline. The elimination of this lifeline was not due to the decreasing relevance of telephones, but rather to people's increasing reliance on the Internet. Phone-a-Friends became progressively transparent about the fact that they were using Google to help their friends answer the question. While, to Parks's point, the lifelines in and of themselves problematize the notion that a contestant wins on knowledge alone, the utilization of Google was a bridge too far for producers. The computer and the Internet help us internalize trivia and information, then, but an external and overt reliance on them is forbidden.

Phone a Friend was replaced by "Ask the Expert," in which contestants Skype a generally smart person or previous Millionaire contestant for help on a particular question. (The corporate sponsorship from Skype is another interesting topic, I think.) On the one hand, Skype certainly seems more high-tech and "current" than telephoning someone. But, to my earlier point, I think the use of Skype was actually meant to curtail cheating via the Internet. Beyond the fact that the term "expert" suggests a wealth of internalized knowledge and information, the expert is also visible and can be surveyed by producers and the audience. Now, though, Millionaire's "ask a friend" feature does not involve technology at all. Rather, the contestant summons their friend from the audience to come down to the hot seat and help them work through the question. I think you could make the argument that this makes the progression through the questions seem more "authentic." Assuming that audience members, who can be polled in the "Ask the Audience" lifeline, are also forbidden from bringing in phones, the show conveys that success is only possible through a temporary abandonment of technology. What this also suggests to me, though, is that we can be successful when we abandon our technology because its ubiquity has allowed us to internalize more information. The contestant cannot choose from a pool of phone-a-friends who might be knowledgeable about different things. Instead, the contestant is stuck with whomever they've brought to the studio, who hopefully knows enough about everything to be of any use. As a side note, I think that this ubiquity of technology is also visually suggested through the host, contestant, and audience's reliance on a giant screen to feed them the questions. People don't look at their personal monitors anymore, but instead devote their attention to a single screen that dominates the space.

Finally, and on a somewhat unrelated note, I think the show does still continue to convey dominant ideologies in the way Parks claims. While it's not as male-centered or aggressively white as it used to be (and, of course, it had a female host for quite some time), there's something to be said for the fact that Chris Harrison, the host of The Bachelor franchise, is the current host of Millionaire. What are the implications for transplanting the face of a franchise that celebrates white, heterosexual relationships into the quiz show format? Obviously, this is mostly a ploy to get Bachelor viewers to watch Millionaire, and vice versa, but, especially given the fact that Millionaire had a Bachelor week that featured previous (white, heterosexual) couples as contestants, I think this question is worth asking.

1 comment:

  1. All interesting points, Josie! Speaking of other aspects of the show that Parks does not investigate, I was wondering how the content of the trivia questions might also construct an implicit ideology. Of course, massive amounts of data would be required to determine trends in the types of questions asked of the contestants, but I wonder how fruitful it would be to perform this type of investigation. What, if any, are the primary categories of these questions, and can they be drawn along race, gender, and class lines? This line of thinking would also open up a questioning of other types of quiz shows and the various ideological divisions they implicitly enforce in their tiers of knowledge--compare Jeopardy to Wheel of Fortune, for example, to see how class lines are drawn between two shows that are ubiquitous in their packaging together.