Monday, April 17, 2017

Core Post #4: Global TV

In this week’s readings, the authors discuss the precarious notion of “global television” or global media, broadly. The existence of such a field of inquiry is unstable precisely because its conceptualization depends on glue-ing together two already troubled terms: “global” and “television.” In this post, I will focus on Shanti Kumar’s “Is There Anything Called ‘Global Television Studies’" because she frames the problem of global TV from a postcolonial studies perspective. Although she does not strive to provide an answer for what “global television is” (which does not seem to be the central concern of any of the authors), Kumar does seem invested in articulating why a “global television” approach—or perhaps method—might be important to pursue. For Kumar, a key issue to address within “global television studies” is what she describes as the “question of incommensurability in the civilizational dialogues” (137). This seems to describe the “fantasy” of a peaceful exchange of knowledge production between the “West” and the “East” or “global south” that is always inherently unequal. She cites the East-West Center established by the US Congress in the 1960s in Hawaii as a prime example in which an endeavor to “decenter” the West counterintuitively re-installs the epistemological rubrics of the “West”/ “Global North.”

Then, what is the point of a global approach to television studies? Kumar puts it quite succinctly in the end of her piece:

“The point is that the discipline of global television studies is at once necessary and impossible: necessary because only global studies of television will reveal the multiplicity of television cultures that is critical for fighting the universalizing tendencies in Western discourse; impossible because any global study of television in the current geopolitics of international communication necessarily means an unequal discourse” (151).

In this sense, global television studies should be dynamic rather than static, disciplinarian, or authoritative. It is fractured even as it attempts to cohere as a category to affirm, extend, or complicate. But, her solution is not to uncritically embrace the anti-disciplinarity of such a field. Rather, she critiques any false notion of interdisciplinarity that global television scholars might hold onto and, instead, urges scholars to accept its disciplinary tendencies and extend them to its “dialogical limits” (151). I do wonder what the limits are for this type of “participatory” process if most of it takes place within the US university. Is a US-centric perspective inevitable even as we attempt to destabilize such a perspective? I am thinking about our viewing of Prisoners of War, and even when the TV show was introduced, it was framed as the show that inspired Homeland. Even before the show began, there was an impulse to use familiar US-reference points to give language to the Israeli show. What, then, are other ways to position Prisoner of War as a piece of global television? Does it require referencing other Israeli television? Does it include illuminating the globality of the screen content of Prisoners of War? I am left with many of these “practical” questions after reading Kumar’s wonderful piece.


  1. Huan, thanks for your post! Your reading of Kumar's essay coupled with the questions it brought out of your viewing of Prisoners of War was really helpful. This is a very specific comment, but I shall comment nonetheless. You highlight the fact that even before watching Prisoners of War, we place it in an American context. I wonder-- andddd here's the specificity-- if this highlighting has to do more with the socio-political context of the relationship between Israel and America than with the fact that we are trying to place it into context of American television. I doubt very much that it is wholly one or the other, but I am inclined to think that the reference point has to do with both.

  2. Indeed great post, including great questions, thank you! You are quite right in complicating the matter of why and how Prisoners of War could be positioned as part of/ exemplifying global TV. One the one hand, it does showcase how texts can travel and be remade (with a typical trajectory of being picked up by the US media industry, remade into a more glamourous and prettier version, likely whitewashed, and toned down in social criticism if there was any; then marketed back to the same place of origin and to a lot of other media markets). On the other hand, as you ask through several questions, just how inevitable is the US as a global reference point?

    By now, it seems to me, most mainstream US media products can be circulated widely and successfully among international audiences, as their formal attributes, narration, and typical narrative content and structure (may they be in a constant but relatively slow flux) have gained so much familiarity with the audiences, and thus, such power to be comfortably consumed and enjoyed that they have become “media common sense”–hegemony, no surprise, tends to maintain itself (sorry, that was really tautological). So it is most likely US media products who would offer, at least initially, common reference points most people could relate to and argue about as it is likely (aat least partially) US texts that constitute their foundational media experience. If I think about pitching (as described by Caldwell in his article, page 57-9), and how it could be done either in a multicultural context where people from different geopolitical regions meet, I cannot help but think it would most probably involve references to US media texts, and, perhaps, some recent “foreign”* films or shows that were given some extraordinary but ephemeral attention in the US context (at the Oscars, for instance). So I don’t know but it seems to me US would remain an inevitable reference point in the foreseeable future…

    Alia, thanks for your comment! I think you are totally right in pointing out how organically related the US-Israel relationship is to the Prisoners of War-Homeland connection. This is a very specific relationship and thus, very specific example; at the same time, generally speaking, we could say that most countries (at least the globally significant ones) will have a different but nevertheless conspicuous relationship with the US at any time in recent history, which may entail that our reading of a media text (or its transnational trajectory) will likely and yet again “cry for” our consideration of the US… I don’t know, am I being way too convinced of the stability of the global media dominance of the US in this post?

    *I can’t stop being buffled by the sort of naturalized self-importance (or power difference? or cultural solipsism?) the binary domestic/US vs foreign/"everybody and everything else” implies. How much sense can it make to refer to vastly different/specific film and TV texts from around the globe produced in more than a century with the same word that merely signifies “not American”? I may be exaggerating here a bit as this kind of binary may be used, to some extent, in other countries as well, as a differentiation between domestic and non-domestic, but I would guess it is far less ubiquitously used, providing one (situational) categorization among many. (Btw, I do not mean to say that specifying films or shows by naming their country of origin is necessarily too functional, or theoretically proper, or ideologically attractive; in fact, many media scholars have argued that one of the most conspicuous markers of globalization may be the transnationalization of film, TV, and other media production.)