Reading my fellow TAO crewmember Vegar’s blog for once I found I had to disagree with him – only a little however, since muhc of what he said (as usual) was well thought out. However I have to disagree with his assertion that watching TV is a simple and passive experience. While I agree it can be (and we all enjoy the occassional vegging period, don’t we?) most mass media (and I think he was worried about them all from the tone of his article) are not passive. Back in the 1940s and early 1950s media academics were of this opinion that the masses were all an amorphous jelly, passively receiving whatever was pushed into their vacant minds. This was referred to in Communication Studies (my degree area) as the Hypodermic Needle Model.
In many ways it draws on the 19th century Arnoldian viewpoint of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture which was dreadfully class-biased, not to mention simplistic and flawed. It’s a form of artistic criticism and judgement which still haunts us today, not least int he way the literati look down upon genre fiction for instance.
There was a big problem with this very simple viewpoint. It was nonsense. Any kind of text – TV, multimedia, movie, book, advert – is interpreted by the individual according to their own unique experiences, tastes and inclinations. For example, many feminist media academics used to (and indeed still do) lecture on the inherint mysoginy of modern horror films. However, others, such as Carol Clover, author of the excellent study Men, Women and Chainsaws (and a talking head on the recent BBC American Nightmare documentary) have argued for a contrary reading of the texts which sees some horrors as progressive, feminist texts which actually empower women. Let’s take Xena. It can be taken as simple fairy tale action with sexy eye candy for the guys. But a lot of women viewers, straight and gay, young and old, interpret this very differently. And how often do you watch a programme which sparks ideas of in your own head? A fair proportion of my blogs have been about or inspired by thoughts generated from what I had been watching. listening to or reading.
Modern cognitive psychology and communication studies have ascertained that people are not simple, passive receivers. And despite the fact an author of a book, film etc may try to give their text a particular spin – what is referred to as the preferred encoding – it is quite beyond their power how the audience members will decode this text. Abberant or contrary readings of even the most mainstream texts are quite commonplace.
All of this academic, beard-stroking, cordurouy wearing, paradigm-quoting nonsense out of the way I do have to say I agree with Vegar that quality does seem to be slipping a lot in modern programming as terrestrial channels such as Channel 4 who were once very good try to compete with the multiple channel digital satellite monsters. Then again, there is always someone harping back to an earlier, golden era. I’ve done it myself. SOmetimes we may have a point. Sometimes it’s an inevitable sign of aging. Ah, back when I were a lad……