Historical research is not only about sitting in a cold Archive going through dusty documents. Spigel (1992) demonstrates this well in her article Installing the Television Set: Popular Discourses on Television and Domestic Space, 1948-1955. This is literature I have not seen and as Spigel (1992) also points out, the history of television (at least literature I have seen) among other things, focuses on the historical development of the device, its anticipated role, and its impact especially on the youth and on young children.
Nonetheless, through an analysis of the discourse of popular magazines, television programs and advertisements, Spigel (1992) shows the tensions that surrounded the installation of the television set in American homes. This busts any myths that may exist about an automatic acceptance of television. In analyzing the discourse in these media, the author shows that “the television’s utopian promise was fraught with doubt” (Spigel, 1992, p.32). Then author situates her argument by contextualizing “the merging of outside and inside space” (Spigel, 1992, p.8). The author also shows how the contradictions unfolded including how the television set first functioned as a ‘window on the world’ an idea on which advertisements capitalized, in part by creating “a sense of being there” and when mixed together with television stories “heightened the sense of realism” (Spigel, 1992, p.17).
One interesting tension for me is the representation of women and also tensions within the home observed between genders – women and men. The author illustrates some of these tensions using images. I like the analysis of advertisements, of television shows and of women’s magazines. I think this is a great piece.
Another great piece is by Butsch (2000) who uses theatre as his case study to analyze the differences between 19th century stage entertainment and 20th century mass media, noting that in the 19th century audiences were active while they turned passive in the 20th century. While audiences shifted from active to passive; space moved from being public to being private. With regard to space for instance, using theatre he argues that this was once a site for audience activity and engagement, with engagement not just among the audience but also with the actors on stage. However, this changed (and Butsch explicates how the prevailing conditions at the time that contributed to the changes) and people shifted from being community members to being consumers who also restricted themselves to the home environment. Further, the author throws in a dichotomy and suggests that the concern about passivity in the 20th century is among other things, rooted in the belief that people pay attention to media messages. This belief much like the notion of ‘embeddedness’ neglects to realize that people can move in and out of attentiveness, simultaneously watching and chatting at times.
In Voices from the Ether: Early Radio Listening and in Radio Cabinets and Network Chains, Butsch (2000) narrates the tale of radio’s development and the listening trends. Of interest to me (because of my study which focuses on gender roles in early college radio) is the discussion on “gendering the listener” especially the analysis that radio magazines were rebranded to appeal to women (largely based on the advertisements carried as well as from articles published). Although a brief attempt was made to show women not just as listeners, these magazines mainly framed women as the audience and not as participants actively involved in the art of broadcasting or at least with the technicalities of the instrument. In fact, what followed was a general “disparaging” of women (p.186).
This week’s readings are a historical account to explore the consequences of the transformations of the audience from public to private, the dilemma of the Public/private dichotomy, individualism and rating modern audiences.
In her captivating work, Lynn Spigel (1988) explore variety of shifts and tension spots that are shaping media environment and popular discourses since the advent of television sets (p.3). We can conclude from here piece the assertion that with every new medium there is not just a technological shift, but also a process that alters the existing relationship between technologies, industries, markets and audiences.
Richard Butsch presents a perfect example of personal media at early radio time, e.g. car, and personal portable radio (2000, p.173). Audience became more individualist, and fragmented in early stage. The picture of the family was replaced with a picture of the person (p. 205).
The growing behaviors of “domestic gaze,” nothing better than home idea, cutting the cord, and personalization of media consumption are all based on way or another on their convenient, manageable, and accessible qualities of their content creation.
Finally, the public/private dichotomy is intriguing when we thing about the notion of ubiquitous internet through a free open Wi-Fi zones, semi-public environment, and the end of privacy, as what Mark Zuckerberg calls it. It adds a new dimension to the debate over the public/private, audience/spectatorship structure and the changes in social and civic engagement within privatism.
I though Spigel’s approach to historical writing in “Installing the Television Set” had a nice balance to it. S/he includes a discussion of interesting analysis on television programs and advertisements to demonstrate the tensions surrounding the installation of the television set in the American home. Her analysis does not utilize numbers or polling people (yay!), but does a historical (art historical) close reading to contextualize the position of the media. Spigel’s argument demonstrates a merging of different spaces within the home, which opens up many new possibilities for visibility and spectatorship for women (or at least in time, it will begin to). I like Spigel’s method of approaching and writing history and would like to adopt more of this into my own writing.
In my own work, I have not dealt much with audience reception of art works, but with Spigel’s approach and Butsch’s book The Making of American Audiences: From Stage to Television I can see a greater value in contextualizing the audience to understand a cultural/social approach to history. Not all of the information needs to come from the object itself. Butsch uses the theatre stage as a case study to explore the differences between theatre audiences and mass media audiences in the 20th century. His basic argument is that audience role changed from active to passive. This transformation is interesting to me in my research that looks at the role of the physical and the body in art. I want to challenge the ocular centrism of western culture and reposition the importance of the physical body within art and mass media. In medias like panoramas, theatre, and magazines, the physical presence of the body is important and affects the visual experience, similar to how the body interacts with decorative art objects or craft. The rise of capitalism and the segmenting of society shifted us from a community-based people to a consumer-based people. Our communities, our local spaces are also our tactile, physical/body spaces. Capitalism has alienated us from the physical, tactile, body. I’d like to build off of Butsch’s arguments to formulize the role of the body in media and art.
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