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“It’s always an imagined audience”

So last lecture we spoke about tastes and fans and ways of imagining audiences and the terms used when talking about audiences. I’m going to attribute the above quote to Brian, as I haven’t cited anyone else in my notes, and I think it is a particularly good quote. Audiences are imagined by advertisers, commercial broadcasters, producers and the like before a show is even put to air, and said show is designed to appeal to a certain audience’ tastes. There are a number of terms that are generally used/thought of when talking about audiences, including the word fans. I’ll come back to that dreaded word in a second though. First, I’m going to remind myself how perceptions of audiences have changed throughout the years.

People used to believe that audiences were quite a passive bunch, believing whatever they’d see on TV, and that TV had this dangerous, persuasive power. The media effects theory was in full swing, and audiences were in serious ‘danger’ of being ‘brainwashed’. The Bobo dolls experiment was seen as proof of this. You know, show a kid a violent(ish) film, stick it in a room with a bat and a bobo doll, it will attack the doll? Sounds totally legitimate.

Of course, this couldn’t last forever (well, maybe it could have, but didn’t). In the 1980’s, reception studies were conducted, looking into how audiences read or made sense of television, and it turns out they were a lot smarter than originally given credit for. Audiences were pronounced to be active.

Now, what I’m talking about here is probably about as simplified as all this can get. Audiences had a certain complexity about their viewing schedule. Yes, they’d tune in to their favourite shows, but all according to their tastes, and even then they could pick things apart if they wanted, critique it and praise it.

Now I get back to fans. As pointed out in the lecture, the actual word ‘fan’ carries a certain stigma – an hysterical, over-enthusiastic person who is scarily obsessive about their show. Maybe for some people, that is true (Justin Bieber fans, for example, or Twilight fans, the really hardcore ones you see on TV and the internet, scare the bejeezus out of me) but in a lot of cases, maybe this is an unfair label to stick on someone (I’m sure not all Twilight fans would run up to Robert Pattinson and ask him to bite their necks). The group who are most traditionally seen to put the ‘fan’ into ‘fanatic’ however, are the group known as Trekkies. Star Trek fans. What other fanbase have had a documentary made about them?

I like Star Trek. It’s probably one of my favourite franchises. I know the stereotypical fan that you see depicted in popular culture (such as below) exist, but I’m not one of them. And I love it when I see things like that Family Guy clip, or there was a similar take off in Futurama. I can laugh at these caricatures, and I find it hilarious.

Now, I myself have actually been subject to a little of the ridicule that comes from being a Star Trek fan from one of my friends. I would like to point out first and foremost that I have not, and never will, dress up in the uniform and wear a pair of pointed ears. If, and that is a big if, I were to attend a convention, it would be to possibly meet an actor such as Patrick Stewart, who is an amazing talent without Star Trek on his resume. However, because I love the series and movies, I am a nerd, my friend laughs, and she delights in telling me Star Trek sucks whenever I chance to mention it. This is coming from someone who never bothered to sit down and watch a single episode, nor will she even watch the J.J  Abrams adaptation of 2009, which is a great film and does not require any kind of knowledge of the Star Trek universe.

Am I sounding bitter? I don’t really mean to, but sometimes I can’t help getting annoyed and will often try to defend Trek.  This is where it comes down to taste – its what helps us form part of our ‘social identity’ (lecture again, but I agree totally). For instance, I’d define myself as a sci-fi fan, because I like Star Trek, Doctor Who and Star Wars. But sometimes, people will discriminate, in a way, against others because of their taste. My friend does it to me, and I do it to her as well (I try not to, but I can’t help it). She hates those three shows I just mentioned, and she also doesn’t share my love for Jane Austen. I try to argue the point by saying she hasn’t watched those shows/movies, and has only read one Austen, but she’s very stubborn. For myself, I can’t understand why she finds Rob Schneider movies funny and gasp in horror over the fact that she can’t stand my beloved Jane. In other points though, our tastes are quite similar. We both love Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, and find Monty Python hilarious. We’ve learnt to be quite cautious when suggesting new shows or books to each other!

As you may have seen above, I’m developing quite a bad outlook on fans of Bieber and Twilight. I’m trying to remind myself that some people probably quite innocently enjoy Biebers music or Stephanie Meyers books. There was even a time when I thought the Twilight saga wasn’t a bad read. Then I read them a second time and quickly decided never to look at them again.  Taste discrimination is everywhere. When it comes to TV or any kind of culture though, its difficult or unfair to say what is good and what is bad, especially in such a subjective and individual field.

This is a pretty cool article…

It’s from the Flow TV website that Brian all suggested we add to our blogrolls at the start of the semester, and its about failed American pilot shows adapted from British shows.

Now we all know about the success stories like The Office but this article looks at the ones that didn’t get off the ground and why they didn’t. Quite frankly, its because of what I was speaking about in my last post – these shows were pretty much bound by their national borders, and were unable to translate their formats into new shows for the American market.

I think the article sums it up perfectly when it states,

“What we have in all three cases is the suggestion that there is something intrinsically British in these shows that wouldn’t work in the American context”.

The reasons these shows failed is probably the same reason Kath and Kim failed – badly – when an American remake was tried. There must be something intrinsically Australian about those ‘foxy ladies’. However, the Australian show Wilfred has recently been remade for American audiences and is doing quite well from what I understand.

Personally, I fail to see why shows such as the I.T Crowd need to be re-made for an American market, but there you go. And British shows seem to fare much better here than in America – does this mean that culturally, England and Australia are much, much similar if we can exchange shows with such ease? They do love Neighbours and Home and Away….

In other news, I immediately got the reference to the title of Brian’s post ‘It’s television Jim, but not as we know it‘. Nerd much?

Geographies and Space

Not two words that immediately spring to mind when you first think of TV, but quite relevant in terms of an academic analysis of the medium in question. Space isn’t just a physical thing, there is social space as well and it’s being continually restructured by individuals, institutions and new technologies. Just a brief example – sitting in a train carriage, you’d find yourself in a public space. If, however, you chose to put on your iPod, you’d be creating your own little bubble of private space that tells people ‘leave me alone and don’t talk to me’. I listen to music on the train all the time (though if someone happens to speak to me I consider it only common courtesy to take the ear pieces out).

Television used to belong to the private or domestic space – the home, the family (a type of ‘institution’). The content of television was often built on this principle, and still is really. Family friendly shows on air until at least 8.30 (depending on the network). You can still see ads promoting the ‘family movie’ on Saturday nights. TV had the interesting task however, of bringing the public sphere or public concerns into the home via broadcast, and it creates an imagined, shared community with the simple idea that we are all connected somehow because we sat and watched the same shows at the same time. We could potentially talk about those shows tomorrow. We feel connected because of it.  The news and current affairs shows in particular make us feel like we are part of a discourse, taking part in the ‘big issues’. TV helps us build a national identity and sense of belonging.

There is then ‘everyday’ national television (such as Sunrise or the Today Show – personally I prefer Today), and ‘extraordinary’ national television – nation building events that are turned into media spectacles. I’m particularly interested in how the ‘extraordinary’ is used to build the nation – how it unites us and gets us to imagine ourselves as part of this larger community.  The Sydney Olympics was an example given in the lecture of extraordinary television – another example that I can think of (not that I was personally there to witness it – but I’ve seen archival footage from the 50 years of TV dvds I mentioned last post) was Australia’s Bi-centennial celebration of 1988, an event that turned into a massive broadcast spectacle. Special messages were recorded and sent by the Queen, then British PM Margaret Thatcher and American President Ronald Reagan.  Fireworks and musical performances were had – all broadcast to the public via television. People felt that they had shared the experience of celebrating two-hundred years since Captain Cook arrived.

Of course, we move from ‘national’ TV to ‘transnational’ – expanding beyond the nations borders.  An interesting point that I thought Brian raised in the lecture was even though some TV shows travel, and formats get repeated and re-used, shows are often very much bound by their nations cultural frames. Shows like Iron Chef (example used from the lecture) can transfer across borders because their formats are re-used. Comparing Iron Chef Japan to Iron Chef America was not only hilarious, but we were able to see they both followed the same structure. Reality/game shows seem to transfer well too – all the Idol shows, Amazing Race’s, etc. are proof of that. Still, there are some shows that go beyond their original cultural borders.

Komissar Rex (or Inspector Rex if you gave it its english title) is an Austrian crime show that I think I mentioned back in my first post, and it has a surprisingly  large fan base here in Australia. A grisly murder/mystery show where the star is a dog? Filled with adorable, family friend moments one second, and nudity and violence the next? What is going on? At one point the dogs owner is shot dead and poor Rex becomes extremely depressed. I can’t quite explain what it is I like about this show (and I like it enough to own the DVD’s up to a certain series, after which I didn’t like the new detectives), but I began watching it one day when I was visiting my grandparents, and soon I was tuning in to SBS every week to watch the canine adventures, cheesy opening titles and all. It has recently been turned into an Italian series – with the original dog getting a new owner in Italy. Rex has travelled.

(I would like to point out that Karl Markovics went on to star in The Counterfeiters, which won Best Foreign Language Film in 2008 – these guys have talent people!)

‘The King’ of TV

Last week I won an old exhibition catalogue from ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image). Out of a choice of four, I was able to pick the one I wanted. I chose ‘TV 50’ –  an exhibition held in 2006 celebrating 50 years of TV in Australia. Though I’m not quite sure, I think this exhibition was held in conjunction with a series of DVD’s being released by Channel 9 and the Herald Sun, chronicling the iconic moments in TV decade by decade. I own these DVD’s (I was quite insistent upon my parents getting them for me!) and while it only really shows Channel 9 shows of yesteryear (well, you can’t expect 9 to endorse its competitors, can you?) it does provide a fascinating look into the past.

I’d always had a slight interest in the history of TV in Australia, from its introduction in 1956 to what it is today. My curiosity is particularly piqued by the recognisable faces of TV of the past – Don Lane, Paul Hogan and Bert Newton in their prime. My parents, born after TV was introduced, sometimes reminisce  about shows they used to watch growing up. I try to imagine what kind of things I’ll be able to reminisce about when I’m older. At the moment, I can only imagine rather morbid topics such as September 11. Whilst the DVD’s did take a look at the more serious occasions that TV was there to witness (the West Gate Bridge collapse, Ash Wednesday fires etc.) it focused much more heavily on iconic shows, comedy, musical moments. One person in particular made quite a few reappearances throughout the series, and I am reminded of him once again flicking through my catalogue.

Graham Kennedy is forever known as the King of Aussie TV.  From his early days as the host of In Melbourne Tonight, right through to his last appearance on TV in 1994, he was known for his comedy and his continually pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable on TV.

Don Lane and Graham Kennedy, performing split screen in Sydney and Melbourne respectively. Having a laugh...

One particular incident is outlined in the catalogue – the infamous ‘Faaarrkk’ joke. Occurring on the 3rd of March, 1975, Kennedy yelled out ‘faaark’ during an advertisement live on air (live advertisements were all the rage back then, none of that pre-tape stuff we see on Kerri-Anne in the mornings). A thousand complaint calls were received by the station, and Kennedy claimed (rather cheekily in my opinion) that he was imitating a crow call. He asked his audience to do it as well, which they obliged. He got away with a warning. It was the first time anyone had said it on TV. That is something I would have liked to have been around to see!

When Kennedy passed away, a special tribute was given to him at the Logie Awards that year (he himself won five Gold Logies and is a part of the Logies Hall of Fame). Bert Newton, a close friend of his who was with him in his early days at IMT, performed this. They had performed this duet together many times over the course of the years, and a montage of it was included on the DVD’s I was talking about, but this is the version performed at the Logies. Relating it back to my previous post, this is probably an example of when TV in its traditional broadcast form will remain most valuable – people will come together to share the experience and remember those they loved so well, to pay tribute to them. In the audience I can spot Don Lane and Belinda Emmett , TV stars who have also since passed on.  There is also the way the tribute has been done. I’ve seen footage of a similar tribute Olivia Newton-John performed with Peter Allen, ‘The Boy from Oz’, but that was not done live. Performing with the image of Graham Kennedy was a unique way to pay respect to him, and something only possible with the advancements of television.

Wondering where TV is heading…

This week we moved straight from looking at TV’s past, to TV’s possible future. I particularly liked the quote Brian used in the lecture :

“Rumours of the death of television may be exaggerated, but there is no doubt that the head-in-the-sand option has long passed.” Cunningham (in Turner and Tay, 2009)

TV is at this point in time alive and well, and it’s not going to go away any time soon, but the method in which audiences are going to access TV is going to change dramatically – indeed, already is beginning to change. As it was noted, we live in a post-broadcast era. Audiences today don’t want to wait for their TV shows to go to air. Television is shifting away from ‘appointment based’ structure – the family gather around the box at a certain time to catch the show they want to watch – instead, they can download, stream or choose when they want to watch the show themselves. They want to build their TV viewings around their lives, not their lives around when their favourite shows are on.

Personally, I still think their is something enjoyable in the experience of waiting for your favourite show to come on – the excitement that builds as you wait for the first episode of a new season to begin, the anticipation that is felt if it’s cliffhanger. It’s a part of a viewing experience. TV networks still use that feeling of anticipation as a way of stirring up interest in their flagship shows. Channel 7 has recently started airing teaser ads for their new season of Packed to the Rafters; Channel Ten  did the same thing recently with Offspring and ads are played in the days between episodes building up the interest for the next chapter. Audiences may complain at the time, wishing they could see it sooner, but there is something about it that they actually enjoy. Of course, networks also use this tactic to boost TV audiences, but that doesn’t lessen the validity of that argument…does it?

And of course, there are certain events that are just made for broadcast – the Olympics, the AFL grand final (well, a lot of sporting events really) – events that create an imagined shared experience between the viewers. As said above however, the TV experience is definitely changing. As said in the lecture, TV is becoming ubiquitous. We have screens everywhere – I can get TV on my phone if I like, I can stream shows on my computer and there are screens all around the city.  The one in Federation Square came to my mind. It is often used to broadcast special events – the soccer, the New Years Eve countdown. People gather together to watch together.

I’m sure in the future, TV will be more interactive, more easily accessible and we’ll even be able to programme our own viewing schedules around our own lifestyles.

Perhaps even TV likes to hate on TV at times…

Yesterday we were treated to a guest lecture by Adrian Danks, which I found quite engaging on a number of points.  He touched a lot on points from the Rudolph Arnheim essay which was our assigned reading for this week, and about the history of TV as a medium. One of the things that most interested me however, was the point that television is often portrayed, in literature and the cinema most especially, as a medium that ‘wracked with guilt’, ‘not taken seriously’ or ‘chastised’. Examples from such films as Fahrenheit 451 (Francois Truffaut; 1966) and Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen; 1986)  portray television as either a non-art from or a mind-numbing device that turns people into an unquestioning, controlled masses who follow their leaders blindly! Okay, so maybe the second example is a definite over-exaggeration of what television actually is (Fahrenheit 451 looks like a good science fiction film either way), but phrases such as ‘the idiot box’ and ‘couch potato’ are terms that I have heard quite often in my life. TV does seem to get quite a bad rap at times, and not just from the cinema. Even certain TV shows come to mind. The Simpsons takes a very tongue-in-cheek look at how people will believe anything they see on TV. Homer is accused of sexual assault by a girl (he was really grabbing a piece of candy stuck to her jeans – Homer Badman, Season 6, Episode 9), and the story is put to air on a cheap and dirty current affairs style show. The whole town is against him and TV shows are persecuting him, until Groundskeeper Willy comes to the rescue with a video he took of the incident. The show apologises, then the episode ends with the same TV show airing a story about Willy being a creepy voyeur. Homer declares how disgusting Willy is, and Marge can only look at him in shock, asking if he learned anything. He says he hasn’t.

One of the quotes from the episode reads:

Lisa: Sorry Dad, we do believe in you, we really do.

Bart: It’s just hard not to listen to TV: its spent so much more time raising us than you have.

Bart and Lisa also hug the TV as soon as Homer leaves the room.

The Simpsons is obviously poking fun at this perception of television, and it does it very well. But how close to the truth is this episode? Do the public really take on what they are shown on TV to such a full extent?

It’s not just the medium of television itself that is attracting criticism though. Specific genres are under attack, reality TV more than any other. Comedians such as Adam Hills (take a look at the first minute or so of this clip from his show Characterful and Joymonger)

Other TV genres like to take a stab at reality TV. In an episode of Doctor Who (Bad Wolf, Series 1, 2005) The Doctor and his companions wake up on a space station in the future, each of them trapped in a reality game show – with a twist. On Big Brother, to be eliminated is to be disintegrated. The same thing happens on the Weakest Link, and What Not To Wear takes makeovers to the extreme with major cosmetic surgery. People are forced to participate against their will. Like Fahrenheit this is set in a futuristic world, but it is a rather pessimistic view of reality TV, a genre which seems to unfortunately carry the stigma of lowbrow, cheap entertainment. Personally I don’t choose to watch much reality TV, but can well understand how it draws people in (My Kitchen Rules and Masterchef are two that I will make exceptions for occasionally). It seems to be drama vs. reality however. First seen as a kind of fad if I recall correctly, reality television does not seem to be going away. Certain shows come and go (Big Brother), but new shows with different concepts emerge to take their place.

It’s time to get thinking…

about Television Cultures, and why I chose the subject as my elective this year. Quite frankly, it’s because I like TV. I like watching it and I like being a part of making it (RMITV and Channel 31 – I have an incredible amount of fun). While on a dinner break before going live to air on Studio A a while back, I was a part of the conversation with some of the other crew members, and one of them remarked that TV – good, high quality TV – is a better art form than most films that are seen today.

At the time, this comment surprised me. Being a cinema studies student maybe has something to do with it, but at the time I thought ‘That can’t be right – film is definitely more of an art.’ It certainly has been considered so for quite a long time now. But this crew members comment comes back to me now, especially after the first TV Cultures lecture last Friday, where we watched a documentary entitled Hollywood: The Rise of TV. It was made in 2005, but what the documentary examined then is just as relevant today. Hollywood, once thought of exclusively as the home of movie studios, is now the home of TV stars and TV studios. Networks such as HBO and Showtime have cornered the market for high class, well-written, exciting, out of the box TV shows (HBO slightly more so than Show Time) and even the basic cable networks are starting to get in on the act (but they can’t go as far considering all the codes and rules they must abide by). Hollywood has become a production line, for the most part. Art is made on TV. One of the examples of an ‘out of the box’ TV show was Sex and the City. I have watched the first two seasons of this show and intend to collect the rest.

Now, as for myself, I don’t watch a massive amount of TV. At least, not new TV. A lot of the shows I watch are on DVD, but there are a few shows I’ll tune in to regularly.  I try to watch as much Australian TV as I can stomach (sometimes there are some gems out there), but avoid most reality TV and sitcoms. The last great sitcom was probably Friends, which my sister owns on DVD and I enjoy watching occasionally, and if I do watch reality TV, it is usually something like Masterchef, because I like cooking. I prefer drama’s, crime shows (particularly British who-dunnits?) and a few comedies and sci-fi.  Some of my favourite shows are:

Midsomer Murders – The british do great who-dunnits, like I said above. Their crime shows are more about the mystery and plot twists, rather than a gruesome crime and chasing down a ruthless killer.

Poirot – David Suchet portrays Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective, and its a great character  – also has amazing plot twists.

Doctor Who – The new series brought fresh life to the classic show, and continues to build upon the legendary character of the Doctor. I haven’t seen as many of the original episodes as I would like (ABC used to play them before I really gained an interest in the show) but Peter Davison is my favourite of the original Doctors, while David Tennant is my favourite new Doctor. The new series has a lot of nostalgia injected into it because of the shows history.

The Hollowmen – An Australian production that has so far only run for two seasons. Created by Rob Sitch, Tom Gleisner and Santo Cilauro of Working Dog Productions, this is a political satire that follows the political advisors of the fictional Central Policy Unit in Canberra. Their job is to keep the Prime Minister in the public’s good books. A few of the cast have promised  a third series is on its way, but its not in production yet.

Other shows I watch (on DVD) include Star Trek (the Original Series, the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager – I’m a big fan of sci-fi, particularly when it portrays humanity interacting with alien cultures), M*A*S*H and I enjoy Jane Austen period dramas (not only for the romance, but Austen has a delightful wit and a lot of her works are filled with social satire). Finally, I watch old episodes of Hogan’s Heroes and an Austrian crime show called Inspector Rex, about a crime solving dog (it’s not quite sure whether its serious crime or family entertainment, but it has a surprisingly large fan base in Australia). These last two have more of a nostalgic, personal quality for me, as they are both shows that my grandfather, Opa, enjoyed to watch and I used to sit an watch them with him whenever I visited. I grew to love them, even though I can see the flaws in them now.