Monday, October 12, 2009

From a Faraway Land, We Bring You...Dallas?

So what is our role? Iwabuchi’s article paints us as fascinated consumers of exotic international culture, Katz & Liebes argue between identifying us as dazed viewers or active “de-coders”, and Deuze declares a new hybrid role of producer/consumer.

I had strong reactions to each article. Iwabuchi reminded me of my childhood fascination with Japan (and my love of my Walkman - although I didn’t actually know then that the Walkman was one of its products.) Katz & Liebes reinforced the fact that when I (rarely) watch TV, it is to escape. Finally, Deuze made me think about how often I resent the new expectation to serve as a producer of media.

To start with Japan, it was interesting that the bulk of cultural examples given were media products aimed at children. Although anime and other forms of entertainment are enjoyed by a variety of ages, there is a sense that the young, popular culture is that which is most easily imported – not the traditional high arts (Kubuki, etc.). After rendering these popular arts odorless, are they still really Japanese – and can we say that we really are experiencing “Japanization”?

Likewise, are we to believe that watching Dallas “inspire(s) the masses to examine their own interpersonal relations”? I found myself agreeing with the earlier analysis of television viewing that Katz and Liebes were working to debunk, that which acknowledges that most viewers turn to TV merely to escape. A more depressing realization was that after all the promise of the positive power broadcasting and satellite TV provided, what we ended up with was the ability to transmit Dallas around the world. (Let’s be honest about the intentions of satellite broadcasting: we’re not “saving” the third world with soap operas. On the other hand, is “saving” what TV is trying to do anyway?)

However, I did latch on to another conclusion that Katz and Liebes highlighted in their analysis: Dallas allowed viewers to experience strong emotions such as love and hate in a neutral setting. Who hasn’t watched Grey’s Anatomy (you certainly don’t need to know what has been happening this season) just to get in a good cry? Additionally, they noted that “heavy viewers learn the television message ritualistically and hegemonically, not by negotiation.” This brought to mind an earlier article from Dewey that compared the “transmission” and “ritual” view of communication. As Katz and Liebes noted, news and family dramas are the most frequently studied types of programs. Perhaps it is because they seemingly provide such good examples of these two types of communication? Overall, their article seemed to leave us with the somewhat unsatisfying conclusion that TV is a lot of things to a lot of people, and we still aren’t really sure how to analyze its effects.

Finally, Deuze’s article made me wonder if anyone else ever gets the sense that media corporations are asking us to do their job. (Having worked in marketing and PR, I’m appreciative for every patron that forwarded one of my e-mail advertisements or recommended a concert to a friend. Working for a non-profit, every bit of customer support was appreciated.) Amazon falls somewhere in the middle for me: while I personally resist completing a product review after every online purchase, I appreciate others that do, since I place faith (too much?) in their comments. But helping a car company help promote its wares? Somehow I think we haven’t noticed we’ve been duped. Am I complaining about a role others (including the un-paid workers at Bluffton Today) seem all too happy to take on, or is it time to re-evaluate our roles as consumers in this shifting global economy?

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