Television, Aesthetics and Reality
Editor: Anthony Barker
Date Of Publication: Jul 2006
This new collection of essays seeks to focus on three areas where television has recently been in an intriguing state of flux. Taking as our background the emergence of multimedia conglomerates and cash-rich cable channels, we look at the way old national terrestrial channels and the brash new internationally commercialized ones have innovated in the domain of television programming. In all there are fourteen original essays, an introduction to the book’s theme by the editor and a foreword by Professor Annette Hill.
Section one “Realizing the Real” looks at contemporary patterns of television consumption and the presentational styles which package the real in news, current affairs and other ‘live’ television formats. Essays on rhetorical strategies in the news coverage of the war in Iraq, on national and international inflections of Sky News in Europe and coverage of the recent EURO2004 football tournament, as well the multi-channel reporting of a prominent paedophilia scandal, are presented in this section. They all analyse the extent to which the grounded and the local are threatened and distorted by hegemonic forces in media today. The findings of a comprehensive new study of Portuguese social practices and viewing habits are also featured in this section.
Section Two “Realizing Performance” addresses the way new trends in reality programming and other documentary practices have impacted on fiction and entertainment television. There are essays on the recent wave of British television comedy heavily influenced by TV newsmagazine and fly-on-the-wall documentary styles and two pieces on new American series, 24 and CSI, which have revolutionized the narrative parameters and evidential base for thrillers and cop shows respectively, coming up with new ways to ‘perform’ space, time and science. Finally there is an essay on Nigel Kneale’s The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968), a survivor from the era of the single play who seems to anticipate the future of television in reality-based gameshow-style entertainment. Each of these essays shows that the success of these programmes is dependent on a fresh restylization of the conventions and formulas which govern mainstream television programming. They therefore see the representation of the real in fiction as primarily an aesthetic reappraisal.
Section Three “Performing the Real” looks at the explosion in reality television programming itself. It focuses on the coming to pass of 70s and 80s theorists’ visions of both a passive voyeuristic society and one increasingly at peace with the notion of surveillance. We have been progressively acculturated to watching and being watched. Orwellian anxiety has given way to Baudrillardian acceptance of the message and the medium fused in a new order of mediated reality or hyperreality. Essays refer specifically to the globalization of shows and formats and their local inflections and to coverage of reality shows in print media and on the net. There are essays on The Bachelor and gender stereotyping, Joe Millionaire and the conventions of melodrama, and two on Big Brother, one on the problems of communication within a sealed environment and another on its reception in Portugal. Concerns about the self and its authenticity are consistency raised in all the essays of this section.
Anthony Barker obtained his D.Phil. at Oxford University in 18th century printing and publishing. He was Munby Fellow at Cambridge University, before moving to Aveiro University in Portugal in 1984, where he has been elected Head of the Languages and Cultures Department and President of the Portuguese Association of Anglo-American Studies. He has published volumes on European Identity and Stereotyping, and around 50 articles on British and American literature, drama, cinema and television and on issues in the teaching of culture. He is currently working on the troubled relationship of film and television since 1950.
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