The second showcase.

This showcase post is an extension from previous post Game On, which discusses reviews and opinions of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and the issues it brings with it.

As discussed in this previous post, since its creation, Game of Thrones has encountered both acclaim and criticism regarding its content. In her review in The New York Times, Ginia Bellafante criticises the show’s apparent overuse of more violent and sexual scenes, “tossed in as a little something for the ladies.” In his article in The Guardian, David Barnett contradicts various points made by Bellafante, and depicts the show in a more positive light. And finally, Miles McNutt gives insight into certain problems of early reviews of the show in his Cultural Learnings article.

Game of Thrones raises certain issues due to its content. Often bold, brutal and daring, it raises the bar for what is considered ‘quality television,’ but in doing so, provokes further debate on what exactly ‘quality television’ is, and why it is so.

Jonathan Bignell believes quality television relies on key factors often associated with quality cinema:

“Quality television drama means an aesthetically ambitious programme type with the literary values of creative imagination, authenticity and relevance. As a mode of production, it is where writing and mise-en-scene are prioritised.” (2007, p. 162)

In essence, quality television relies on a combination of quality writing and mise-en-scene as its starting point. From there, techniques of camera work, framing, and acting need to further impress the audience. According to Dorothy Collins Swanson, utilising quality writing assumes the audience is of a relatively high intelligence level, and furthermore, creates characters that “tend to endear themselves to us.” (2000, p. 47) Characters are multidimensional, complex and flawed; “characters on quality shows are us.” (2000, p. 47) It is no real surprise, then, that Game of Thrones is so often referred to as quality television. It’s many complex characters, and time spent developing them and their relationships, in addition to the intricate and highly engaging writing, accentuates its status as quality television.

It is perhaps expected, then, that with highly engaging writing, a show may tug a few of the wrong strings and raise some issues. To be bold is to be provocative, and that is exactly what the writing of Game of Thrones delivers. The show is particularly attacked over its depiction of the relationship between men and women; men, for the most part, as the all-action, all-violence, sword-swinging bread winners, and women as the submissive, subservient eye-candy. Ginia Bellafante (2011) is certainly on this opposing side when it comes to Game of Thrones, stating rather naively yet boldly that the supposed overuse of “play-boy style plot points” and “costume-drama sexual hopscotch,” is merely added in to appeal to a female audience: “‘Game of Thrones’ is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.” Here Bellafante may be missing the many underlying complex layers of the show’s writing; many females characters featured on the show directly challenge the male characters, and it is they the audience is encouraged to support and connect with. Additionally, though Game of Thrones may indeed appeal more to a male audience, but to suggest females are appealed to by the use of these aspects of the show is a rather large generalisation; Game of Thrones is much more complex than this, and naturally appeals to a female audience on many levels.

However one cannot dismiss the notion that part of why Game of Thrones is considered ‘quality television’ is perhaps due to its creator, HBO, and the brand it represents. HBO emerged as a serious contender in the quality television game when it started differentiating itself from the other networks. Keen to become something ‘more’ than ‘just television’, an iconic slogan was created (“It’s not TV. It’s HBO.”), marketing the network beyond the quality seen on others. As Deborah Jaramillo suggests, “this eagerness to differentiate its product from that of broadcast television amounts to the creation of a brand.” (2002, p. 64) The brand became the separation of HBO from the other networks, and hence allowed HBO to target more niche, specific audiences with shows more inclined to viewers interested in new, original content; “without the financial constraints under which the networks function, HBO can target narrowly segmented niche markets, a concept essential to its branding.” (Jaramillo 2002, p. 63)

Game of Thrones is perhaps an example of this niche audience targeting strategy. The show played a large role in what could be called the revival of the fantasy genre; combining this with elements of drama, action, and adventure, Game of Thrones accentuates a hybrid style of television, perhaps most appealing to a niche fantasy fan base. The show’s adaption from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire could be seen as further appealing and targeted at a specific niche fantasy-inclined audience, and hence align with HBO’s consistent strategy of airing shows aimed at specific audiences like these.

HBO obviously doesn’t stop at niche audiences, but rather uses them as a starting point. Referencing HBO’s campaign to market popular vampire series True Blood, Jonathan Hardy explains:

“HBO’s strategy involved a sophisticated effort to establish both cult status and popular appeal. Through the targeting of fan networks, buzz marketing and invitations for immersion, HBO’s corporate strategy sought to cultivate fan engagement and use this as a tool to generate interest and publicity amongst wider audiences.” (2011, pp. 12-13)

The marketing strategy for Game of Thrones, then, assumably would have had similar objectives, given both shows are first aimed at more niche audiences. Beyond this, HBO also extends its marketing strategy to commercial intertextuality, described as “the production and interlinking of texts like blockbuster films or TV series with allied paratexts and products, such as spin-offs, reversionings, promos, online media, books, games and merchandise,” by Hardy (2011, p. 7). By linking the original books with the television adaption, as with Game of Thrones and True Blood, HBO immediately creates a fan base that continue over from these books. In turn, HBO then develops further cross-media promotion, including online and social media engagement, and hence allows niche audiences to be reached and targeted with ease and efficiency, as well as drawing the attention of a wider audience through these strategies.

HBO’s approach to marketing is interesting it say the least. It purposefully begins by targeting niche audiences with its “It’s not TV. It’s HBO” slogan; “the implication is that TV is everything else,” (Jaramillo 2002, p. 65) and therefore, HBO is separated – niche, not part of the mainstream – and ideal of audiences who are after something a little different. This is further accentuated by HBO adapting certain television shows, such as Game of Thrones and True Blood, from popular book series’. Game of Thrones, however, holds it own weight when it comes to being quality television; a combination of sophisticated writing and aesthetically appealing mise-en-scene align the show with common definitions of what a quality television show need be.

References:

Bellafante, G 2011, ‘Game of Thrones: A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms’, The New York Times, 14 April, viewed 5 October 2012, < http://tv.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/arts/television/game-of-thrones-begins-sunday-on-hbo-review.html?_r=2& >

Bignell, J 2007, ‘Seeing and Knowing: Reflexivity and Quality’, in Akass, K & McCabe, J, Quality TV: Contemporary American Television and Beyond, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, United States of America & Canada, pp. 158-170

Hardy, J 2011, ‘Mapping Commercial Intertextuality: HBO’s True Blood’, Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 7-17

Jaramillo, DL 2002, ‘ The Family Racket: AOL Time Warner, HBO, The Sopranos, and the Construction of a Quality Brand’, Journal of Communication Inquiry, vol. 26, no. 1, pp.59-75

Swanson, DC 2000, ‘Quality Television – An Oxymoron?’, in The Story of Viewers for Quality Television: From Grassroots to Primetime, Syracuse University Press, New York, pp. 44-71

The first showcase.

This showcase post is an extension of previous post This reality needs more entertainment.

Reality television is often caught up in attempting to represent the ‘real’ to varying degrees depending on the intention of the program. If the program seeks to be mere passive observers of an event, the claim the program makes to reality is much greater than a program that ‘interferes’ with reality. One Born Every Minute, for example, portrays an observer angle, taking the audience inside a birthing suite in a UK hospital. Interviews and subtitles are added in to create a more ‘full’ experience, but on the whole, the show is led by the main talents and nothing more. On the other hand, a show like Big Brother, in which contestants are locked in a luxury house to test their social skills, the producers constantly set the contestant tasks to complete, and contestants are constantly asked their thoughts of other housemates and of their experience. This style is hence one more based on ‘interfering’ and manipulating, and hence its claim to reality and the sense of realism it portrays is much smaller.

Directly affecting the perception of whether a reality program is of a higher quality or not is this varying claim to represent reality to greater or lower extents. Reality television, in its various forms, “tend(s) to be measured by viewers and television critics against an ideal (and vaguely formulated) conception of the ‘realistic’. Programmes are judged to be ‘good’ -i.e. well-constructed and entertaining – if they offer convincing ‘pictures of reality’.” (Biressi & Nunn 2005, p. 3) Hence the accurate portrayal of reality, either in this ‘observer’ style or similar, leans the program more towards being categorised as higher quality than those which involve ‘interfering’ with the immediacy of reality in their portrayal. This suggests viewers engage more, and have more respect, for reality television programs that aim to portray unmediated and untouched reality.

In their book Reality TV: Realism and Revelation, Anita Biressi and Heather Nunn discuss the many wonders of reality television. They suggest the ‘reality’ inherent in most reality television programs is perhaps in part due to the television medium itself; “there is an assumption that television produces a ‘realistic’, ‘common sense’ and therefore recognisable and familiar view of the social world; of the family, relationships, personal trauma, class, ethnicity and gender.” (2005, p. 3) Television as a medium connects many viewers to a sense of community; of connectedness to the outside world, which, in many cases, is portrayed as unmediated, unedited events. Biressi and Nunn then go on to discuss the effect of reality television on this perception of everyday life depicted through television:

“Reality TV inevitably raises the ante on the expectations made of realist representation. With new scopic technologies that convey a sense of immediacy and intimacy and ‘unscripted’ material featuring ‘real’ people, reality TV lays claim to reveal social, psychological, political and historical truths and to depict the rhythms and structures of everyday life with the least recourse possible to dramatisation and artifice.”

It is clear that the effect reality television has on audiences is more than just light entertainment; reality television is watched to witness this sense of immediacy and intimacy that is outside our average everyday encounters yet displayed inside directly to us on a television. In their article Paradox and the Consumption of Authenticity through Reality Television, Randle Rose and Stacy Wood explain further: “…the consumption of reality programming represents a sophisticated quest for authenticity within the traditionally fiction-orientated entertainment paradigm.” (2005, pp. 284) In this sense, viewers of reality television seek entertainment, but on a deeper level, also seek to connect with the program through its display of authenticity. The manipulation of this authenticity, though, does not go unnoticed. According to Rose and Wood, audiences of reality television programs “… revel in the ironic mixture of the factitious and the spontaneous.” (2005, p. 286) Audiences connect with the ‘real’ people of these reality television programs, but, according to Rose and Wood, acknowledge these people are placed in a very ‘unreal’ situation. Furthermore, their presence on television remains out of the ordinary – usually something that would not happen in everyday life – and hence “a paradox is revealed in which viewers negotiate the existence of both ‘people like me’ and storybook ‘characters.’” (Rose & Wood 2005, p. 290)

Television audiences are particularly complex, constantly watching for reasons other than to be entertained. Though often overlooked, this is certainly evident in reality television audiences. In a study by Steven Reiss and James Wiltz, reality television audiences are suggested to watch certain reality television shows based on individual personality desires. Interestingly, Reiss and Wiltz found the study to suggest an average reality television viewer placed the motive for status above other desires: “the more reality TV shows a person liked, the more status-orientated was the person.” (2009, p. 373) Behind this was the basic motive of vengeance. This suggests a deeper level of desire in reality television viewers than merely to watch, or witness authenticity that they would otherwise be unable to see. Perhaps subconsciously, viewers with a value placed on status are drawn to the reality television genre; “the idea that these are “real” people gives psychological significance to the viewers’ perceptions of superiority.” (Reiss & Wiltz 2009, p. 373) The idea and basic premise of reality television is also important here; millions of people watching ordinary people gives the implication that ordinary people are important.

Reality television is generally associated with trashy, entertainment-only television – its audience much the same. However it is clear that reality television has vast capabilities to influence how the average audience reflects on everyday life through the production and displaying of ‘reality’. Reality television programs of different styles choose to represent this reality to varying degrees of accuracy and convincingness, and are then categorised by this as ‘quality’ or not. Audiences of this complex genre are also more complex than first meets the eye. Watching for a combination of the desire to witness authenticity, entertainment, or deeper desires such as status, these audiences, for the most part, remain just as complex as other television genre audiences.

References:

Biressi, A & Nunn, H 2005, Reality TV: Realism and Revelation, Wallflower Press, Great Britain

Reiss, S & Wiltz, J 2004, ‘Why People Watch Reality TV’, Media Psychology, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 363-378.

Rose, RL & Wood, SL 2005, ‘ Paradox and the Consumption of Authenticity through Reality Television,’ Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 284-296.

This reality needs more entertainment.

Reality TV is a genre that has been perplexing many for years. Academics studying the genre seem to take both positive and negative views. Laurie Ouellette and Susan Murray, in their introductory chapter of book Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture, suggest the genre primarily exists for commercial gain, defining reality TV as “… an unabashedly commercial genre united less by aesthetic rules or certainties than by the fusion of popular entertainment with a self-conscious claim to the discourse of the real.” (2009, p. 3) In this view, reality TV is less about communicating the real, but communicating a representation there of.

This definition seems to focus on the types of programs covered by the broad umbrella of ‘reality TV’ that are often seen as ‘trashy,’ and lacking in any kind of quality. On the other hand, in his paper American Idolatry: Celebrity, Commodity, and Reality Television, Christopher Bell acknowledges the quality of some programs within the genre, defining it as “… a widely-encompassing, generic term that includes many programs which are both intellectually stimulating and aesthetically challenging.” (2009, p. 289)

The problem with defining the genre of reality tv and its key features, is that, like many genres, it consists of many “sub-genres”, or smaller clusters of style and technique that each approach the genre in different ways. Ouellette and Murray suggest reality TV consists of the dating program, makeover program, docusoap, popular talent contest, charity program, lifestyle games that “fuse conventions of gaming with expert guidance,” (2009, p. 5) and more. When considering the large amount of “sub-genres” or formats, it is not surprising there is a large amount of hesitance when one attempts to define the genre with any certainty.

Perhaps, then, the key to its definition lies not in its content, but in the shared techniques each of these sub-genres use: the claim to represent reality. Reality TV, though, differs in its approach to representing reality compared to more factually based news programs; as Ouellette and Murray suggest,

“What ties together all the various formats of the reality TV genre is their professed abilities to more fully provide viewers an unmediated, voyeuristic, and yet often playful look into what might be called the “entertaining real.”

(2009, p. 5)
Whereas news presents factual information for the purposes of public service, reality TV is distinctly different in that its purposes are primarily to entertain. Authenticity becomes questionable considering this, though it is doubtful audiences watch most reality TV programs to gather accurate information, not to be entertained. Reality TV promises access to nonscripted “real” people in all sorts of situations, and this, it seems, is perhaps the biggest factor in appealing to audiences.

In 2008, Fox premiered a reality TV show aptly named The Moment of Truth. It had a total of 23 episodes, with 5 going unaired. The show features one sole contestant at any time. Before the show, this contestant is asked a series of 50 questions whilst a polygraph exam is conducted. With no knowledge of the results, the contestant is asked 21 of these in front of a live audience, including friends and family, each progressively increasing in difficulty and personal nature. A truthful answer sees the contestant progress towards the jackpot of $500, 000, whereas an untruthful answer results in elimination.

The Moment of Truth can be seen as an example of commercial reality TV. Its purpose is not to inform, but to entertain; to expose secrets of the contestant; to allow the audience to witness the disintegration of the contestants’ relationships (which is a common result). Furthermore, The Moment of Truth, and shows like it, often cause and provoke outrage within the wider community. Their goal is not to blend, not to simply be watched, but to be talked about; a key characteristic of this reality TV sub-genre.

On the other end of the scale, One Born Every Minute, can be seen as the ‘quality’ end of the reality TV genre. It documents families in the birthing ward in a hospital in the UK, each about to experience the bringing of new life in one way or another. The show gives a distinctive insight into the birthing ward, including interviews with hospital staff as well as those going through the experience. A definite sense of authenticity is communicated, as well as a certain vibe that the show wants to do nothing more than share, but not detract, from the life-altering experience the subjects are going through. The show does perhaps seek to entertain, as any show would, but a different type of entertainment is sought; one that does not need manipulation to the degree of shows like The Moment of Truth or Big Brother, in which often producers will resort to the manipulation and exploitation of contestants. One Born Every Minute constantly holds a positive portrayal of this unique process, showing it in a light-hearted way. Episodes often circulate around the stages of the birthing process, ending in the arrival of a baby, by which time the audience is often overwhelmed by the special and heart-felt environment and process, of which the show does well to portray.

Considering the reality TV genre has such a wide-array of differing programs, defining its key factors becomes less about content but more about its recurring attempts to show the “real.” In programs of the genre, the “real” becomes a spectacle; to be watched, enjoyed, and entertained by. As Sofie Van Bauwel suggests, the “real” becomes a hyper-real realm where “authentic emotions, experiences, and pleases is constructed.” (2010, p. 22)

References:

Bell, CE, 2009, ‘American Idolatry: Celebrity, Commodity, and Reality Television’, Ph.D. JourMassComn thesis, University of Colorado.

Ouellette, L & Murray, S 2009, ‘Introduction’, in Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture, New York University Press, United States, viewed 1 October 2012, < http://books.google.com.au/books?id=4_W19oHGzZQC&printsec=frontcover
&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
>

Van Bauwel, S 2010, ‘A Short Introduction to Trans-Reality’, in Carpenter, N, & Van Bauwel, S, Trans-Reality Television: The Transgression of Reality, Genre, Politics, And Audience, Lexington Books, United Kingdom, viewed 1 October 2012, < http://books.google.com.au/books?id=4soMZSvQvgYC&printsec=
frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
>

Mad for Mad Men

This week we were asked to provide a close analysis of an aspect of Mad Men‘s Season 1 finale. I chose to do the final scene, in which Don comes home from work, and we as the audience are presented with a scenario he perhaps wishes would take place, and the reality.

Before I start I should point out I’ve only ever watched the first 3 episodes, and now obviously this one. Characters are rather vague to me, and many plot lines are still unknown. Point being: please forgive any inaccurate assumptions; most of what I’m basing this analysis on in terms of characters is largely generalisations.

I’m placing the beginning of the scene at approximately 48 and a half minutes into the episode, in which Don sits on the train coming home from work. The segment begins on other passengers of the train, talking, smoking, holding thanksgiving presents, all covered with a slow pan, until finally reaching Don sitting next to the window of the train. Sound is primarily diegetic of the train passengers, with a low underlay of one of the recurring Mad Men musical themes – this one slow, pensive etc. – which continues through to the next shot. In comparison to the other passengers, Don looks solemn, and deep in thought as he smokes his cigarette. This perhaps emphasises his constant struggle with trying to balance his family life, work life and secret relationship. Lighting is for the most part minimal, obviously aiming to be realistic to that of a train travelling at night. Don is particularly dark, possibly further emphasising his feeling of being out of place; his loneliness, and incapability to be truly happy – he sits in the dark whilst others around him do not.

The scene then cuts to Don arriving at home. I find particular media-student joy in this shot, mostly due to its aesthetic nature, symmetrical framing and subtle references.

I see this shot as extremely influenced by characteristics of the film noir genre. The dark lighting, creating a silhouette, in addition with the side windows that may perhaps draw from conventional venetian blinds of the film noir style, and the prominent and classy hat donned by Don, all suggest film noir influence. Furthermore, this influence could be seen to suggest Don is being compared to the often morally ambiguous male characters seen in classic film noirs; in line with Don’s constant struggle with morals concerning with family and affair, and often brooding nature.

I feel including what I assume to be references to film noir here not only give depth to the show and to that of the character of Don, but elevate the show’s reputation as ‘quality television’.

Following this shot, a long shot is used to establish Don walking into the kitchen. He begins in darkness, silhouetted, making his way to the kitchen, which is softly lit. His silhouette again further emphasises his belief he himself is out of place, and perhaps also references film noir characteristics, though more subtly than the previous shot. Once reaching the doorway, the shot changes to a medium long shot of Don and Betty in the kitchen. Following shots then centre around the two at a closer distance. Betty seems to always remain slightly brighter, as if more lighting has intentionally been placed on her to perhaps emphasise her innocence and kindness. Though much more complex than the average submissive 1960s housewife, in this scene her portrayal is rather simple; she wants Don to come to the family’s thanksgiving. When Don agrees, her happiness is particularly evident in this shot:

The segment then cuts back to the same first shot of Don walking through the door. It’s suddenness makes it very clear the previous segment was merely a hopeful scenario Don would have liked to happen. Instead, he comes home, and no one welcomes him. High angle shots from the top of the stairs are utilised, emphasising his aloneness and now insignificance. Lighting is dull, emphasising the emptiness of the house.

When shot at a mid shot sitting down on the stairs, the frame is cramped and uncomfortable, perhaps representative of Don’s struggle; often feeling overwhelmed; unable to escape. The scene then ends with a track outward from Don, clearly unhappy and in deep thought. The camera moves slowly out of the room, leaving Don alone once again, almost as if Don needs this moment to himself, away from the audience. This suggests Don is never comfortable expressing any larger amounts of emotion, but rather is also reserved and private with such issues. The music used – Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right – while tracking is also highly significant, as its lyrics are highly symbolic of the situation and feelings of Don. For example:

An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway

In particular, these lines prominently emphasis the previous scenario of Don’s yearning.

The scene also first depicts a typical ‘husband coming home’ scenario often seen in older classic sitcoms: husband comes home, takes off hat and coat, and is welcomed by family. As this is then shown to be only a yearning for Don, the scene emphasises the facade and unrealistic nature in these classic family scenarios.

Costuming and set are both obviously designed to realistically reflect the early 1960s as much as possible. Casting perhaps also considers this, as neither Betty, played by January Jones, and Don, played by Jon Hamm, are very recognisable actors. This is rather important as anything recognisable from the present will immediately remind audiences the show is simply a 1960s world created in the present day.

Overall the scene holds very impressive complex layers, referencing film noir and 1960s ideals, but primarily giving the audience more insight into the convoluted nature of Don. Little snippets like this – of Don’s hopes and yearnings – draw the audience in, as the complex nature of Don is highly intriguing. Questions are raised of Don’s morals – whether he is good or bad – and this scene is a prime example of the writers adding to the unforgivingly and intricate nature of Don as well as the overall ever-more-complex plot.

A little love.

I thoroughly enjoyed Big Love this week, and I have a sneaky suspicion it may be because of its ever so cheeky ‘hybrid’ nature. I can’t describe what I mean by ‘hybrid,’ but it’s just one of those things where I know what I mean, and hope others will nod in wise agreement over mutual understanding.


I do, however, categorise Big Love, as I’m sure many others do, as ‘quality television.’ Beyond this, it’s hard to say. But of one thing I am sure: HBO, it seems, is at the forefront of this so called ‘quality television.’ As Michael Kackman notes in his article Quality Television, Melodrama and Cultural Complexity, “HBO has branded itself as the preeminent site of quality television, most neatly encapsulated in its claim to, well, not be TV at all.” According to Kackman, ‘quality television,’ like that seen on HBO, is “…now regularly discussed in aesthetic terms previously reserved for the relatively more legitimate popular art form of cinema.”

This I find interesting; cinema, by default it seems, is considered to be a ‘higher’ art form than that of television. Now, it is proposed, television of this quality is giving cinema a run for its money. I find this to be a little perplexing. I agree that in general, cinema has always held a higher cultural association with what is considered quality and ‘worthwhile’ art, but it took a long time to get there. Television, whether this relatively new breed of ‘quality’ or not, is a completely different medium, and furthermore constantly developing. To compare it to the likes of cinema discourse is, to me, slightly unfounded. I’m sure it draws from cinema techniques, and holds certain similarities, but when push comes to shove, cinema is cinema and television is television.

But what, then, is ‘quality’ television? Complexity seems to be a commonly referenced characteristic of quality television. But complexity is, by definition, obviously complex. Kackman believes there is more to complex texts; these texts perhaps require audiences to be culturally aware; to fully grasp a complex text is to bring complexity to a text – to understand it in relation to a complex set of ideals embedded within a particular culture.

“Complexity isn’t just something we find in a text; it’s something we bring to a text – and our recognition of certain characters as meaningfully conflicted, their narrative and moral dilemmas agonizingly or beguilingly puzzling, is a cultural identification.”

One cannot just approach a complex text with no prior understanding of the culture in which it is received; recognition of a text’s complexity requires a certain amount of knowledge to be brought to a text – an understanding of conflicts, drama, realism etc.

It is worthwhile to also mention Kackman suggests the smaller proportion of quality television compared to that of, well, ‘other’, television, is not necessarily a bad thing, but allows it to be appreciated.

“I’d like to urge some skepticism about celebrating television’s new golden age of aesthetic quality. By becoming “legitimate,” we risk eliding our field’s history of politically and culturally invested scholarship.”

Anyway, back to the question of Big Love. Big Love is hybrid, and Big Love is complex. It combines drama, narrative complexity and underlying undertones (though most of the time overtones) of religious conflicts. Perhaps it draws from soap opera, which as Jason Mittell describes in his article More thoughts on soap operas and television seriality “…has been the centerpiece of serial form for decades.” Though perhaps only taking similarities in character relationships and seriality, as as Mittell discusses, soap operas are distinctly different from this type of complex narrative television in many ways.

But this still leaves me puzzled as to how to categorise Big Love. Perhaps this is because there currently exists no real category or genre for such shows, but only vague discussions and secret whispers. No official branding has been made, other than by academics, who often refer to shows like this simply as ‘quality television’ that consist of narrative complexity. If I had to give a reference-able answer, though, I guess I’d say it’d have to be a drama. A really complex well-written well-performed drama.

Game on.


This week we watched the fabulous Game of Thrones pilot. A fan of slightly above average proportions, I have enjoyed the show’s blatant honesty and boldness, and though slow moving, find myself rather attached to the goings on and general environment of the show.

I had never thought much about the issue of gender until reading some of the discussions posted on the course blog. Of particular interest to me was David Barnett’s piece for The Guardian, discussing Ginia Bellafante’s review in the New York Times, and the piece by Miles McNutt in Cultural Learnings discussing early reviews of the show.

I was rather taken aback when reading Bellafante’s review, which heavily criticises the series, making more than slightly patronising remarks and calling the series, amongst other things, a “costume-drama sexual hopscotch.” Even more interesting was her rather large generalisations about appealing to females: “The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise.” …Seriously? I don’t know about the other ladies, but uh, personally I’m in it for all the sword fighting and lavish scenery and men being ‘traditional’ men. Since when is the ‘illicitness’ an appealing thing for the ladies? I’d have thought it was the other way inclined. I personally viewed the ‘illicitness’ as boldness; bravery from the writers and producers to not be afraid to show and include such things.

This does obviously raise interesting points on the issue of ‘gender fiction’. Should distinctions really exist? I’d never thought of Game of Thrones as a male-targetted show, but perhaps I appreciate it more due to the inevitable fact I’m a media student, and it hence appeals to me on an aesthetic/cinematographical/plot-driven basis. Though now obvious it probably is more inclined to a male audience, due perhaps to its storyline in which male dominance often prevails, I believe Bellafante’s review to be exaggerated and misguided; there’s more in it for the ladies than just ‘illicitness.’

Barnett also seems to take this standpoint, drawing attention to comments on the article which most often regard it as, well, inaccurate to say the least. Of particular interest, though, was his closing paragraph:

“And if anyone thinks that little girls wanting to dress as princesses while boys dress as knights is evidence for a kind of gender inevitability, think again. Girls wanting to be knights isn’t a signifier of equality; princesses becoming more kick-ass is. Despite Ginia Bellafante’s misguided comments in her review, the growing numbers of modern female fantasy fans might suggest that the genre is heading in the right direction.”

I’d be interested to know what he means when he says the genre is ‘heading in the right direction.’ Of late, more female fantasy fans do seem to be emerging. Be it at Comic-Con, in online forums, or similar platforms, the ladies seem to be giving the gentlemen a run for their money. In the past, fantasy was thought to be a male dominated genre. Why, though? The fights, the imagined worlds, the empowerment? I’ve always wondered the reason behind such an inequality in gender amongst fantasy fans. But, as Barnett points out, perhaps the inequality is slowly dispersing. Princesses are indeed becoming more kick-ass, rather than submissive, captives in towers, and perhaps this is sending a message to the gals, and drawing them in. In Game of Thrones, for example, Daenerys Targaryen begins as a subservient, submissive character towards her brother. She is offered for marriage without consultation, and when showing signs of discontent, is essentially told to do her duty. This then changes, however, by the end of the season, in which she emerges as a strong, dominant and powerful Queen, leading an army behind her.

Now, I’m not saying because of this and similar plot examples, that do perhaps develop to hold some feminist ideals, women are all of a sudden rushing to the fantasy genre. But perhaps there is something in these strong female characters, as many shows in the past have proven.

McNutt also discusses reviews of the show, drawing attention to the simple fact the more ‘positive’ reviews often degrade the show, making remarks particularly aimed at men (such as “Beheadings, barbarians, bastards & boobs. Why We F***ing Love Game of Thrones.”). McNutt expands further on issues of gender in television. He points out that reality television shows, such as Dancing With The Stars, are primarily aimed at and watched by a female audience. Questions of taste then arise, with immediate judgement that a viewer of Dancing With The Stars obviously has no taste when it comes to television viewing. This then raises the question: what is it we should be watching in ‘good taste’?

Whether male or female, I believe Game of Thrones appeals to many. Probably aimed more at the gentlemen, yes, it still appeals to the gals for more than just the ‘illicitness’ (honestly, is that even a factor?). I believe this a good example of the development and altering perceptions of the fantasy genre. No longer for ‘geeks,’ or just males, the fantasy genre has become widespread and popular, due largely to Game of Thrones and its daring to be confrontational.

Nurses being nurses.

On the menu this week is the Webisode:
“A text viewed online which has some relationship directly or indirectly to the television medium.” – Matt Loads

I decided to look at Offspring, merely because I have seen it in its entirety, and its web presence was advertised frequently before and after each episode broadcast.


Webisodes of Offspring are placed in a series called ‘The Nurses.’ The style reflects that of the television show in that it’s slightly quirky, shot in a similar simplistic style, and features some of the characters of the show (though usually only small snippets). Currently available online is the last 4 episodes of season 3 of The Nurses. These episodes reference storylines of the television show, specifically the story arc of Jimmy and Zara, and the recent birth of their child. The episodes are short, on average about 3 minutes, and present themselves as a kind of ‘behind the scenes’ of the goings on of the show’s main setting, a hospital. Two characters not featured on the show are present (two nurses), who lead the episodes in plot, and in some cases narration. Jimmy and Zara then feature as support, though in some cases take a leading role.

The webisodes of Offspring are an interesting approach to the modern internet-television relationship. As Max Dawson suggests in his article Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency: Convergence Television and the Digital Short, webisodes, or ‘shorts,’ as he calls them, “…have developed their own aesthetic, an aesthetic of efficiently characterized by streamlined exposition, discontinuous montage and ellipsis, and decontextualized narrative or visual spectacle.” (p. 3) The Nurses can be seen as reflecting this; often segments are completely random, unexplained events that give the representation of ‘nurse gossip.’ In some episodes, characters of the show give some new information relevant to the current storyline, but this information is never important for the comprehension of the show’s storyline, nor does it affect in any way the plot or story development; it is generally mere conversation. The Nurses is often unrealistic, particularly that of the last one of the series, in which a musical performance takes place that perhaps gives an impression part of the segment is a dream. Furthermore, the segments often end as if they are merely going to an ad break; small amounts of information are withheld, be it what happens next or answers to various questions.

The Nurses does not “…aggressively contract the scale of television and the stories that it tells” (p. 2), like some webisodes, but rather exists alongside Offspring to compliment the storyline and add to the viewer experience. Hence, viewers who have not watched Offspring will probably not receive the webisodes in the way intended by the producers.

It’s also interesting to note that perhaps this approach to webisodes is less about financial or marketing gain, and more about viewer experience. As Dawson notes, some “popular critics have dismissed television’s digital shorts as crass and misguided attempts to cash-in on the short-form web video craze.” (p. 21) In this case I believe The Nurses to be less inclined to ‘cash-in’ on the webisode craze, and furthermore on any advertisement benefits, in that it exists alongside Offspring, not separate from it. It may have small inclinations to gain a stronger, more dedicated viewership by creating these webisodes, but to those who have not seen the show they are not appealing, and thus perhaps not – for the most part – an advertising ploy.

Because of the short, snappy-ness of The Nurses, audiences experience similarities with the ‘episode concept,’ in that each of the small episodes acts as a kind of small snippet of the show; an ad break before (on the Channel Ten website, two ads are included before the clip starts), and an implied ad break when the segment ends. This is crucial in the experience, as conventionally with all television shows, each episode is broken up into segments with ad breaks placed in between. Structure is determined around this, with small ‘cliff hangers’ being placed before an ad break, and a larger one at the show’s end. Hence, The Nurses may take on a similar feel for the audience, who have become accustomed to this style of viewing, but can now access smaller versions. The Nurses does not condense the show down by any means, and cannot be used by the viewer to catch up on the show, but serves merely as ‘extra entertainment’ to be viewed at leisure.

Audience gets a broadcast; becomes nation.

During this past week it has become evident to me that we as a ‘nation’ owe a lot to broadcasting. Beginning with the humble radio, broadcasting created a “sense of communal identity” (Morley 2000, p. 106) that had never been experienced before.

In the case of Australia the ability to broadcast was extremely significant in shaping our national and cultural identity. The humble radio guided us towards sports commentary, national news and weather forecasts. As a result, we as Australians play cricket, enjoy being updated on important news, and have the privilege of knowing whether shorts will be appropriate attire for the coming day.

Furthermore, in his book Home Territories: Media, Mobility and Identity, David Morley suggests this was the beginning of a crucial role of broadcasting; “forging a link between the dispersed and disparate listeners and the symbolic heartland of national life.” (2000, p. 106) With broadcasting came the ability to merge public and private, to ‘invade’ the living rooms of the citizens, ‘penetrating’ the domestic environment and furthermore “turning previously exclusive social events into mass experiences.” (Morley 2000, p. 107)

Most importantly, the national was transported into the domestic environment. A large ‘community’ was created, which held particular importance, I feel, in Australia, given the nation was newly formed and still attached to its heritage only slightly more than than a century ago. Morley, referencing Lofgren, speaks of a “cultural thickening” of the nation state due to the educative role of broadcast media. People could feel at home whilst simultaneously enjoying all broadcasting had to offer, and this sense of community transported to a private space is the key tool in the success of broadcasting and ‘communal identity.’

Today, broadcasting expands its role much further. No longer just used as an informative, educational and slightly entertaining technology, broadcasting has advanced and developed further to provide more services. “Cultural thickening” still occurs, but in a much more complicated sense; audiences now have more ability to choose and tailor content to their liking. They are more educated, more aware of the techniques of broadcasting, and thus can be seen as less passive to the affects of broadcasting. There is also an overload of content, and more ways to reach it, creating a complex model of broadcasting and media.

Television networks, however, do their best to assume the wants and needs of the average media consumer. Enter Channel 7′s Sunrise, a morning breakfast show that attempts to mix news with ‘quintessential Aussie’ personalities and activities. Just now as I explore the show’s website, I’m subtly confronted with various ‘Aussie’ quirks: the bold Toyota advertisement that greets me, followed by a cheeky “From humble beginnings in a tin shed, we’ve grown to be Australia’s number one breakfast show,” statement when meeting the team. The show clearly promotes various Australian cultural ideas inherent in everyday life that are constantly encountered by many Australians.


Co-hosts Mel and Kochie are no exceptions. Mel, the typical ‘girl next door’ turned mother, epitomises many qualities we as Australians expect to see in the typical casual co-host. She’s nice, with a kind of naive vibe about her, and plays well against ol’ Kochie. Kochie – or David Koch for short – attempts to portray the ‘sophisticated larrikin’ of the group. The majority of the hosts also make use of conventional ‘Aussie’ nicknames, such as Kochie, Nat, and Berretts.

These and other techniques prove the show is determined to portray a particular idea about typical Australian culture. Through the ability to broadcast simultaneously (and now be watched back online later), Sunrise and other shows like it are able to promote these ideas to a national audience and create a sense of routine, daily life, and community. This is enhanced by constant engagement with their audience, be it live outside the studio, during live crosses or on the show’s twitter account. The sense of ‘liveness’ further endorses the idea of authenticity and immediacy.

First through radio, and now television, broadcasting has constantly shaped the idea of cultural identity. Particularly in Australia, the ‘ideal’ everyday ‘Aussie’ culture is emphasised in one way or another. It is now natural to have the public life wrapped up in our living rooms, no longer a solitary newspaper reading experience but a collective communal viewing event shared with the nation.

Morley, D 2000, ‘Broadcasting and the Construction of the National Family’, in Home Territories: Media, Mobility and Identity, Routledge, United States of America & Canada, pp. 105-128.

Television; a dead medium? Old White Man says no.

In this post I shall discuss the last suggested topic for this week’s journals:
Is television a dead medium? Draw on any pertinent online materials you can find to speculate on how television is changing and/or staying the same, and to summarise what you think might be some of its key distinguishing characteristics in the future (e.g. compared to other media).

I’m going to take a slightly unorthodox approach here and justify using Twitter as ‘online materials.’ And here is why: television is developing alongside the social media phenomenon. Whoever is sitting up there controlling the shots understands; viewers no longer want to be passive, they want to be involved, they want to see their tweet at the bottom of the screen and tell their friends; they want to participate and feel included.

Queue example: Community. At one point in the show, character Troy decides to live with fellow character Pierce, an often racist and politically incorrect older man. During this time, Troy creates a twitter account, Old White Man Says, on which he updates his fellow community college goers on the questionable things Pierce comes up with. As the episodes featuring this twitter account went to air, the producers of the show (or perhaps a viewer?) simultaneously updated a twitter account of their own creation. Viewers could follow the account, be updated with the tweets, and respond and encourage the characters of the show.


In the case of Community, all the characters have twitter accounts to encourage further interaction. These include accounts for Jeff Winger, Britta Perry, and Troy Barnes. Tweets between the accounts are common, connecting them further and implying the tweets are from the actual characters themselves.




The fact that the characters are fictional, in this instance, becomes irrelevant; this is a new common feature of popular television shows that encourages audience engagement almost similar to that of low level fandom. Characters begin to have a ‘real-world’ identity that brings them out from the screen and turns them into something more; something relatable, something more ‘real’. Fictional twitter accounts like these also give viewers further insights into the characters they love so much, and can be created by viewers themselves, creating an integrated and connected fan base community solely held together by the fan themselves, based on a common interest in a particular character or television show.

It is clear television is changing in both its content and marketing. Content is becoming more bold, challenging current social and cultural issues with quality writing and acting. Marketing is becoming more user orientated; ‘fake’ twitter accounts of the characters themselves are created to give a sense of depth and reality; social media is utilised to target specific demographics, primarily on Facebook and Twitter, as a cheap and effective method of advertising that encourages users to engage with a television show beyond just watching it and leaving it there. Television itself has become interactive and multi-platform, going beyond a simple experience of ‘watching.’ However, as it is so easily transformed, it is difficult to point to where it will/can go next.

Tee-vee can haz blog.

First TV Cultures post. What. Is. UP!

I don’t know why I’m so excited about this, but I just am. Here goes something which is slightly more than nothing.

The question: why is TV worth studying in a university context?

In his article The Past is Another Country, Graeme Blundell suggests television has the capabilities to far out do what have become story-less and action driven films, and, as a matter of fact, has already achieved this.

With the help of new digital technologies, television has forced our attention greatly over the past decade, drawing us in with cultural dramas and reality television shows, satirical humour about politics and the classic Aussie accent, and just down right great quintessential Aussie drama (here I speak of my current love, Offspring).

As a result, perceptions of the ol’ box and its content have changed:

As we approach the first ratings season of the new decade it’s easy to see that a speedier, snappier, television-rooted sensibility has taken the thinking person’s high ground. Storytelling and style, increasingly absent from noisy cinema entertainments, are a living, vibrant force on what we once contemptuously called the goggle box.

Television is now sophisticated, smart and bold. It challenges, it provokes, it engages. It’s a new breed, and perhaps, one that is just getting started.

Television should therefore absolutely be studied in a university context. Far more so than film – in my opinion – it consistently engages deeper and with more sophistication. Film, too, was once a subject looked at with scepticism by the academic community, thought perhaps to be not worthy of study. A meaningless area of entertainment? Sometimes, yes. But what I love so much about film, and of course television, is that more is said beneath the surface than above it. Sure, there is story, plot, characters, all holding meaning, but at a deeper level television and film communicate in new ways. Even if one is not familiar with camera techniques etc, a certain camera angle can have an entirely different meaning than another. Film and television have a specific language in which they communicate. And it is engaging and interpreting this communication that makes the entire film and television mediums so intriguing.

But, where as film takes time to comment on current issues, television is much snappier, and boldly so. Yet there is no reason the mediums cannot occasionally cross over. On Community, constant references are made throughout the series to various quotable and well known films, almost in a Tarantino-esque way.

And Community is just one example. When looking back at the past decade it is easy to see why everyone seems to be gettin’ excited about the latest and up and coming television content.