The essay the TV, Ideology, and Emancipatory Popular Culture is written by Douglas Kellner, a famous sociologist. He is famous as a representative of the so-called “third-generation” critical theorists. During his career, the sociologist wrote many articles and essays which were devoted to the role of television in the process of globalization. As a prominent expert in the sphere of sociology, Douglas Kellner made a great contribution to the field of critical media literacy. The essay under consideration is written in 1979. The author offers his vision of the place of television in the life of contemporary society. Douglas Kellner suggests the idea that due to the rapid development of television and its quick spread all over the world, the TV may become a real religion, a new tool of manipulation.
Two main points of the article are
The author investigates the current and potential role of broadcast media in the implementation and development of a hegemonic ideology. Taking into account the fact that by the time the article was written (1979) the influence of mass-media images had not been researched the article covered topical and important aspects of culture and sociology. Investigators mostly ignored and rejected the role of pop works or criticized them, while the author pictures television as a powerful weapon of forming ideas and notions of the mass. Watching TV shows, movies or commercials was considered less influential than reading because it predetermined only passive participation. Still, human consciousness percepts and adopts presented images and always appraises them through the lenses of watchers’ personal experience. A watcher becomes a part of a demonstrated episode and influences its image in his/her imagination as well as the image influences him/her. The process of interaction gives birth to a needed idea.
Each ideology is often presented through images and symbols which are habitual and close to human consciousness and supported by rational theory; such combination mostly guarantees a successful acceptance of a concept by wide masses. Parades, religious and civil ceremonies, public speeches, and other actions were the most common means to achieve a necessary goal. Still, various notions and ideas are easier accepted by the means of images but not words. The first ones directly demonstrate a necessary notion, while the second ones encourage a person to build it on his/her own. The author investigates and exposes the ways television influences the acceptance and development of an ideology in people’s consciousness. The main fact is that mass media does not only demonstrate pieces of traditional symbolism but also successfully creates new ones; it promotes certain moral features, popularizes some of them as positive qualities, and describes others as bad ones. Broadcast media roles are prescriptive as well as descriptive which means that television plays the first fiddle producing cultural symbols and images. The author singles out a certain type of TV images, which produce the most powerful effect on watchers consciousness and behavior through the images and inherent symbols may not be defined by the common moral, such as, for example, showing various taboo’s or criminal episodes which are followed by punishment scenes. A person may forget about watching a film with such episodes but become afraid of repeating the demonstrated action. Usually, such images are repressed but still effective. Dr. Kellner calls such images paleosymbolic and highlights, that they have the power to influence people’s behavior and link certain emotions with certain actions and supports this statement with examples from movies. Paleosymbolic images may serve both, as positive and negative factors at the same time. While forming rejection of criminal actions (in detectives, crime dramas, etc.), they may also form a stereotypical image of women who are always stupid or mean, or unfaithful (in soap operas, melodramas, etc.). This quality of paleosymbolic images is often used in the TV commercials sphere. As a result, consuming some types of food products becomes associated with a certain way of life; expensive autos are usually demonstrated with beautiful women, sitting in or caressing them; consequently, cars are associated with luxury and chic life and success. TV advertises some social and moral values; moreover, it produces certain mythology, rather schematic, but still popular. Such mythology does not only strengthen watchers’ morality but also increases the belief in future happiness and a happy end, as well as in the necessity of social order. The most common scheme shows the idyllic life which is suddenly broken off by a powerful evil or villain. Chaos comes, and humanity seeks salvation from another, kind power, or a superhero, or a virtuous policeman, or a wise woman, etc. The good side wins and social order and prosperity come back.
Three sub-points by Dr. Keller are
Nevertheless, as a society cannot have only one point of view to various questions, TV also cannot produce only one-sided images. As a result, the contradiction of TV messages is always observed. The author tells about discrepant notions of a family as an institute in movies and shows in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. TV industry followed social tendencies and firstly presented the middle-class family as the ideal variant of family forms; but later, families with only one parent and other kinds of families found their places on TV screens which demonstrated the cultural reaction to social changes.
The author suggests that the phenomenon of contradictory images in TV productions means that mass media may play the leading role in the development of emancipator culture and politics though politicians by 79 did not pay a lot of attention to media politics and interventions in popular culture. Moreover, scorn and contempt to the television industry developed as well as radical demands to eliminate it as a result of cultural criticism of pop culture presented on TV though it has always presented at least some pieces of opposite opinions and protests against suffering and might have become a powerful weapon against oppression. Rock-and-rill, beatnik poetic and prosaic works, tradition or social-realistic movies, documentary programs, and other phenomena of pop culture demonstrated social protest against depression. Though the inherent message may be differently percept and interpret by the audience and lead to contradictory social effects.
Speaking about realism as a tool of subversion the author tells about the effect which documentary programs (Hunger in America, Harvest of Shame, Vietnam documentaries, and news) produced on wide masses. They exposed various corruptions, moral, ethical, and law violations, crimes, etc and served as a tool of public enlightenment and education in the sphere of politics. At the same time, popular series formed a public opinion on different subjects. Moreover, says the author, they often included some elements of popular culture as popular revenge, exposing in TV portrayals frauds, deceptions, and crimes, and standing for the rights of victims. Dr. Kellner highlights that comedies also have emancipator power narrating some taboo questions in easy and funny forms. Through laughter public easier percepts some notions and gets accustomed to them. Moreover, comedies offer inherent critical suggestions which also help form public opinion.
The author sees mass media as a powerful tool of influence on the public as well as a great sphere for the social struggle against social unfairness; according to Dr. Kellner, TV offers significant means for political education and standing for truth. Though, all of it is possible in the case of TV liberation.
Kellner, Douglas. “TV, Ideology, and Emancipatory Popular Culture,” Socialist Review 45. 1979: 13-53. Print.