Television’s Gated Communities

by: Megan Mullen / University of Wisconsin-Parkside

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WealthTV Logo

In 1989 James Carey wrote, “Communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed.” Nearly every communication scholar, from undergraduate to tenured professor, knows this passage. Surveying the 2005 scenario of rapidly converging and relatively unregulated media industries in the United States sheds a thought-provoking light on this seminal statement. At a time when U.S. television was still dominated by three broadcast networks, people from different backgrounds had something to share, even if it only revolved around a previous evening’s television programs. Today, people are moving away from any kind of shared cultural experience — moving both literally and symbolically into segregated or “gated” communities, from prisons to housing projects to singles condos to suburban subdivisions. Literal gated communities, though, are more a symptom than a cause of social separation and stratification. We cannot be fully part of the physical communities we inhabit if we do not also feel addressed (interpellated) as members of those communities. This should not be surprising to anyone familiar with those contemporary market research strategies that “know” more about us than we know about ourselves.

Recent experiences have made me ponder the near future of consumer targeting and segregation. First, some Business colleagues at my university contacted me, seeking input on a project related to targeted cable advertising. Though greatly flattered to have been asked to share my expertise, I left with some troubling thoughts about the erosion of even the most vestigial notion of universal television service. While I was still thinking about this, an article appeared in the New York Times on “The Future of the 30-Second Spot.” Writer Lorne Manly identifies several specific firms actively pursuing technologies that “behave like a smarter version of direct mail.” He explains that, increasingly, “ads can be customized, not just by neighborhood, but ultimately by household and perhaps by viewing habits.” Clearly, my colleagues are not alone in their ambitions!

I wonder, since the technologies enabling such a refined level of targeting are still in the expensive trial stages, isn’t it likely that the first uses of the technology will be for high-end products aimed at affluent consumers? Doesn’t it therefore also seem likely that these technologies will reach upscale niche cable networks long before they reach broadcast television or even cable’s more affordable basic tier(s)? And then, when these technologies allow niche services to generate whatever levels of profits their owners desire, what quality of television programming and services will be available to the rest of us?

Shortly after reading Manly’s article, I attended the National Cable Television Association’s annual convention (“The Cable Show”) in San Francisco. There I observed the scenario I was concerned about actually coming to pass. Several of the higher-end programming services being touted involved pay-per-view and pay-per-download technologies that would eliminate traditional commercials. The programming they offer (“lifestyle” shows, in many instances) is well suited to product placement and even covert infomercials. The content will be tailored to the perceived tastes of high-end consumers (or at least people aspiring to those lifestyles). The newly launched digital and pay-per-view service Wealth TV both symbolizes and epitomizes this, with the slogan, “It’s your life … Spend it well.”

Scannable ID badges worn by all Cable Show attendees offered a convenient (almost facile) metaphor for what I was witnessing. At a network’s exhibit booth, a delegate would scan visitors’ badges, thereby assessing their relevance to the network’s business goals. Needless to say, a college professor is greeted with far less enthusiasm than a cable operator! I wasn’t prevented from taking informational brochures and logo-emblazoned freebies. So I wasn’t exactly barred from participation, but I wasn’t being courted, either. I’d say my place there was analogous to the lower- or even average-income television viewers I envision in the near future–barraged with meaningless and annoying traditional commercials, but not particularly desired by any. The programming won’t be much better than the commercials themselves.

WealthTV
WealthTV

Such a situation points out the dramatic shift in fortunes for the cable industry over the half-century of its existence. Throughout the 1960s, policymakers — ever mindful of the FCC’s local service doctrine — “flip-flopped” considerably as to whether community antennas (early cable) were a threat or a benefit to television service in smaller communities. At this stage of cable history, the mere continuation of the cable industry depended on an ability to weather shifting conceptualizations of democracy in television service. It is all too easy to forget how, when, and why this changed. By the 1970s, most visions of cable being bandied about by policymakers and the general public involved the fabled “cornucopia” of specialty services, with relatively little mention of localism as a form of specialization. Deregulatory fervor on various fronts allowed cable to move toward the least expensive programming schemes, the most widespread appeal, and the most convenient technologies.

Although the eclectic mix of inexpensively programmed cable networks that sprang up from the late 1970s through the early 1990s caused many observers to doubt that cable would ever compete with broadcast television, much less surpass it in setting programming precedents, a look around the exhibit hall of the Cable Show reminded me that it has done just that. The modern cable industry, now flush with resources, offers a programming cornucopia more varied than anyone in the 1970s ever could have imagined. And yet the one overwhelming theme of what cable television has to offer today is the pursuit of affluence — in program content, in the selection of networks, in levels of service, and in delivery technologies.

Half a century ago television set ownership identified a family as fairly well off. Quite simply, it allowed them to receive television signals — period — whether over-the-air or via community antenna. Today, with around 99% penetration, television set ownership is no longer a symbol of prestige, nor is a cable subscription. Both now mark people as “average.” This is about to change. In the near future those of us with the means will select content tailored to the lifestyle we’re most accustomed to, watch and listen to that content through consumer technologies — ranging from large-screen televisions to cell phones — that also connote social position, and share our experiences with people deemed most similar to us by market research companies. So where once U.S. television embodied a shared popular culture, now it (and technologies poised to subsume it) is becoming the metaphor for a culture of gated communities. If the reified separation I’ve considered here increasingly is our reality, then that reality is being produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed by technologies that, each day, become more sophisticated in their ability to address and flatter us based on socio-economic attributes.

Image Credit
1. WealthTV Logo
2. WealthTV

Sources
Carey, James H. Communication As Culture: Essays on Media and Society. New York: Routledge, 1989.
Manly, Lorne. “The Future of the 30-Second Spot.” New York Times 27 Mar. 2005: 1+ [2 pp.] Sec 3.

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19 comments

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  • Politics of consumption in cable

    This very interesting article triggers two questions that I think deserveattention but which can be situated in different dimensions. These questionscan be read in the fears expressed by the article for the possible futuretreatment of viewers as “second class cable consumers” by the different qualityin programming that would be offered to them.

    The first is related to the concern of losing one of the most invaluable sortsof shared consumption experience. This worry is created by the observable trendof balkanization of mass media experiences through targeted consumption.Specialization is not a new trend but as the article suggests it can go furtherby somehow preventing some viewers to participate in some already well definedaudiovisual spaces as commodities.

    The second question can be situated in the realm of the discussion of politicsof culture regarding what can be considered a good program or good programming.We can debate on the arguably assumption, based on media industrial demands,that more capital can produce better entertainment but not necessarily betterprograms. The innovation on formats and ways to commercialize the new programsannounced by Wealth TV praised the replacement of commercial spots for otherways of advertisement. However the presumable banality of programming base oncommodities does not ensure from my perspective better programs. Economic goalscan be married with innovation for the sake of competition but… Does that meanbetter quality?”

  • I think this article raises many interesting questions. I think it’s likely that new technologies will allow for the creation of new methods of advertising and that those who cannot afford these new technologies (such as DVR recorders and pay-per-view systems) will not be exposed to these advertisements. Clearly the companies who pay for an advertisement are more interested in reaching affluent consumers. But is this anything new? The author herself says that 50 years ago only affluent families could afford to purchase TVs. It seems to me that television advertising has always been about reaching affluent audiences. It’s true that as technologies become older they get cheaper and become available to those with less money, but only after those who can afford the new products get board with the old ones. I think that television has always been a gated community that occasionally opens its doors to those outside.

  • Stephen Stephanian

    TiVO kill.

    While television is segmenting itself into niche audiences, I still do believe it is one of the few mediums around that has the ability to be a shared cultural experience. From the three big networks and their evening news, to the domination of the Cosby show, to Johnny Carson, television has been that commonality between even the most different people.

    Even with television ratings on the decline and the emergence of interactive, digital technologies, an advertisement running during American Idol or the Super Bowl is the fastest way to reach the most people in the least amount of time.

    While I don’t necessarily write television off as losing its shared cultural experience yet, I do acknowledge the segmentation of the audience into different markets. Advertisers are trying to reach the most heads for the least amount of money.

    In the new era of Tivo and television, advertisers are having to get even more invasive for their advertising. Product placement has been going on since radio, but it certainly seems likely to pick up in the future and become more of a primary marketing device. Take for example Fox’s 24. The producers and Ford Motor Company have etched a mega-million dollar deal to use Ford vehicles exclusively for the good characters, but strictly forbid them for bad, deviant characters (George).

    As the Tivo technology gains market share, advertisers will not be willing to pay as much money as they do now for commercials during the breaks. The networks are going to need the revenue to produce/buy the shows, so more deals like the 24/Ford deals will be the new emerging advertising techniques.

    In regards to the segmenting audience, I believe product placement will only exacerbate the isolation of audiences. A worst case scenario would be the advertisers product placement forming/determining the television shows (think 1950s). Albeit strange, television is likely to develop into an advertisers market, even with the impending doom of commercial breaks, because of product placement and the segmenting audience.

    George, Lianne. “Is Kifer Sutherland Trying to Sell You Something?” . Maclean’s 21 Feb. 2005. EBSCO. 18 Apr. 2005 .

  • Programming segmentation driven by targeted marketing is already in full swing and has been for some time. We can already see this with the emergence of the multitude of specialized networks such as Food, Style, and H & G. There is a channel for everyone these days, and those channels are even further segmented into time slots. This segmentation is nothing new, and I don’t really see the problem with it. Even with such segmentation, there are still millions of other 18-24 year old middle class males that I can share my television experiences with. Because of our capitalist society, this social segmentation is inevitable. It is obviously something we as humans enjoy. We all join different social clubs and societies to stand out from everyone else. People tend to strive for sharing their cultural experiences more intimately with a close knit group of people. This is why there are thousands of fraternities and sororities across colleges nationwide. TV is no different. We are members of different groups because of who is excluded. The adult swim time segment on the Cartoon Network is a perfect example. This is a very intimate and close community relative to television as a whole; however, this “close-knit” community still consists of millions of people. This idea that the Wealth network has put forward may be excluding the poorer classes, but it’s not like this hasn’t been happening for centuries anyway. As a consumer, I would much rather have products advertised to me that I can afford anyway. I don’t want to have expensive BMW commercials shoved down my throat constantly reminding me of my low college budget. Please show me the Taco Bell commercials sporting the soft tacos that I can easily afford 20 of. I don’t think quality of television is going to be any better for these pay per view/download networks. They just like the basic broadcast TV are commercially driven, just with product placement. Networks will always want to keep viewers watching their shows in order to get paid by their advertisers; therefore, quality is not going to go down. Otherwise we will stop watching. Advertisers that appeal to wealthy consumers only are only a small percentage of the advertisers. Companies whose products are bought by low income consumers will still always be there trying to get their products bought.

  • Are you buying what they’re selling?

    As I type this response to this article, the NBA playoffs are under way on the television next to my desk. As a native of San Antonio, I feel a duty to watch the San Antonio Spurs vie for the championship. Organized sporting events definitely bind communities together as fans but also to advertisers as demographics. In between the first and second quarters of the second game against the Supersonics broadcast this evening on the TNT cable network, the entire viewing audience (including those outside of San Antonio and even Texas) was privy to knowledge that the Official NBA Playoffs Ford Mustang was going to be passing through San Antonio. Proud San Antonio natives recognized the Ford Mustang passing in front of the Alamo, Rivercenter and other San Antonio landmarks (of course, a pass by the world’s largest cowboy boots in front of our fair city’s mecca of shopping, Northstar Mall). The transition from game commentary to commercial was almost seamless. Advertisers have already begun to discover that with the advent of DVR’s and TiVO, there’s nowhere else to go but the jugular vein and hit it where it counts. Product placement seems to have spiraled out of control, even on live programming where most viewers are watching at the time of broadcast. While it is possible that other out-of-state cable operators chose that block for their local advertising, cable is certainly segmenting in its own right. As a resident of a physical gated residence, it is not difficult to grasp the concept of segmentation already taking place. Very few of my neighbors in San Antonio do not receive digital cable from Time-Warner. They are all privy to the digital cable channels that most certainly cater to their specific demographic. We are already beginning to see audience individuation on the internet with Google custom tailoring advertisements within search results. With Nielsen Media Research continuing its research with its “Local People Meter” technology, I’m certain advertisements will be custom tailored to the individual user or family gazing eyes on the screen. As the technology becomes more integrated and devices start merging, we’ll definitely find that these tactics will become more aggressive. However, I think the most important thing to remember is that, while at times we might feel used or exploited by invasive advertising, it is imperative to remember that we still live in a free market economy. The advertisers are merely buying your attention. It’s your choice to purchase. Advertisers pay attention when you object to undesired ads and keep your wallet closed. It’s your choice. Either you are buying what they are selling or change the channel.

  • Charlette L. Matts

    The article presented some interesting information about cable advertisers’ newest venture in advertising. Many consumers are going to feel like second class consumers and less important consumers.Although this may be new to cable networks, this isn’t a new trend in how new commidities are sold to consumers. With every new technology, advertisers target more affluent consumers and once a profit has been made then they go for the lesser quality demographic. I remember when the only people thought to legitamitely have a pager were doctors. Soon everyone began to get pagers until the cell phone became popular. This even happens in fashion , automobiles, and medicine. Those who are more affluent are first to try out these new products. Like the authour said it is a choice to buy what they are selling or not. It is even or choice to accept being bombarded by continuos advertising or not. If consumers hit advertisers and networks where it really hurts and ratings decrease they will not have a choice but to create a more innovative way to advertise. They are working to get our attention and if they want my mine they have to be more creative.

  • Kristyn Barnett

    I feel that as we a narrowcasted into different segments we might find ourselves more in common with people of the same interest. We might be moving into segratedgated communities, but I think we are still able to share cultural backgrounds, but only more specific idealogies of interest. Yes I believe our reality in tv is being transformed, produced, and maintained through technology because we must keep the media up with out innnovations. Even though most advertisements are targeted to the the affluent consumers only makes since because if they can afford the technology they can probably afford the high-end products and are more familar with then. Those people who won’t get these advertisements will gradually catch up with technology and I wouldn’t worry about them because they probaly aren’t worried about advertisements. I think we should worry more about the content of whats is on tv and not so mus=ch the sdvertisement, because its always going to be there so tv can be produced;it doesn’t have a chose but to keep up with the hotties new way to attract its audience. That is the job of advertisement and sales.

  • Cable and Beyond

    Mullen makes a good point in stating that half a century ago, television set ownership identified a family as fairly well off. Presently, this example would not be seen as true. It seems as though if you have more than one television set and cable, you are well off. Also, many people who have a television set choose not to pay for cable. This is a choice, not because they cannot afford cable, but because they feel they do not have a particular need for cable. Having cable and beyond has become an issue in social class positioning. It also allows for further fragmentation of the audience. Those with cable and those with out cable are not necessarily viewing the same thing. Also, the shows seen on cable and other higher-end program technologies have become a part of cultural society. It is no longer talking about the latest comedy on ABC, but the latest drama on HBO. Individuals also have the option to “go above” cable with packages like DirectTV, which is run by satellite feed. Individuals can also choose to buy HD television sets as well as DVRs to record television shows. Therefore, although ads can be customized to fit lifestyles, people are finding ways around ads themselves. The DVR and TiVo are two examples of finding ways around commercials. Although the DVR does not record the television shows free of commercials, it is easy for the consumer to fast forward through the commercials to return to viewing the program. Although this is true, Mullen also states that content can be tailored to fit around the high-end lifestyle by using product placement. This would be the advertisers’ way of moving around the DVR and TiVo. It may be true that television is moving towards the higher income social statuses, and I agree that if this happens, the programming viewed by the lower or average income audiences will not be quality programming, and will be consumed by advertising. This may be true, but cable television may be heading in the same direction. Although it is cable television, the programming may not develop into the quality television programming that we are wanting and that we are willing to pay for.

  • If what brings us together as a culture is watching the same television program the night before then I can hardly think that the rise of audience-specific programming and fall of the network domiance and the “gated” cultural communities caused by this is all that alarming. It seems more of a symptom of a society with a very weak shared cultural identity and one that is much too dependent on television and media for shared cultural experience.Given this, the shared cultural experiece of watching an episode of South Park or American Chopper is much greater by being more audience specific. This also gives for a more involving viewing experience by aligning itself closer to the viewer. Ultimately though it is the audience who decides the programming by deciding to watch one program over another and therefore it is the audience who will decide what advertisements will be shown. If the future of advertising leads to lower quality programming then it will give us something to complain about. But if it leads to content that hits closer to home then I say embrace it.

  • It’s Just the Next Step

    I think that this articles’ author, Megan Mullen, is overlooking one major fact about advertisement companies: their insatiable greed. It’s true that more affluent television viewers have more disposable income and buy bigger and more expensively than the rest of us, but the rich and uber-rich are still a decimated minority compared to coupled might of the low through middle class. And who, by comparison buys McDonalds and Baby Ruth bars with consistent regularity? It’s not multi-millionaires, that’s for sure. Now, to think that advertisers would, with the inception of a new technology, disregard such a huge amount of the American population it ludicrous. Advertisers, I’m sure, will use this “narrowest-casting” to more efficiently find their target audiences, but will not overlook the opportunity to squeeze every last dollar out of a willing consumerist society. Now, in regards to the loss of “universal television service” and the eventual shift towards these fractured and “gated” televisually (more so social-economic) communities where only the rich receive good programming are also bogus ideas. Author, Megan Mullen stated herself that with the advent and initial production of television only those most well off families could afford to buy the new technology. This is a common trend for all technologies until more cost-efficient production methods are created to bring prices down. This is true for everything from the television and VCR to computers and cameras to HD Flat screen TV’s and DVD players; so, why would this new, temporarily expensive, “narrowest-casting” technology be any different? Its true that only the most well off or interested tech-junkies would have this technology at first but it would eventually trickle down to those of lower affluence. As “reality television” and our own narrow-casted groups (i.e. G4, WE, Spike, E!, HBO, MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, etc., etc., etc.) have proved, larger televisual “movements” are not restricted or confined to only network stations or their narrow-casting cousins. Quite to the contrary, each individual channel takes this bigger “movement” and pumps out its own version or it. This is blatantly obvious with “reality television,” which has permeated every television station and saturated the airwaves. Even to absurd (yet subliminally enthralling) shows like Iron Chef, Women Behaving Badly, and Trading Spaces to name a few. Whether future “movements” lead us into neo-Lynchism or monkey-mania, one fact remains true: popular programming “movements” will always spread evenly across the televisual playing field regardless of technology or personal affluence. To anyone who disagrees with these statements, I have a last logical thought to uphold their relevance: Wherever money is to be made, we’ll be soon rushing after.

  • Zachary Atkinson

    The increase of narrow casting has continued over the last few years and probably will continue more so into the future. Narrow casting creates the demographics responsible for the so-called “gated communities” referred to in the article. It is true with the new technologies available that television may be helping to create and maintain these separations in our society. However these separations have been around long before television and will remain long after. It’s not the targeting of the ads that show the grouping of people, it’s just a part of human culture. Arguably this is much more apart of western culture than perhaps other places, but so are many things. Basically there is not a problem supported by television advertising, rather a problem of humanity. The most probable changes of the future will force the advertisements to become so narrow that they eventually are individualized to each person. If marketing becomes that specific than any “gated communities” that we have had in the past will be the ones of the future. Things will not have changed much. The real problem with this idea is how the human factor of free will is left out. I know it may seem rare, but there are still people who do know how to think and act for themselves and actually do. The article says, “We cannot be fully part of the physical communities we inhabit if we do not also feel addressed (interpellated) as members of those communities.” This is incomplete because even if we are addressed as members of those communities we can still choose to feel that we are not a part of those communities. Just because people try to make you feel included does not mean that you will actually in fact feel included. Disagree? Go talk to some high school kids, they’ll tell you all about being included and feeling excluded.

  • Don’t Worry, It’s Progress

    I am not alarmed at the spread of new technology to the wealthy innovators first. This has always been the way that new technology is adopted and will continue to be so until the end of time. Society adopts technological innovation in a bell curve with innovators first, followed by early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. New technology enabling people to watch what they want will not rip a hole in the fabric of society. Are people less inclined to connect with each other because one watches Frasier while another watches BET? No more than they would when both watched Cheers if one hated it. In fact the person who watched BET is probably more likely to get along with the Frasier fan if not annoyed by being forced to watch the same programming. If they choose to experiment with each other’s programming they may in fact form a better understanding of each other.What we are dealing with is the ability for people to relate, and one common form of relation is what people watch on TV. This may be giving TV too much credit because regardless of television, some people simply cannot relate to each other and never will. More channels are not a problem that will cause measurable harm to society. With so many different forms of programming available I find it more likely that people will find specific interests that they enjoy and will be able to relate to people in ways beyond the traditional “Did you see Carson last night?” People watch shows because they enjoy them, not because they are in the targeted demographic. Both rich and poor may enjoy Wealth TV for different reasons. You don’t have to be black to like BET. While these new services may be cost prohibitive and available only to the wealthy at first, it won’t be long before the middle class get a watered down version and the poor find a way to steal it. I don’t see a world of tiers, I see a world of transitions. Choice may come with drawbacks, but they are likely to be outweighed by the benefits.Beyond more specific taste-oriented programming an added benefit of this new choice is that with so many channels available it becomes difficult to maintain hegemony effectively. This was an issue explored in the Schaivo article. Hegemony is not a major problem unless it has flaws that go unquestioned. In a situation where there are only one or two news channels, and both conform to the dominant paradigm, it may not be readily apparent to viewers that they are being told only what those in power want them to hear. This is the case in some countries where few channels are available and satellite is forbidden. That stranglehold on information loses its strength when there are several more sources for news and they compete with each other to send different messages for ratings and profit. Compare news on BET to FOX News, they are quite different since the gatekeepers that choose the material to go on the air come from different sections of society and hold different values. BET style reports would not be available in a system of less choice, and possibly neither would FOX News. Instead, the situation would be as it was in the 1980’s and prior with the big networks appealing to the masses leaving minority opinions to the editorial pages of newspapers. Maybe people will be forced to think for themselves, or perhaps those who simply parrot what they’re told will be diffused across different sources and become less effective. By providing more information the uninformed lose power and numbers. More channels presents more choice and if the cost of that choice is a solid hegemony, then that’s a price I can’t wait to see paid.

  • Donte Shepardrt

    Surprise! Advertisers have been targeting their audiences for a while now. That’s why you don’t see a BMW commercial after BET’s College Hill, and you don’t see a Kia commercial during in between any high definition programming. Channels have been designed to reach specific audiences and the shows do so in even greater detail. The author has made a absolutely wonderful observation about the advances of technology in the interest of attracting consumers, but we shouldn’t just take the idea and run with it. The scanned badges created a wonderful example, but it’s not like we’re headed into a Minority Reportesque future where our retinas will be scanned and our commercials will be personalized. It would only make sense to advertise to high culture first, because that’s how our country’s economic system works. We shouldn’t be frightened about leaving out anyone because chance is whatever tactics used to reach those in high culture will not have any relevance to anyone else at the time.

  • Deborah McIntoh

    fueling our addictions

    Well, finals are over and I’m enjoying all the TV I’ve missed from the previous week, thanks to TiVo of course. And that also means NO COMMERCIALS! It’s a beautiful thing. But as MTV’s “Inferno” plays behind me right now, unfortunately in real time, the commercials interrupt it and I’m brought back to reality. The reality of commercials, that is. (The Real World and it’s “reality” has, and always will be, a fabrication. But I’ll still tune in for Real World- Austin!!)

    This article addresses what has existed in TV for quite awhile now- niche programming and niche advertising- and it isn’t surprising to see this trend still on the rise. Advertisers growing ability to target exactly who they want deserves the attention we are giving them. After a brief visit to “WealthTV.com”, I was impressed and envious of the people that can “afford” to watch this channel. But isn’t that the point? They are not only targeting those that can identify, but those that are envious and want in on the action. Money is money, from the rich or the poor.

    I don’t think its worth worrying over what the middle class will be left with on television once rich niche programming reaches any even greater level- there will always be people willing to take our money as well. And the programming will continue to appeal to our interests for this very purpose.

    Speaking of which, my new favorite MTV concoction is on, so it’s time for me to say “Next!”

  • fueling our addictions

    The middle class historically has been malleable. Advertisers love this; in fact they’ve played a major role in even developing the concept of middle class. I see the middle class as a much bigger target of lifestyle networks (including WealthTV) than the upper middle and upper classes whose lifestyles they purport to portray. I’m not concerned about leaving out the middle class. I’m more concerned about the segregation and isolation of consumerism-based communities.

  • It’s Just the Next Step — reply

    Food for thought, Roy. Believe me, though, I would NEVER overlook advertisers’ insatiable greed. I often tell my students, capitalism is a system that we all agree to (me included)every time we either vote (for just about anyone on the ballot) or decide not to vote. And if we take a cyclical view of history, we can say that we’re just experiencing a predictable economic phase — another version of the 1950s. And sometimes I want to say, “So what? I now make enough money to occasionally be an early adopter of new technology, and I have more clothes, gadgets, etc., than anyone could possibly need to survive. So life is good.” But even if I were to maintain this self-centered view of things, I would still be disappointed — simply because it seems as if the cultural diversity that would make my life (MY life) more interesting are becoming fewer and fewer as people strive harder and harder to fit the categories into which marketers have placed them. Yuck! What in the 1950s was fear of communists (and sundry other “undesirable” elements) is increasingly becoming a fear of people who don’t fit your consumer profile. Hmm … Maybe we’ll just have to wait and see what the “new 1960s” will bring us.

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