Broadcasting: Cultural Studies

We learned from Martin (1991) that new technologies such as the telegraph and telephone had to adapt to fit into existing social and cultural traditions, while at the same time they also birthed entirely new sociocultural practices.  In the same way, radio and television were not only mass disseminators of culture but a culture had to be negotiated around TV viewing and radio listening.

Radio and television technologies altered the ways in which audiences perceived spatial and social relationships.  Peters (1999), Webb (1996) and Vipond (2003) approach early radio studies from a perspective that focuses on the cultural effects of an aural medium instead of focussing on the more traditionally studied impacts to regulation, policy and commercialization.  By brining a “live” person right into the living room, radio technologies afforded intimacy and immediacy that simply wasn’t possible with earlier mediums.

Spigel (1992) shows how the visual aspect of television further enhanced the experience so that families didn’t even have to leave their living rooms to experience the finest theatre and most popular sporting events from the best seat in the house.  For the first time, entertainment could be enjoyed right in the home instead of requiring formal public outings.  In fact this even spawned new forms of entertainment including TV watching parties with friends and neighbours.  However, content that may have been acceptable for the theatre was not suitable for the family room where children and mother’s-in-law might be easily shocked or offended and so this spawned new popular debate and resulting policy regarding broadcasting standards.

These new technologies also impacted the very concept of “news” itself.  Hallin (1989), Webb and Rutherford (1990) emphasize the effects of broadcasting in transforming traditional news into a new form of entertainment.  The formats of television and radio required that broadcasters keep the attention of their audiences and so news lightly jumped from clip to clip instead of thoroughly examining issues in the style of print journalists.  Webb explores how the news began to more closely resemble the theatre in examining the techniques employed by the CBC while reporting the Moose River mine disaster.

Finally, broadcasting opened up new awareness around issues regarding, class, race, ethnicity and gender.  Although the accuracy of race and class representations is contestable (see Spigel), broadcasting technology did provide broader exposure to people from all facets of life.   Consider Vipond’s research regarding the Empire Day broadcast in which British subjects from around the world were united as one people while celebrating the unique experiences of each culture.

Spigel explains that “not only do the media help shape the way we think about the media, but thinking about the media also shape the way media operate within the culture.  There is a complex relationship between the way the media are used and the way we think about those uses” (Warren Susman cited in Spigel, 3).  This week’s readings provide numerous examples to show just how relevant this statement is  to early twentieth century society and the way in which they integrated the new mediums of radio and television into their lives.


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