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Through the Looking Glass: Class and Reality in Television


Popularity in class structured societies makes it necessary ... Standard message about the proper, or humane, uses of science, versus the mad, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Through the Looking Glass: Class and Reality in Television

Through the Looking Glass Class and Reality in
  • Monica Brasted, Ph.D.

Brasteds Thesis
  • A persons position in society can determine the
    television shows he or she will watch and how he
    or she will interpret them.

Social Class Determines Experience
  • Cars, houses, food
  • Consumption of cultural products such as
    television shows, theatre events, music
  • Determines interpretation of these events

Culture defined
  • Consists of the meanings we make of our social
    experience and of our social relations
  • Provides us with a sense of our selves and who we
    are in relation to others around us
  • Key role in defining our social and psychological
    identities (even our human identity)
  • Experience of culture defined by our position in

P. Bourdieu
  • Social class viewing differences are based on
    concept of cultural capital
  • Cultural capital
  • a societys culture is as unequally distributed
    as its material wealth
  • serves to identify class interests and to promote
    and naturalize class differences
  • Replacing economics as a means of differentiating

  • Makes class boundaries permeable and blurs the
    idea of cultural capital
  • Unique in its availability to all classes
  • Undermines class division at the level of
    culturehomogenization of the classes

Frankfurt School
  • High culture has its own integrity and inherent
    value which cannot be used by elites to enhance
    their personal power
  • Mass culture (television) undermined class
    divisions through homogenization

Television as Commodity
  • What sells is what will be produced
  • Appearance of choice, however, the
    differentiation of products reflects the
    differentiation of audiences they have created
  • Differentiation created in the minds of audience
    by mass culture when products are very similar
  • Doesnt produce radical products because must
    support the status quo
  • Multiple channels give the illusion of choice
    whereas programming really doesnt vary much

Commodification of Culture
  • Individuals reduced to customers
  • Ideological choice is removed
  • Viewers become customers on 2 levels
  • Consumers of individual programs
  • Customers to be sold to advertisers
  • More they are commodified, the more they lose any
    critical potential
  • Rather than be a tool of social criticism, the
    television industry reinforces the dominant
    ideologies which are that of consumerism,
    liberalism, and capitalism.

Good Question
  • Does television simply inject us with ideas or
    can we, as consumers of television meaning, do
    something more with the ideas presented to us?

Interpretation of Culture
  • Social class does influence the meaning an
    individual takes from a text
  • Homogenization has been resisted
  • through the multiple meanings in texts
  • the ability of audience members to resist the
    dominant ideology
  • Differences in meaning are produced in the way
    viewers interpret, which is influenced by their
    social class

Meaningsite of struggle
  • Polysemy of television
  • Popularity in class structured societies makes it
  • Texts can be deconstructed to reveal their
    instability, their gaps, their internal
    contradictions and the arbitrary textuality
  • Reveals potential for readings that are reduced
    by the audiences, not by the culture industry

Andrea PressWomen TV
  • Inclination to identify with television
    characters varies with their assessment of the
    realism of these characters and their social
  • Working-class women were much more likely to find
    TV characters and situations real than were
    middle-class women
  • Working-class women were critical of the
    depictions of their class on TV and find these
    depictions to be unrealistic
  • Middle-class women were more critical of the
    reality of depictions but still identified more
    with the characters on a personal level
  • Television is both a source of feminist
    resistance to the status quo because of its
    images of female strength, and at the same time a
    source for the reinforcement of many of the
    status quos patriarchal values

  • Womens reception of television is affected by
    both their position as women in our society and
    the membership in social class and age groups
  • Criticized the media for creating a societal
    ideal of women in the workplace and the
    traditional nuclear family, which is not easily
  • Does not address the real problems and issues
  • Does create false images and distortions of
  • Television can only be seen to help glorify and
    support a status quo that is in many ways
    oppressive to women
  • TVs unwillingness to confront, admit, and
    address so many troublesome aspects of womens
    situations in our society is unfortunately one
    the strongest forces ensuring that it is

Brasteds Conclusion
  • Television has the power to support the dominant
    classes and the status quo by reinforcing the
    dominant ideology through its routinized program
  • Because people are not cultural dupes who blindly
    believe all that is presented to them, they are
    able to interpret television programs in
    different ways.
  • Television provides the possibility of resistance
    though how effective that resistance might be
    remains an open question

Brasteds Research Paper
  • Explores conflicting views on the topic
  • Carefully defines exactly what she means while
    taking into account the complexity of reality
  • Integrates sources in an orderly fashion
  • Gleans relevant information from each
  • Comes to her own conclusion by meshing the ideas
    within the research

The Imagination of Disaster
  • Susan Sontag

Twin Specters of Modern Life
  • Age of extremity
  • Unremitting banality
  • Inconceivable terror

  • An escape into exotic dangerous situations which
    have last-minute happy endingsbeautifies world
  • Normalizes what is psychologically
    unbearableneutralizes world experience

Science Fiction
  • Reflects world-wide anxieties
  • Serves to allay them
  • The naïve level of the films neatly tempers the
    sense of otherness, of alien-ness, with the
    grossly familiar
  • All art draws its audience into a circle of
    complicity with the thing represented
  • The films perpetuate clichés about identity,
    volition, power, knowledge, happiness, social
    consensus, guilt, responsibility
  • Predictable nature

Sci-Fi Films
  • Immediate representation of the extraordinary
    physical deformity and mutation, missile and
    rocket combat, toppling skyscrapers
  • Sensuous elaboration
  • Immediate gratification

Science Fiction
  • Not about science
  • About disaster, which is one of the oldest
    subjects of art
  • Aesthetics of destructionpeculiar beauty to be
    found in wreaking havoc, making a mess
  • Requires good technology and lots of money

Lure of Disaster
  • Releases one from normal obligations
  • Extreme moral simplification
  • Overlaps with horror films
  • Undeniable pleasure from looking at freaks, at
    beings excluded from the category of the human
  • Sense of superiority over the freak conjoined in
    varying proportions with titillation of fear and
    aversion makes it possible for moral scruples to
    be lifted, for cruelty to be enjoyed
  • We become mere spectators

Technological View of Disaster
  • Dispassionate, aesthetic view
  • Things, rather than the helpless humans, are the
    locus of values because we experience them,
    rather than people, as the sources of power
  • Man is naked without his artifacts
  • Things stand for different values, they are
    potent, they are what gets destroyed, and they
    are the indispensable tools for the repulse of
    the alien invaders or the repair of the damaged

Strongly Moralistic
  • Standard message about the proper, or humane,
    uses of science, versus the mad, obsessional use
    of science
  • The most ingrained contemporary mistrust of the
    intellect is visited upon the scientist-as-intelle
  • Scientist becomes satanist and savior

Wishful Thinking
  • The hunger for a good war, which poses not
    moral problems
  • The yearning for peace, or for at least peaceful
    coexistencefantasy of united warfare

Science Technology
  • The great unifier
  • Utopian fantasy
  • Universal rule of reason meant universal
  • Reflects powerful anxieties about the condition
    of the individual psyche

Real DangerDehumanization
  • Mans ability to be turned into the
    machinepurged of all emotions, volitionless,
    tranquil, obedient to all orders

Expectation of the Apocalypse
  • The occasion for a radical disaffiliation from
  • The imagery of disaster in sci fi films is above
    all the emblem of an inadequate response
  • Intersection between a naïvely and largely
    debased commercial art product and the most
    profound dilemmas of the contemporary situation

Surviving Armageddon Beyond the Imagination of
  • Mick Broderick

  • Orients itself in contrast to Sontags argument
  • the sub-genre of sf cinema which has entertained
    visions of nuclear Armageddon primarily concerns
    itself with survival as its dominant discursive

Shift away from imagination of disaster to one of
  • Drawn upon pre-existing mythologies of
    cataclysmal and survival in their renderings of
    post-holocaust life
  • Most potent myth is the recasting of the
    Judeo-Christian messianic hero who battles an
    antichrist and his followers, liberating an
    oppressed community and thereby enabling social
  • Articulate a desire for (if not celebrate) the
    fantasy of nuclear Armageddon as the anticipated
    war which will annihilate the oppressive burdens
    of (post)modern life and usher in the
    nostalgically yearned for, less complex existence
    of agrarian toil and social harmony through
    ascetic, spiritual endeavors

Imagination of Survival
  • Enables the spectator to evade or dismiss the
    human causal chain in nuclear warfare and to
    replace it with an archaic mythology steeped in
    heroic acts, inspired and propelled by some
    inscrutable and predetermined divine cosmic plan
  • Post-nuclear survivalist cycle of the Eighties
    has signified another mode by which a generation
    has learned to stop worrying and loveif not the
    bomba (post-holocaust) future, which after some
    initial hardship will provide the compelling
    utopian fantasy of a biblical Eden reborn in an
    apocalyptic millennia of peace on Earth

SF in Contextprior to atomic bomb
  • Man-made chemical and mechanical warfare
  • Cosmic natural in origin
  • City and metaprolis as a site for natural
    disaster dates far back to the very origins of

Subgenres of SF
  • Preparation for Nuclear War and its survival
  • Encounters with Extraterrestrial, Post-Holocaust
  • Experiencing Nuclear War and its Immediate
  • Survival Long after Nuclear War

Preparation for Nuclear War and its survival
  • Responded to threatened atomic war in 3 distinct
  • Prevention by heightened surveillance and
  • Resignation by escaping targeted areas to assumed
  • Immunity from attach by using a comparable or
    superior defensive technology
  • Agrees with Sontags assertion of preoccupation
    with the perennial human anxiety about death
  • Contradicts Sontags claim that their purpose is
    to accommodate and negate this anxiety, evident
    in their portrayal of civil defense posturing and
    fallout shelters as extremely dubious solutions

Encounters with Extraterrestrial, Post-Holocaust
  • Scenarios of both cosmic and man-made holocausts,
    most often in the guise of humans encountering
    extraterrestrial civilizations well in advance of
    ours who have paid a terrible price for abusing
    nuclear power
  • Totally annihilated extraterrestrial species
  • Superman sole survivor of apocalyptic explosion
    of his native Kryptonsuperior alien capabilities
    of intellect and strength that ultimately leads
    to his unilateral eradication of Earths nuclear
  • Oppose Sontags thesis in that they oppose the
    status quo
  • Rely upon discursive strategies which combine
    rhetoric and imagery to warn explicitly the human
    protagonists (the audience) of the dangers of
    nuclear conflict
  • Alien emissaries from alien planets come to guide
    and teach us of dangers of nuclear warfare and
    other technologies

Experiencing Nuclear War and its Immediate Effects
  • Depict nuclear war and its short term
  • Nuclear war becomes a lived (not imagined) event
  • Characters symbolize the old world struggling
    to exist in a new post-nuclear environment
  • Some depiction of the social normalcy of the
    status quo prior to its material destruction
  • Function of the plot is to engender a sense of
    familiarity by locating protagonists (and
    spectators) within the pre-conflict equilibrium
    of the known before the predominant narrative
    discourse relocates into the disorientating
    post-holocaust realm
  • 3 discursive modes
  • Renewal which posits the war as promotion
    socio-cultural rebirth usually in the form of the
    heterosexual couple, the family or small
  • Catharsis which graphically depicts the
    destructive impact of nuclear war and the
    problematic of survival
  • Terminal films which portray the end of the human
    species by showing long-term survival as

Vs. Sontag
  • Only the Catharsis group closely approximates
    Sontags imagination of disaster
  • Vast majority of these narratives are devoted to
    survival not repetitive imagery of disaster
  • Nor do they fulfill Sontags wishful thinking
  • The ultimate prevailing theme has been humanitys
    resilient survival after a global ordeal by fire

Survival Long after Nuclear War
  • Portrayals of long-time survival in a
    post-nuclear war environment are more appealing
    than the other approaches
  • Nuclear war forces the viewer to imagine survival

SF themes
  • Homo Nuclearus The theme of radiation mutation
    on human and animal life over the years
  • The Future as Past
  • Apocalypse Now Today as Tomorrows
    Yesterdaytime travel
  • Exterminating Angels The Post-apocalyptic
    Heroheroic acts of justice, reprisal and/or
    vengeance warriors, terminators, exterminators,
    equalizers, hunters and gladiators
  • The Good depict the idealized good forces of
    the post-holocaust world as the communities which
    attempt reconstruction through renewal of an
    earlier superseded morality and social ethos
  • The Evil antithetical to good
    survivorsdominated by patriarchal law, satiate
    immedatie short-term requirements

SFs Hero
  • Conforms to the classical cross-cultural mould of
    mythological champions
  • Almost always male
  • Frequently a drifter who has rejected social
    conformity due to a past of persecution at the
    hands of the forces of evil
  • Self-preservation
  • Changes from a morally ambiguous character to one
    of respect
  • Aided by magical helpers who have been victimized
  • Predestined role confront the evil regime and,
    with the help of others, wreak vengeance on his
    foes in a terrible battle and ultimately destroy
    the oppressors bringing social rebirth
  • Speaks to the unconscious yearning in each of us
    to be hero

Ronald Reagen
  • Entertained the paradoxical belief in a
    foreseeable Biblical apocalypse in which he
    thought the Soviets were going to be involved,
    while committing his nations military-industrial
    complex to save the world from this imaginary
    destruction by making nuclear weapons obsolete
    via a Strategic Defense Initiative
  • Capacity to imagine beyond (apocalyptic) disaster
    and into a realm of (millennial) survival

Brodericks Conclusion
  • The apocalyptic imagination requires an
    imagination of disaster
  • Armageddon becomes an apocalyptic reason for
    being the forces of good and evil are destined
    to battle each other