Alternatives to Empirical Study [Part 4: Critical Analysis: Methodology ]

Home | Audio Magazine | Stereo Review magazine | Good Sound | Troubleshooting

Empiricism has long dominated the study of television-as well as the study of other mass communication media such as radio and print journalism. Most of the research theories and methods taught in mass communication college courses are empirical ones. The basic tenet of the empirical approach is that we may understand a phenomenon through observation and experimentation--be it the pollination of tulips, the popularity of a political leader, or the effect of Beavis and Butt-head cartoons on children.

Several presumptions underpin this approach:

1. Knowledge about a phenomenon exists within that phenomenon itself; the researcher "uncovers" it through experimentation and informed observation.

2. Experiments should be repeatable, as in the natural sciences; that is, you should be able to get the same results if you follow the same procedure.

3. A phenomenon will be understood if enough facts about it can be gathered or its fundamental essence discerned.

4. Research results should be quantifiable; that is, they should be measured and expressed in numbers and formulas (this is true of much, but not all, empirical research).

5. Theory is used to generate hypotheses or ruminate about facts generated through empirical research.

When we apply empirical research to television, it can provide us with useful answers to some questions: How many people (and what kind of people) watched Who Wants to Be a Millionaire at 9:00 P.M., February 21, 2001, on channel 5? Or, do children act more violently after they watch violent cartoons? Empirical research has been less successful in answering other questions: How does the narrative structure of soap opera differ from action drama? Or, how has the police show genre changed from Dragnet to NYPD Blue? Or, what are the sexual politics--the power relationships between men and women--in the situation comedy?

Empirical research falters when it must explain television's meanings, and it is also unable to explain how narrative and stylistic devices generate those meanings. To best cope with these questions, different analytical methods must be employed. Rather than using empirical methods derived from the natural and social sciences, we may tap the critical approaches used in film studies and literary criticism to cope with television's meaning systems. These research methods are used in television criticism, although obviously we're not talking about criticism on the level of TV Guide here.

For the sake of comparison and contrast, this section briefly comments on some aspects of empirical research but does not attempt a full-fledged critique of empiricism. Instead, it outlines approaches to the medium taken by television criticism-approaches that attempt to chart television's meanings and organize them within specific contexts. The critical approaches we discuss include auteurism, genre study, semiotics, ideological analysis, and feminism. This does not exhaust the non-empirical approaches writers have taken to television, but it does survey the principal trends. Even within this limited scope, we cannot hope to do justice to each method, but we will articulate each method's principal assumptions and suggest how that method might be used to mount an analysis of televisual texts. Readings are suggested at the section's end, but the most in formative summary of contemporary critical methods is Channels of Discourse, Reassembled, edited by Robert C. Allen.


The Industry Perspective The vast majority of empirical research performed on television is commissioned by the TV industry itself. Its principal questions are:

• What did viewers watch, and what type of viewers watched which shows?

• What will viewers watch in the future, and what type of viewers will be watching?

The first question is answered by corporations such as Arbitron and Nielsen Media Research, whose ratings are purchased by TV stations and networks so that they may use them to set advertising rates (See the weekly ratings in Table 12.1). Ratings not only calculate what was watched, but they also indicate the demographics of the audience: gender, age, income bracket, race, and so on. Demographics are meaningful to stations and networks because they are important to advertisers who want to target viewers to maximize the impact of their commercials-as is further discussed in section 12.

The second question posed by the industry is answered through market research techniques such as focus groups and cable testing, which ask a small number of viewers for their opinions of upcoming programs or commercials to predict the preferences of the viewing public at large. 2 These research methods are of limited usefulness to the critical study of television. Ratings systems view programs as consumable products, without exploring their meanings. Viewers are not even asked why they watched a show, only if they did. And although market research will sometimes delve into what a program means to its test viewers, it is less concerned with meaning than it is with viewer preference. That is, the market researcher might show a test program to a group of viewers and ask them what they liked about it and why, but the main question remains whether they liked it enough to watch it regularly (and buy its advertiser's products). In one typical market research technique, known as auditorium testing, test viewers assembled in a room receive a device with a dial, numbered 1-5 (1=like; 5=hate; or some such scale). Then the test audience is shown a program. While the program is running, the viewers turn their dials to indicate their current enjoyment or annoyance level. This information is fed into a computer that can chart the responses and even overlay them on a videotape of the program. To approach information gathering in this fashion indicates just what is crucial to market researchers-the likability of a televisual product, not what it means to its viewers.

The Academic Perspective Empirical studies of television conducted within academia are closely related to those within the industry. Many professors at colleges and universities hold positions as consultants to the industry. Academic empirical research is not powered by the same market demands as industrial empirical research, how ever. Academic researchers are relatively free to pursue "pure" knowledge about television, concerned only about review by their peers. In this endeavor they have cultivated theories for explaining television, and methods for articulating those theories. We will take time to sketch a few of them here.

Empirical Research Theories

The initial academic theories of television were particularly attentive to the impact of TV on the viewer. The hypodermic needle concept, which television research inherited from post-World War I studies of propaganda in newspapers and magazines, is one of the earliest of so-called effects theories. In this model, we are directly affected by what we see on TV as if we were injected with a hypodermic needle. Or, to borrow a metaphor from Pavlovian psychology, the bell rings and we salivate.

Subsequent theories of the mass media's influence have dismissed the hypodermic needle doctrine as simplistic behaviorism. Television programs are more complex stimuli than is Pavlov's bell, and our responses are not as predictable or crude as those of a hungry dog. Various attempts to refine the understanding of media impact have evolved: social learning theory, reinforcement theory, toleration/desensitization theory, vicarious catharsis theory, and so on. All of these may be gathered under the umbrella term limited effects theories. These theories hold that the media do indeed influence viewers and readers, but there are limitations to these effects due to the many variables involved. The hypodermic needle theory says that television will cause us to feel or behave in a certain way; limited effects theories suggest that certain television programs will cause certain viewers, under certain circumstances, to feel or behave in certain ways.

The media are still seen to be affecting us, as in all effects studies, but those effects are no longer presumed to be as simple as a hypodermic needle injecting emotions or ideas into a spectator.

Not all empirical researchers view the spectator as passive. The uses-and gratifications approach, for instance, attempts to chart the uses that we make of television and to quantify how it gratifies our needs. This style of research emphasizes the way that we employ television, seeking the emotional or intellectual purposes to which we put it. Both effects theories and uses-and-gratifications theory focus on viewers, but effects theories see them as entities that the medium influences, while uses-and-gratifications theory posits more active viewers who engage with texts and use them for their own needs.

Empirical Research Methods

The above theories have been implemented through particular research methods. In this regard, academic research into television owes much to research in psychology and the social sciences. The methodology of those disciplines is rooted in the scientific method:

1. Derive a hypothesis, based on a particular theoretical perspective in formed by an established body of knowledge.

2. Test the hypothesis with repeatable experimentation and observation.

3. Interpret the results:

• Do they confirm/contradict the hypothesis?

• Does this suggest a change in the body of knowledge related to this hypothesis? Has the understanding of this phenomenon progressed? This is the ideal, at least, to which empirical researchers aspire in their analysis of television. Often, however, they fail.

Content analysis is one common empirical method that is modeled on the scientific method. Its procedure is straightforward. A textual component is selected based on the researcher's theoretical interests: for example, sexual behavior in prime-time programs, or sickness and death on soap operas.3 The researcher observes the television text and counts the number of occurrences of this component in a program's manifest content-the characters and their actions. (Content analysis seldom addresses television's stylistic aspects.) These data are then "coded" (converted through categorization) into statistical form.

From studies such as these we can learn that incidents of hugging in prime-time TV occurred at a rate of .80 per hour during the week of February 2-8, 1989, or that 5.3% of soap opera characters die in car accidents.

Content analysis often falls short in its attempt to interpret the significance of its statistical data. What does a .80 hugging rate signify? How do viewers interpret all that hugging or lack of hugging? Empiricism provides procedures for gathering information (through observation and experimentation), but its method of interpretation, of suggesting what these facts and figures mean, is not well defined. The researchers in content analysis studies often attempt to interpret their data by comparing them with real-life statistics and viewers' presumed attitudes. The problem with this technique, Robert Allen explains, is that it ignores the "transmutation" that a real-life experience undergoes when it is placed in the context of a fictional world. 4 Sexuality, sickness, and death mean something to us when we encounter them in the real world, but we cannot assume that they serve the same function when viewed in a TV program. Television and other art forms transmogrify life. The aesthetic text re-contextualizes elements from real life in ways that give them new meanings. Directly comparing incidents from TV programs with similar incidents in reality, as do some content analyses, is misleading.

In sum, empirical research incorporates valuable descriptive tools for approaching television. Individual studies isolate small aspects of the television experience for observation and experimental testing. But this does not tell us how television generates meaning for its viewers. Television is a rather untidy system for producing meaning-a system that does not lend itself to quantification or breaking down into constituent elements. As Allen comments, "The harnessing of elements of an open system [such as television] so that they might be examined in isolation (from confounding variables) is, in the extreme case, tantamount to studying the operating of the automobile engine by taking out each component, one by one, and staring at it for a while." 5 What we need is an understanding of how the televisual text functions as a meaning-producing text and how we understand that text. This is what television criticism aspires toward, although it has not been entirely successful.


The auteur theory stems from the French term for author, auteur. Its basic precept is that a single individual is, and should be, the "author" of a work in order for it to be a good work. A book, poem, film, or television show should express this individual's personality, his "vision" (the masculine pronoun is significant; auteurist studies almost all focus on men). This notion stems from the Romantic image of the author as a Byronic figure who sits alone in a garret, scratching out angst-ridden poems with a quill pen. The tormented, misunderstood artist is a cherished character type, as can be seen in numerous portrayals of demented painters and writers in television programs.

The auteur theory originated in French film criticism of the 1950s and 1960s, where it was initially theorized that auteurs could be drawn from the ranks of producers, directors, scriptwriters, actors, and other filmmaking personne1.6 However, the vast bulk of auteurist film criticism has been about directors: Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, and Howard Hawks, among many others. In television, however, the director has much less influence than in film. Indeed, most series will employ several directors over the course of a season. Recognizing the diminished power of the director, television auteurism has taken a different tack and focused instead on producers and their "vision." Auteurist critiques have been published, for example, on producers Bill Cosby, David Lynch ( Twin Peaks, which he also directed occasionally), Paul Henning (creator of sitcoms such as The Beverly Hillbillies), and Stephen J. Cannel (who created The A-Team and similar action programs). 7 Whether they are discussing directors or producers, auteurist critics work along two interconnected lines. First, they discuss how an auteur's thematics, narrative structure, and stylistic techniques-the use of sound and image-are expressed in individual programs. Second, they articulate the entire career of the auteur, explaining how this particular program fits into the overall trajectory of the auteur's work. For the extreme auteurist critic, a bad program by an auteur is more significant than is a good program by an undistinguished director or producer, because the auteur's bad program may still tell you something about the auteur's thematics, narrative structure, and stylistic techniques.

For the auteurist critic, the auteur's vision or presumed personality furnishes the context within which the meaning of a particular element in a particular program will be understood. In David Marc's analysis of Henning, Jed Clampett ( The Beverly Hillbillies) becomes a go-between, a "moral interlocutor." He divides and judges the contrasting worlds of city and country, the banker Drysdale and Jed's Granny, "modern culture" and "folk culture." Auteur Henning develops this thematic clash between modern culture and folk culture over the course of several programs.8 The meaning of this character is thus determined by Henning's other work.

There are many problems with the application of auteurism to TV. The key issue is that its Romantic notion of the artist does not suit the corporate and collaborative realities of contemporary television. Bankers, market researchers, scriptwriters, actors, set designers, and others contribute to the production of any TV show. To single out the producer ignores the work of many. Plus, all television programs employ the conventions of the medium; there is nothing totally new on TV or anything totally unique to a televisual auteur. If there were, it would be incomprehensible to viewers as they would have no context in which to place it. Thus, the auteur does not work in an aesthetic vacuum. The conventions of the medium tend to overwhelm any television artist's individual creativity.

It is important to remember, however, that television's corporate/collaborative nature and its lack of uniqueness do not necessarily make it mediocre.

The fact that medieval cathedrals were constructed by hundreds of artisans, over decades and even centuries, does not make them less significant. Equating personal genius with aesthetic quality is an outmoded concept that tells us little about television.


Genres are probably the most common way that viewers label television pro grams. Without giving it a second thought, we call Seinfeld a situation comedy, Gunsmoke (1955-75) a Western, and Columbo a detective show. TV Guide and other television listing publications recognize this when they identify programs in the same fashion. To be useful as a method for interpreting television, however, genre study needs to be more precise in its understanding of the genre. Other wise, generic boundaries blur. Critics devise awkward terms such as "dramedy," which was used to describe 1980s comedies such as Frank's Place (1987-88) and Moonlighting that took on a more serious tone.

The assumption underlying genre study is that television programs resemble one another and that grouping them together provides a context for understanding the meanings of a particular program. This would not seem controversial, but at a rudimentary level it becomes difficult to define what a genre is. Here is the dilemma: To conceptualize what a particular genre is, researchers must watch TV programs and induce the genre's characteristic thematics, narrative structure, and/or stylistic techniques; but researchers do not know which programs to view until they have some idea of what the genre's characteristics are. It's a classic chicken-and-egg problem: One needs to know the genre's characteristics to pick which programs to consider, but before one can do that one needs to have looked at programs within the genre to define its characteristics, but before one can pick programs one needs to know the genre's characteristics . . 9 and around and around it goes.

To escape this debilitating dilemma, genre critics have adopted two strategies

1. Define the genre's characteristics with a priori criteria drawn from a predetermined critical method; judge your criteria's usefulness after the study has been done.

2. Rely on a cultural consensus of what the genre's criteria are; a genre is thereby defined as "what most viewers think a genre is." In practice, most genre critics combine these two strategies and create a genre's definition a priori from what they presume to be a consensual definition of the genre. From this they may devise a working definition of the genre. They may then measure programs by this standard to judge the applicability of the working definition.

Determining such a cultural consensus would appear to be a natural way that empirical methods (say, a survey research project) could be incorporated into the critical method. However, this is seldom, if ever, done in genre criticism.

Instead, critics often depend on the slippery conception of the genre that derives from their own commonsensical understanding of it.

Historically, definitions of genre fall into three categories:

1. Definition by presumed audience response.

2. Definition by style-techniques of sound and/or image.

3. Definition by subject matter-both narrative structure and thematics.

These categories do not exist in isolation. They frequently overlap one another.

Audience Response. Several genres acquire their definitions from how the critic presumes the viewer will respond-usually without any empirical evidence as to how actual viewers responded. Comedy and horror are two such genres. Programs as different as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996) and Saturday Night Live have been labeled "comedies." What groups these programs together? The presumption that the viewer will laugh at them.

Television comedies are even more clearly marked as such than are theatrical film comedies because television often includes audience response in the text itself. The television laugh track signals to the viewer what the response to the program "should" be. TV comedies are virtually unique in this regard.

Theatrical film comedies never provide a laugh track and television's non-comedy programs are not normally accompanied by audience-response sound effects.

Even television's horror programs, the flip side of comedies in terms of audience response, do not possess a "scream track" to cue the spectator when to respond in fear. The only other television programs that do include audience response within the text are non-narrative programs: game shows, talk shows, and similar presentations. But as far as fictional programs go, the sitcom is the only genre that responds to itself.

Style. The stylistic definition of a genre is probably the least common.

There are a few genres, however, that link programs based on how the material is presented. The techniques of sound and image that are used to construct the program become critical to distinguishing it from other genres. Musicals tell stories through singing and dancing. For example, Fame (1982-87) told high school stories through song and dance, while the short-lived Cop Rock (September-December 1990) used the same technique to construct stories of police officers in action. The only thing linking these two programs generically is their musical style.

Subject Matter. Most programs are joined into genres on the basis of their content-the stories they tell and the thematic structure that underpins those stories.

In approaching the stories of a particular genre, the critic hypothesizes a narrative structure that is shared by the programs within the genre, and conventional characters that inhabit that narrative structure. The police show, for example, is populated by familiar figures: the police detectives, the uniformed officers, the victims, the criminals, and so on. These general types could be broken down even further. Television criminals, according to Stuart Kaminsky and Jeffrey Mahan, tend to be individual lunatics or organized crime figures. These character types are placed into action against one another in the police show narratives. Kaminsky and Mahan note that many police show narratives fit a common pattern or structure:

1. A crime is committed.

2. The police detective is assigned to the case by chance.

3. The destruction widens. The crime invades the detective's private world, and he (usually a "he") becomes irrational.

4. The detective encounters the criminal, but does not initially apprehend him or her.

5. The detective pursues the criminal, leading to a second confrontation.

6. "... the police destroy or capture the villain. The overwhelming tendency in television is not to destroy, but to capture, to contain and control the symbol of evil."

Kaminsky and Mahan's narrative outline is general enough to provide for the variation within the genre, yet it provides specific information to distinguish the genre from others.

Genre analysis of narrative often relies on the concept of the narrative function, which was originally developed by Russian Formalists in the 1920s.

A function, in this sense, is a specific action or attribute of a character. A story, then, consists of a set of functions, as in the above list of police show actions. The critic strives to establish the nature of these functions and their order, analyzing how they affect one another.

Narrative structure is the first level of content in any fictional program. The second level would be the interpretation or decoding, in Stuart Hall's terms, of that narrative. Critics have latitude in their interpretations of the genre narrative. The only constraint is the logic of that interpretation. In other words, does the interpretation follow from the narrative "evidence" at hand? There is, of course, no such thing as an "objective" interpretation/decoding of a generic narrative. There will never be one true and final interpretation of a genre. All interpretations are shaped by the ideology of the interpreter. Geoffrey Hurd, for example, sees the following binary oppositions in the British police series:

• Police vs. crime

• Law vs. rule

• Professional vs. organization

• Authority vs. bureaucracy

• Intuition vs. technology

• Masses vs. intellectuals

• Comradeship vs. rank

Hurd's interpretation of narrative structure logically supports these oppositions, but it would be misleading to suggest that it is not without ideology, that his analysis is purely objective. Hurd's analysis bears the marks of structuralism, an interpretive method that strongly influenced British cultural studies (including television) in the 1960s and after (as well as auteurism). This method particularly stressed the importance of binary oppositions, much like Hurd's analysis. Thus, one could say that his analysis exists within the ideology of contemporary British cultural studies. This is not to say that it is wrong or useless, but rather to indicate some of the factors that shape analysis, even on an academic level.

Two of the most typical interpretive strategies to be applied to genres are mythic analysis and ideological analysis. Mythic analysis sees genres as 20th century myths, as stories shared by large segments of a culture, which offer the researcher evidence of that society's thought processes. The structural anthropology of Claude Levi-Strauss-the basis of structuralism--is one form of mythic analysis. Ideological analysis also sees genres as representative of society, but differs from mythic analysis in that it defines societies in terms of social forces.

As previously suggested, genres' definitional categories do not exist in isolation. Their blending often leads to hybrid genres or cycles within genres. The situation comedy, for example, is defined as a comedy based on the presumption of audience response (encoded directly in the laugh track), but the "situation" part of sitcoms is a matter of the genre's content. The narrative dilemmas or situations in which the characters find themselves are the principal sources of humor in the genre-as opposed to comedies that generate their humor from physical pratfalls or verbal wit. Hence, its humor is predominantly situational.

Of course, the sitcom is a rather "impure" genre; it doesn't generate humor solely through situational gambits. Physical humor, for example, is often a part of I Love Lucy-as when Lucy works on a fast-moving pastry conveyor belt. And the humor of Friends often arises from the characters' cutting remarks to one another. The point is, the sitcom is a genre that is not only defined by presumed audience response but also by its content. In addition to articulating genres' presumed audience response, narrative and thematic structures, and audial/visual style, the genre critic is also interested in tracing a genre's evolution. Indeed, genres must evolve to maintain their audiences' attention. A new program within a genre, if it is to succeed, must balance familiar genre elements with innovations that pique viewer interest.

When Miami Vice premiered, for example, it was immediately evident that it fell within the parameters of the police show. It had various familiar character types-police detectives and criminals and the like-and familiar themes such as order versus chaos. But it also changed the genre by incorporating rock music and music-video style. It succeeded largely because it blended the familiar and the unusual.

Many genres fall into an evolutionary pattern. Initially the genre's tenets are established, often after a trial-and-error period where unpopular options are discarded. The genre thereupon enters into what might be called a classical period, during which thematics, narrative structure, and aural/visual style solidify into relatively firm conventions, a code of the genre. At this point the genre be comes recognizable as a cohesive unit. After the classical period comes a time of self-reflexivity that is often accompanied by genre decay or even death, though not necessarily. In the self-reflexive period, the genre turns inward and uses its own conventions for subject matter. It becomes self-conscious, in a sense, and the result is often genre parodies.

These periods can be observed in the genre of the television soap opera.

Initially, the soap opera made a rocky start on television. Although it had been immensely popular on radio, when it began its transition to television in the late 1940s it did not meet with immediate success. It wasn't until the 1950s that soap opera found a format that satisfied a large daytime audience (as well as the economic exigencies of television producers): unending stories of familial relationships, romance, birth and death; live broadcasts; half-hour long pro grams (originally they were 15 minutes long); and so on. Thus, the mid-1950s to mid-1960s would be the TV soap opera's classical era. Then, in the 1970s, the genre turned inward through parody: Soap (1977-81) and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1975-78). As in any self-reflexive parody, the humor in these programs depended on a prior knowledge of the genre. Soap and Mary Hartman could not have existed if there had not been a classical period of the soap opera.

A genre's self-reflexivity often accompanies a period of decline and, indeed, the soap opera was suffering from a glut of programs and reduced viewership in the early 1970s. Rather than become moribund, however, the genre rebounded by incorporating new themes (birth control, abortion, interracial romance, etc.) and younger character types, and enlivening its visual style and pacing (as exemplified by the innovative The Young and the Restless [1973-] ). The consequence has been a revivified genre that continues to attract a large audience. So, genre evolution is not necessarily limited to the pattern we have delineated, but one can often observe the pattern's cycles in television genres.

In sum, genre criticism is not without its weakness. Crucial to the study of any genre is its definition, and it is there that critics must be most wary.

And yet, it seems clear that in viewing TV programs, we-critics and viewers- do construct resemblances among programs, and in that resemblance is found meaning. When watching an episode of, say, Friends we bring to our viewing circumstance associations with dozens of other sitcoms we have watched. These associations influence the meaning that we decode from individual programs.

Genre study provides one method of decoding.


Semiotics is most briefly defined as the science of signs, but this does not tell us much about what semioticians actually do and what assumptions underpin their work. The basic premise of semiotics is that all forms of communication (television, movies, books, paintings, traffic lights, and so on) can be broken down into individual units of meaning. More important, they can be understood in terms of how they interact with other units of meaning. The smallest unit of meaning is the sign, which is combined with other signs into systems, which compose texts. (Our use of the term text for television programs already reveals the influence of semiotics on television studies.) The semiotician, then, tries to understand the sign systems in a text and postulates how those systems generate meaning.

"Pure" semiotics tends to be text-oriented. That is, it does not deal with the intentions of the producer of that text or with its reception by the reader/viewer, but rather focuses on the text "itself." More recent work has attempted to blend semiotics with Freudian psychology (i.e., psychoanalysis), theorizing the relationship between the reader/viewer and the text. The resulting analyses have been controversial. Psychoanalysis, as it has been rewritten by Jacques Lacan, has greatly affected literary criticism and film studies, but has yet to wield much influence over television studies.

Because the sign is the fundamental unit of meaning on which all semiotic study is based, there has been a great deal of discussion (and argument) about its characteristics. Our short overview cannot hope to canvas all of the definitions of the sign in all their complexity, so we will consider just one to provide the reader with a sample of the semiotic method. However, it is important to recognize that not all semioticians subscribe to the following definition of the sign.

C. S. Peirce (pronounced "purse") was among the founders of semiotics around the turn of the century. He theorized that the sign consisted of two components: the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the physical aspect of the sign: ink on a page (written language), the modulation of air waves in sound (spoken language), light and shadow on a screen (television and film), a blinking light (traffic lights), and so on. The signified, then, is that which is represented by the signifier. The signified may be a concept or an object or a visual field. A video image of the Grand Canyon on a TV screen is thus a signifier; its immediate signified is the physical space of the Grand Canyon. The key to such a process of signification is that the signified is absent and must be represented by the signifier to the reader/viewer.

Peirce categorizes signs into three main types, depending on the relationship of the signifier to the signified:

1. The indexical sign, or index.

2. The iconic sign, or icon.

3. The symbolic sign, or symbol.

In an indexical sign the signifier is physically caused by the signified. A footprint in the sand, for example, communicates the meaning, "presence of a human." The footprint is the signifier and it is physically caused by its signified, the human foot.

In an iconic sign the signifier resembles the signified.15 Most images on television are icons, in this sense of the term, because the light and shadow emanating from the television set (signifier) resembles the visual field (signified; objects in a certain space) that was recorded by a camera. A filmed image of Jerry Seinfeld sitting on a sofa resembles the visual field of the real Seinfeld on the real sofa. That image is thus an iconic signifier of Seinfeld's appearance.

Finally, in a symbolic sign the signifier and the signified are linked solely through cultural convention. A religious signifier such as a cross or a Star of David is linked to the signified of Christianity or Judaism, respectively, by centuries of cultural convention. A crucifix, however, in which Christ is represented on a cross, would be both an iconic signifier of the crucifixion, since it actually resembles what it represents, and a symbolic signifier of the principles of and faith in Christianity, since the actual body of Christ represents those signified within many cultures (though certain African and Asian cultures do not share these). Most important, all written and spoken languages are comprised of symbolic signs. Cultural convention is all that ties a word such as college (the signifier) to the concept of college. There is no resemblance between college and its signified (as in the iconic sign); and its signified doesn't physically cause the signifier, college (as in an indexical sign). The noun, college, and all nouns are symbolic signs.

Thus, television consists of a variety of signs. The video image of someone or something is both an iconic sign and an indexical sign. The image resembles what it represents, but it also is caused by what it represents. Most video images are created by light bouncing off an object and striking a video pickup chip; in this respect, then, the signified causes the signifier, as in an index. The words and graphic characters displayed on the screen are symbolic signs. Moreover, on a secondary level, the video image may iconically signify a symbolic signifier.

Sound confusing? All this means is that a videotape image (iconic signifier) could record something symbolic-say, the Emmy statuette-and represent it to the viewer. Objects within the iconic video image often have symbolic significance for the viewer.

Semioticians stress that meaning, signification, is achieved largely through the combination and contrast of signs. A word doesn't mean much, if anything, until it is placed in the context of a sentence. A single image of an actor on a piece of furniture has little significance until it is combined with other shots (signs) into a sequence of images. This is especially true on a symbolic level.

Recall Hurd's thematic oppositions within the police genre. Without criminals and evil, police and good would have no meaning. It is from opposition that meaning arises.

In semiotics there are two principal ways that signs are combined: the syntagmatic and the paradigmatic. (Beware of confusing the semiotician's "paradigmatic" with the more conventional sense of the term, "paradigm," which is a model or pattern.)

FIGURE 13.1 - FIGURE 13.2

The syntagmatic structure is the way that signs are organized linearly or temporally (over time). Words in a sentence written on a piece of paper follow one another linearly, and their order shapes their meaning. Take the primitive sentence: Dog bites boy.

If the linear order of the words is rearranged, the meaning is changed: Boy bites dog.

Or even: Boy dog bites.





Each of the three versions of this sentence expresses a different meaning even though the same words are used each time. The same holds true for the temporal order of shots on television, as can be illustrated by manipulating the order of shots in "China After Tiananmen," a Frontline documentary. Our first sequence of shots might contain (Figs. 13.1-13.3):

1. Medium close-up of a Communist official, who contends that most Chinese did not approve of the students' revolt in Tiananmen Square.

2. Long shot of Tiananmen Square protesters.

3. Long shot of persons waving from a window and applauding.

This sequence of shots suggests that the official is lying and that the applause is for the protesters. These shots could be rearranged (Figs. 13.4-13.6) so that the order is:

1. Long shot of protestors.

2. Medium shot of Communist official.

3. Long shot of persons applauding.

In this order, a new meaning is signified: the people are applauding the official, and implicitly agreeing with what he is saying. In television, the order of images, their sequence, can have powerful effects.

In semiotics the smallest chunk of story, the smallest narrative unit, is called a syntagm. (Usually this corresponds to a scene in television and film.) Just as the arrangement of individual shots can change a scene's meaning, so can the arrangement of individual syntagms/scenes change the meaning of the en tire program. Each of Kaminsky and Mahan's components in their outline of the narrative structure of the police show would be a syntagm. Imagine how scrambling their order could result in different meanings for the genre.

The second way that signs are organized, according to semiotics, is via association, or paradigmatically. If the syntagmatic is linear or horizontal and temporal, then the paradigmatic structure is vertical and a-temporal. The paradigmatic consists of the associations we make with a particular signifier that give meaning to that signifier. Let's return to our sentence from above and alter it slightly: Doberman pinscher bites boy.

The signifier "Doberman pinscher" holds certain meanings (aggression, violence, even militarism) for readers because of the contrasting associations they make with potential substitutions for that breed of dog: Chihuahua ... Terrier ... Collie ... Doberman pinscher bites boy.

Doberman pinscher carries its meaning partially because of the paradigm of "dog breeds" from which Doberman pinscher is chosen. Obviously, it has much different connotations from, say, Chihuahua.

There are many paradigms such as this operating in television. All the elements of mise-en-scene, for instance, derive meaning paradigmatically. Consider the use of sets and props. When a man pulls out an Uzi and begins raking pedestrians with it, the viewer understands that this is an evil character even before he begins to shoot because of the paradigm of weapons. Because the character uses an Uzi, rather than a Magnum .45 or a Winchester rifle or even a bow and arrow, the meaning "evil criminal" is signified. Where does this meaning come from? It comes from the gun's paradigmatic association with other weapons that could have been chosen.

It might appear that meanings generated from the syntagmatic and paradigmatic combinations of signs are limitless, open to infinite variation. This is where the semiotic concept of codes becomes significant. Codes consists of "rules," culturally based conventions, that govern sign systems. These codes may be very precise, such as the grammatical rules that govern language. But more often the codes are ambiguous and changeable, delimited by history and cultural context.

Fashion, for instance, has its own mercurial code. A black tuxedo signifies solemnity and is associated with major life events and upper-class characteristics. A lime-green, 100% polyester tuxedo with large lapels signifies 1970s garishness and perhaps a bit of sleaze.

In television we can find both codes that are part of the general culture that television inhabits and those that are specific to the medium. The code of fashion exists in reality and also regulates the meaning signified by the clothing worn by actors on television. But the code of television and film editing, discussed in section 7, is specific to these two media alone.

In sum, semiotics offers ways of talking about meaning production in television, and aspires to a "science" of signs. It is not, however, a true science. Semiotic research seldom, if ever, employs the scientific method outlined above. The crucial component that semiotics lacks is the ability to repeat research projects and gather the same results each time. Without repeatability, conventional sciences will always view semiotics as an "impure," subjective science. What most prevents semiotics from confirming its interpretation through repeatable studies is an undeveloped theory of how viewers/readers understand the signs before them.

Psychoanalysis and ethnography have offered some answers to this problem, but they are far from globally accepted.


Ideology is a slippery term. In everyday use it has negative connotations. When politicians speak of "liberal ideology" or "conservative ideology" they usually imply brainwashing, suggesting that their opponents' political ideology clouds their views of the truth. Ideology, in this context, signifies a fraudulent and misguided image of reality. This sense of ideology stems from the original theorist of ideological criticism, Karl Marx. It is with Marxism, therefore, that we need to begin our consideration of ideological criticism.

For Marx, writing in the mid-1800s, ideology is false consciousness. It is a counterfeit image of the world that is determined by social class: aristocracy (the class of kings and queens), bourgeoisie (middle class), or proletariat (working class). These social classes are grounded in a person's relation to work, to labor.

Aristocrats do not work; their power (what's left of it) is based in traditional laws of inheritance and ritual. The bourgeois own the factories, which Marx calls the means of production, where goods are created and where men and women work. The bourgeois therefore hold tremendous economic power. Proletarians must work to survive and thus must sell their labor to the bourgeois. Marx sees history as a struggle among these classes to control the means of production.

During any one particular era, one of these three classes will be in control. One class, thus, will be the ruling class. Since the Renaissance, according to Marx, the bourgeoisie has increased its power and the aristocracy has declined. Hence, over the centuries the bourgeoisie has become the ruling class.

Marx's explanation of class is significant to his theory of ideology, because he sees ideology as being fundamentally delimited by class. A woman who owns a factory will interpret the world through bourgeois ideology. A worker in that factory will, presumably, interpret the world through working-class ideology.

However, Marx contends, the class that controls a society's means of production and commands its economy also rules ideologically: "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society [that is, which controls the factories], is at the same time its ruling intellectual force."16 This gives rise to the notion of a dominant ideology, a system of beliefs about the world that benefits and supports a society's ruling class. In most Western societies, the ruling class is the bourgeoisie; and its ideology, according to Marxists, is the dominant ideology.

For example, one tenet of bourgeois ideology is that everyone may become financially successful if they work hard enough. This obviously benefits the capitalist system, because it encourages proletarians to labor tirelessly-although economic success is more commonly based on the financial stature of the family into which one is born than it is on an individual's effort. As multimillionaire Malcom Forbes put it when asked by David Letterman how he earned his incredible fortune, "My father died." So, Marx concludes, most workers will subscribe to the dominant (bourgeois) ideology because they have been intellectually bludgeoned into those beliefs by the agents of the ruling class: schools, the legal system, churches, the military, and so forth. The ideological superstructure of a society is sup ported and determined by its economic base or infrastructure. Ideology follows economics.

This view posits that television is an agent of the ruling class. Because huge, often multinational corporations own all television networks, the programs broadcast must toe the ideological line. In other words, television shows-both fiction and news-must necessarily support dominant ideology. Moreover, all viewers, whatever their class, are so inculcated with ruling class ideology that they are tricked into accepting this version of reality as truth. If the ruling class ideology becomes so pervasive that even people outside of the ruling class absorb its values as truth, then, contends Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, a state of hegemony has been achieved." In an hegemony, people take ruling class values for granted-even when they don't serve their own interests.

One need not be a Marxist or a socialist to hold this view of television's ideological function. Indeed, political and moral conservatives also see TV as an ideological demon, but from a different perspective. To them the values represented on television are decadent and immoral, ideologically offensive because they are too liberal. And yet, they share the classical Marxist assumptions that:

1. Ideological apparatuses (such as television) contain a homogeneity of ideas; there are no contradictions within ideology.

2. The person exposed to the dominant ideology will necessarily accept it as truth.

The classical Marxist conception of ideology has been the topic of much debate over the past 30 years. During that time, a more limber theory of ideology has evolved. As far as television studies is concerned, there are two central components of the current notion of ideology.

First, a society's ideology consists of many conflicting sets of meanings- discourses-competing with one another. As John Fiske elaborates, a discourse is "a language or system of representation that has developed socially in order to make and circulate a coherent set of meanings about an important topic area." 18 The dominant discourse is the one that is taken for granted, is seen as the commonsense explanation of the world within a particular society or within a social group inside a society.

Second, the position of an individual within ideology has been reexamined.

This, for some theorists, has involved the introduction of psychoanalytic theory into the discussion of ideology. In psychoanalytical Marxism, the individual in society is viewed as a subject, a psychological construct who enters the meaning filled world of ideology through certain Freudian mechanisms (specifically, the Oedipal complex). Other theorists eliminate Freud (and his major revisionist, Jacques Lacan) from their theory of the ideological subject, but are still concerned with individuals' entries into the ideological world and their relationship to ideology. Regardless, contemporary ideological criticism contests the classical Marxist assumption of individuals who are molded solely by the circumstances of their class and the influence of ruling-class ideology.

What impact does this recent work have on the study of television? Under the banner of cultural studies or ethnography, a group of theorists has been attempting to analyze television in the context of contemporary ideological criticism. Stuart Hall, of the University of Birmingham ( England)

Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), initially led this effort, and his work has been elaborated on by David Morley, Charlotte Brundson, Ellen Seiter and other scholars in the United States, Australia, and elsewhere.

Hall argues that television texts are encoded with many meanings-many discourses-by the television apparatus.° Television as "apparatus"-an idea that is not unique to cultural studies- deserves further elaboration. The television apparatus consists of bankers, media corporations, producers, directors, scriptwriters, et al. They create TV according to unspoken "rules" of genre, narrative, and technique, etc., as well as economic limitations imposed by television's mode of production. The apparatus includes all those factors-from flesh-and-blood bankers to ephemeral rules of editing- that construct the medium as a pleasurable viewing experience, as something viewers enjoy doing. "Apparatus" is thus a wide-ranging term to refer to the televisual experience and everything that goes into constructing it.

Hall rejects the wholesale condemnation of the television apparatus by classical Marxists who criticize TV as an ideological and hegemonic monolith, kowtowing to ruling-class ideology. Hall contends instead that television texts are encoded with many meanings, a polysemy. Television's meanings may even contradict one another, as is the case when a program about a promiscuous playboy is interrupted by a public service announcement urging sexual restraint.

Television's polysemy, however, is not completely free-ranging, according to Hall. He writes, "Any society/culture tends, with varying degrees of closure, to impose its classifications of the social and cultural and political world.

These constitute a dominant cultural order, though it is neither univocal nor uncontested." Television does not show us everything. It cannot signify every thing. For years the life experiences of minorities were virtually invisible as far as television was concerned. With the notable exception of Ellen Degeneres and Will and Grace (1998-), gay characters and culture are still largely marginalized; their threat to the nuclear family remains too great. Many subcultures are simply unspoken, unable to be classified, repressed from the television world by the dominant cultural order.

In any event, a large part of television's pleasure can be attributed to its polysemic nature. With so many meanings being transmitted, viewers can largely pick and choose those that adhere to their own ideology. This brings up another tenet of Hall's theory: decoding. Viewers decode television texts from three different ideological positions:

1. The dominant-hegemonic position. Viewers who fully subscribe to ruling-class discourse interpret television according to the preferred reading that is encoded on the text by the television apparatus. Such viewers presumably include members of the class wielding economic control, but comprise also working-class viewers who, in hegemonic fashion, value the dominant system.

2. The oppositional position. Viewers whose discourse is totally foreign to ruling-class discourse fully reject the preferred reading of the text, lending it their own interpretation. Individuals who are aggressively disenfranchised from the benefits of the ruling economic system decode television texts in unique ways.

This includes ghetto residents, recent immigrants who do not speak English, and so on.

3. The negotiated position. By far this is the most common decoding position. Most viewers are neither wholehearted supporters of dominant discourse nor wholly detached from it. The negotiated interpretation permits the dominant discourse to set the ideological ground rules, but it modifies those rules according to personal experience. Viewers select the meanings that apply to their personal situations.

Hall and other ethnographic researchers approach television from two tacks.

They seek to understand the ideological discourses in the text and the preferred readings that the television apparatus elects, but they are also concerned with the ideological discourses of the viewer. The process of ideological criticism for ethnographic researchers is to comprehend the following:

• How are these discourses produced?

• Which discourses are privileged over others?

• Which social and economic interests are served by these discourses?

• How do the discourses of the text relate to the discourses of the viewer? This last question has led ethnographic researchers to incorporate television viewers into their studies, unlike most of the critical theorists summarized in this section. Frequently, ethnographers conduct interviews with TV watchers as a significant part of their research. Such methods draw ethnographers closer to traditional empirical research, especially uses-and-gratifications theory, but still ethnography remains distinct from empiricism. Where empiricism assumes that the answers to research questions lie in the acquisition of quantifiable numerical data, ethnographers see research as a more mercurial and less quantifiable interaction between the discourses of the text, the discourses of the viewer, and even the discourses of researchers themselves. Knowledge about society is not pictured as being "out there," waiting to be dug up, and reduced to a few "thin" equations, but in flux, in a process of signification-a system of counterbalancing or competing discourses that is best represented through "thick" descriptions of viewers' experiences and their contexts.


Although feminism has been a central component of critical studies--particularly literary criticism and film studies-since the 1970s, it has been slow to affect traditional mass communication research, including traditional work on television. Close on the heels of film feminism have been TV analyses from a feminist perspective--particularly in regard to the soap opera, one of the few genres designed specifically for women viewers. Feminist criticism, like ideological criticism, is concerned with social discourses. In particular, feminist criticism concentrates on the volatile province of gender discourse--on the way that women alone and women in relation to men are portrayed in language, literature, film, magazines, television, and other media.

Historically, the women's movement has centered on specific social and political concerns: women's right to vote, equal job opportunity, combating violence against women, abortion rights, affordable day care for children. In other words, feminism has long battled in the arena of sexual politics-as Kate Millett refers to the power relationship between men and women. But feminists have not been concerned solely with this political agenda, with marching in the streets to protest for abortion rights or suffrage, or against domestic violence.

Intertwined with feminist political concerns is an interest in the representation of women in the mass media and the interpretation of those images by viewers, both women and men. How are women's images used in the media? What is the significance of those images in television? What ideas, concepts, discourses are associated with or encoded on woman as defined by television? How do viewers interpret or decode those images? "Image-of-women" Feminist Criticism. The simplest form of feminist television criticism presumes that television is a direct reflection of society. This approach searches for stereotypes on television, which are argued to be the result of ideologically defined social types of women that were prevalent at the time of the program's production. Donna Reed, for instance, is said to represent the stereotype of the 1950s American "housewife." More recently, the women of Designing Women or ER are said to represent the "liberated" social types of contemporary women.

This approach to women in television has been criticized for three reasons: First, it overly simplifies the television-to-society relationship. A mass medium such as TV has a very complex relationship with the society that produces it. Television stories, for instance, do not automatically or naturally "reflect" the ideology of the society that produces them. Rather, they emphasize some factors while repressing or even inverting other elements. A society's ideology is mediated by several factors-scriptwriters' and directors' aesthetic concerns and network executives' economic preoccupations-as it makes its way into a television program.

Second, the image-of-women approach overly simplifies the television-to viewer relationship, assuming that viewers accept and believe everything they see on TV, as in the discarded hypodermic needle approach. As Hall argues, the discourses of the viewer interact dynamically with those of the text, rather than the text's discourses simply being forced on the unwilling and unwitting viewer.

The third problem with this approach is that it does not account for the style with which women are represented in television. It focuses on what type of women are on television and neglects the way that that type is presented.

Other Forms of Feminist Criticism. Recently, feminist scholars have abandoned the image-of-women approach in favor of more subtle methods that attempt to explain how beliefs about gender circulate in a society and on television. These scholars start from the premise that a society run by men will probably encourage systems of beliefs that keep men in power, but-and this is crucial to contemporary feminist criticism-these systems of belief are not uncontested or monolithic. There are oppositional discourses that contradict patriarchal ideas, and patriarchal discourses are themselves riddled with contradictions. Moreover, contemporary feminist criticism has been strongly influenced by recent studies of the viewer, and has subsequently struggled to develop a theory of the female viewer's perception of television.

Soap opera, with its largely female audience, has proven to be the test case for the feminist analysis of television. In an early, groundbreaking essay, Tania Modleski writes about the soap opera in terms of the narrative pleasure it affords the female viewer. She is also interested in the ways that women are positioned within the narrative. The constant interruptions, the lack of a conclusion, and other soap opera characteristics, she suggests, may qualify the genre as possessing a feminist narrative structure. Her argument is typical of con temporary feminist criticism in that it articulates the ways that women are represented on television (specifically, through the narrative structure) and the position of the female spectator vis-a-vis the images that she sees on the screen.

In so doing, Modleski is helping to define television viewing from a feminist perspective.

In sum, then, feminist criticism of television deals with a gendered discourse, with belief systems based on what have come to be known as women's issues.

A feminist critique of any television show must remain alert to the program's sexual politics at the same time that it dissects the positioning of women within the text and the experience of female (and male) viewers before the TV set.


As illustrated by the ethnographic approach to television, "critical" methods and "empirical" methods are no longer as separate as they once were. It is difficult to predict how far critical methods will venture in this direction, however. There has already been some retrenching on the part of ethnographic researchers as they confront the problems of survey or interview research: That interviewees don't consistently say what they mean, that their responses are always influenced by the style of the questions, and that people sometimes lie when filling out questionnaires or talking to interviewers. Still, it seems likely that researchers such as David Morley and others belonging to or influenced by the CCCS will continue to investigate audience research methods distinct from traditional empiricism.

Most of the critical methods surveyed in this section remain far removed from empiricism. Auteur theory, genre study, semiotics, ideological criticism, and feminism have historically focused their attention on the television text- its meanings and the construction of those meanings through specific narrative devices and audiovisual techniques. With the exception of semiotics, which aspires to be a science of signs, each of these methods provides a lens through which to view television's polysemy: auteur theory genre study the producer/director's career

---* films linked by similar audience response, style, or content ideological criticism -> class representation feminism -> gender representation More recently, the impact of psychoanalysis and its theory of the subject has forced proponents of these critical methods to rethink their concept of viewers and of their significance to the construction of meaning. And yet, auteurism, genre study, ideological criticism, and feminism are still distinguished by their emphasis on the text and the meanings it might communicate.

The brevity of this section has led to simplification (perhaps even oversimplification) of these critical methods. And we had to be selective in our choice of methods to present. Some contemporary critical methods that have been applied to television but are not considered here include rhetorical criticism, dialogic criticism, reader-oriented criticism, and post-structuralism. The diversity of television critical study prohibits sampling all of the critical methods currently being applied to television.


Several anthologies offer more extensive introductions to critical methods than could be presented in this short section. Of these, the most ambitious is Robert C. Allen, ed., Channels of Discourse, Reassembled, 2nd ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992). Separate sections, with annotated bibliographies, cover semiotics, narrative theory, audience-oriented criticism, genre study, ideological analysis, psychoanalysis, feminism, and cultural studies. One section also outlines the debate over postmodernism and television.

Similarly, Leah R. Vande Berg, Lawrence A. Wenner, and Bruce E. Gronbeck, eds., Critical Approaches to Television (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998) introduces the reader to numerous separate critical methods, some of which have been influenced by a speech communication perspective. Although it does touch on several of the same topics as Channels of Discourse, it also provides space for hermeneutic, mythic, rhetorical, and sociological critical methods.

Critical Approaches to Television furnishes applications of each method.

Other general anthologies are less explanatory in their presentation, but do offer the reader a sampling of critical methods: Tony Bennett, Susan Boyd Bowman, Colin Mercer, and Janet Woollacott, eds., Popular Television and Film (London: Open University Press, 1981); Todd Gitlin, ed., Watching Television: A Pantheon Guide to Popular Culture (New York: Pantheon, 1986); Andrew Good win and Garry Whannel, eds., Understanding Television (New York: Routledge, 1990); E. Ann Kaplan, ed., Regarding Television: Critical Approaches (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1983); Colin MacCabe, ed., High Theory/Low Culture: Analyzing Popular Television and Film (New York: St. Mar tin's Press, 1986); Patricia Mellencamp, ed., Logics of Television: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990); Horace Newcomb, ed., Television: The Critical View, 6th ed. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000). There are a several books organized around specific critical methods within television studies. Two anthologies devoted specifically to a cultural studies' perspective are Stuart Hall, Dorothy Hobson, Andrew Lowe, and Paul Willis, eds., Culture, Media, Language (London: Hutchinson, 1980); and Ellen Seiter, Hans Borchers, Gabriele Kreutzner, and Eva-Maria Warth, eds., Remote Control: Television, Audiences, and Cultural Power (New York: Routledge, 1989). Significant feminist TV essays are collected in Charlotte Brunsdon, Julie D'Acci, and Lynn Spigel, eds., Feminist Television Criticism: A Reader (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997). In addition, two books providing overviews of feminist work on TV are: Bonnie J. Dow, Prime-Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women's Movement Since 1970 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996) and Charlotte Brundson, The Feminist, the Housewife, and the Soap Opera ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000). John Ellis, Visible Fictions-. Cinema: Television: Video (Boston: Routledge, 1992) is particularly valuable for its correlation of television with the cinema.

Other books offering helpful overviews of television criticism include John Corner, Critical Ideas in Television Studies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999); John Fiske, Television Culture (New York: Methuen, 1987); Christine Geraghty and David Lusted, eds., The Television Studies Book (London: Arnold, 1998); and Paul Monaco, Understanding Society, Culture and Television (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000). Finally, Ellen Seiter, "Making Distinctions in TV Audience Research: Case Study of a Troubling Interview," in Newcomb, 495-518, offers insights into the difficulties of performing ethnographic research.


1 Robert C. Allen, ed., Channels of Discourse, Reassembled, 2nd ed. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1992).

2. In "focus groups" a few individuals are gathered in a room, shown a program/ commercial and then asked for their opinion of it. The technique of "cable testing" has selected viewers watch an unreleased program/commercial in their own homes, over their cable TV systems. (Only particular viewers may view the program/commercial; it is not shown to everyone on the cable system.) Then those selected viewers are interviewed over the phone.

3. Barry S. Sapolsky and Joseph O. Tabarlet, "Sex in Primetime Television: 1979 Versus 1989," Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 35, no. 4 (Fall 1991): 505 516; Mary Cassata, Thomas Skill, and Samuel 0. Boadu, "Life and Death in the Daytime Television Serial: A Content Analysis," in Life on Daytime Television: Tuning-In American Serial Drama, eds. Mary Cassata and Thomas Skill (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1983), 23-36.

The latter is critiqued in Robert C. Allen, Speaking of Soap Operas (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 36-38.

4 Allen, Soap Opera, 37-38.

5 Allen, Soap Operas, 42.

6 The term is based in the phrase "la politique des auteurs" ("the policy or polemic of the author") that appeared in a 1954 Cahiers du Cinema essay by Francois Truffaut.

It was translated into "auteur theory" by American film critic Andrew Sarris in the early 1960s.

7 David Marc, "The Situation Comedy of Paul Henning: Modernity and the American Folk Myth in The Beverly Hillbillies," in Demographic Vistas: Television in American Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), 39-64; Bishetta D. Merritt, "Bill Cosby: TV Auteur?" Journal of Popular Culture 24, no. 4 (Spring 1991): 89-102; Robert Thompson, "Stephen J. Cannell: An Auteur Analysis of the Adventure/Action Genre," in Television Criticism: Approaches and Applications, eds. Leah R. Vande Berg and Lawrence A. Wenner ( New York: Longma8 Marc, 46,62.

9. Andrew Tudor terms this the "empiricist dilemma," because it is an observational question, a question of which programs to observe. In order to make the distinction between empirical studies and critical studies clearer, I have avoided using his term. But it should be noted that critical studies do have empirical aspects, just as empirical studies do have critical aspects. See Andrew Tudor, Theories of Film (New York: Viking, 1973), 135-138.

10. Stuart M. Kaminsky, Jeffrey H. Mahan, American Television Genres (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1985), 56.

11. Kaminsky and Mahan, 61-62.

12. V. I. Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, translated by Laurence Scott, with an introduction by Svatava Pirkova-Jakobson (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1968). 13 Stuart Hall, "Encoding/Decoding," in Culture, Media, Language (London: Hutchinson, 1980), 128-138.

14. Geoffrey Hurd, "The Television Presentation of the Police," in Popular Television and Film, eds. Tony Bennett, Susan Boyd-Bowman, Colin Mercer, and Janet Woollacott (London: British Film Institute, 1981), 66.

15. Iconic signs are the most confusing and the most controversial within the study of semiotics. Some of the confusion stems from the use of the term "icon" or "ikon" in art history and religion to refer to an object with symbolic significance. The semiotic controversy revolves around the very question of iconicity. Many semioticians reject the notion of resemblance between signifier and real-world objects, contending that all signification is constructed by human interpretation and that "resemblance" implies an impossible, "natural" or necessary correspondence between signifier and signified.

Ferdinand de Saussure, another one of semiotics' founders, is among those who reject the entire principle of iconicity.

16 Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, The German Ideology, Part One, edited and with an Introduction by C. J. Arthur (New York: International Publishers, 1947), 64. Originally written 1845-46.

17 Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991). 18 John Fiske, Television Culture (New York: Methuen, 1987), 14.

19 See Hall, "Encoding/Decoding", 128-138.

20 Hall, 134.

21 Hall, 136-137.

22 Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970).

23 Tania Modleski, "The Search for Tomorrow in Today's Soap Operas," in Loving with a Vengeance (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1982), 85-109. Originally published in 1979.

See also Tania Modleski, "The Rhythms of Reception: Daytime Television and Women's Work," in Regarding Television: Critical Approaches, ed. E. Ann Kaplan (Frederick, MD: University Publications, 1983), 67-73; and Charlotte Brunsdon, "Crossroads: Notes on Soap Opera," in Kaplan, ed., 76-83.

24 Modleski, Loving, 105. n, 1991), 112-126.

Prev | Next | Index

Top of Page | Home

Updated: Monday, 2021-08-23 22:23 PST