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Michael Bailey, ed.Narrating Media History. Oxford: Routledge. 2008. 256 pp. $140.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-415-41915-4.

Reviewed by Michelle Tusan (University of Nevada, Las Vegas)
Published on H-Albion (December, 2009)
Commissioned by David S. Karr

Media History: Where To?

Narrating Media History offers historians a useful road map for the way forward in modern communications studies. Based on James Curran’s seminal work, Media and Power (2002), the essays in this collection place themselves in direct conversation with the concepts and ideas that currently shape the field. The central theme of the work revolves around Curran’s notion that media history should be understood as a series of competing narratives that seek resolution in a far-reaching synthesis. Divided into seven sections, each containing two essays apiece, the work is organized around Curran’s “taxonomy” of media narrative structures: liberalism, feminism, populism, nationalism, libertarianism, radicalism, and technological determinism. Interdisciplinary and methodologically diverse, the essays in this collection attempt to bridge the divide in media studies between history, sociology, literary studies, and political science.

One of Curran’s key contributions to media studies, a field that he helped found almost thirty years ago, is his insistence on the centrality of history. Curran’s opening essay, “Narratives of Media History Revisited,” restates his nuanced analysis of the role of media in modern societies: the press does not represent a democratizing force on its own but can and has in the past served a democratic purpose. Here Curran proposes that media historians focus on “construct(ing) an alternative synthesis of the seven narratives” that he outlines in the essay (p. 17). Curran uses his role as interlocutor to provide food for thought for media critics looking to incorporate methods from the social sciences and humanities. His goal: “to advance a tradition of media history that seeks ambitiously to situate historical investigation of the media in a wider societal context” (p. 20).

Mark Hampton’s “Renewing the Liberal Tradition” opens the section on the liberal narrative by successfully attempting to nuance a narrative that questions the democratic potential of the press after the abolition of the so-called taxes on knowledge in the 1850s. He characterizes his critique as a “post-radical liberal narrative of media history” (p. 26), concluding quite rightly that the press does fulfill the liberal ideal of a rational public sphere, however “imperfectly” (p. 34). Hugh Chignell offers another qualified endorsement of understanding the role of the media in terms of a liberal narrative in “Change and Reaction in BBC Current Affairs Radio, 1928- 1970.” The BBC, for Chignell, has historically served both a populist and elitist function, a diversity that he considers a strength. Both of these essays, with important qualifications, revive the case for the central role played by the media in furthering democratic discourse.

The feminist critique in media studies, ignored by Curran in his initial formulation, finds expression in a pair of essays that attempt to insert women’s history into media studies.[1] For Curran a separate chronology which centers on a fundamental critique of patriarchy rather than the advent of gender as a category of historical analysis gives shape to the feminist narrative. Michael Bailey interestingly traces how the radio becomes part of the home landscape by analyzing the prescriptive nature of many early BBC programs in “The Angel in the Ether: Early Radio and the Constitution of the Household.” Though informative from the perspective of women’s history, a more nuanced look at the category of gender would have enhanced Bailey’s analysis as would have a clearer attempt to problematize the 1930s as a period of changing gender expectations. David Deacon in "‘Going to Spain with the Boys’: Women Correspondents and the Spanish Civil War” uses a similar methodology in his study of Spanish Civil War women journalists, where he explores the contradiction of women’s high profile/low status as war correspondents during the 1930s.

The continued centrality of the liberal narrative in media history is demonstrated most clearly by the essays in the sections on populist and libertarian narratives. Stefan Schwarzkopff argues that advertising does not undercut a liberal tradition but rather if smartly applied can help foster it in his essay, “‘A Moment of Triumph in the History of the Free Mind?’ British and American Advertising Agencies’ Responses to the Introduction of Commercial Television in the United Kingdom.” Su Holmes’s “'Outrageously Bad Taste’: The BBC and the Controversy of ‘This is your Life’ in the 1950s,” uses a case study approach to interrogate populist forms of media culture that foster an inclusivist culture. Jeffrey Milland offers a further critique of elitist notions of media by questioning the paternalist proclivity of British broadcasting in furthering liberal ideals in “The Pilkington Report: The Triumph of Paternalism?”

No analysis of the place of liberalism in media would be complete without a consideration of the problem of censorship. Adrian Bingham’s "‘A Stream of Pollution through Every Part of the Country?': Morality, Regulation and the Modern Popular Press” offers an overview of the problem of censorship in British media by using representative examples from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to describe the tension between liberal notions of freedom of the press and the marketplace and the moralizing arguments of the elite. Here a tenuous balance is found between press freedom and concerns over public morality through self-regulating media that pervaded British journalism after the 1850s.

The broadening of media studies beyond a myopic analysis of the form and function of communication in modern society is evidenced in the attempt to understand national identity through the lens of print and broadcast media. Using Benedict Anderson’s idea of the imagined community as a starting point, this narrative maintains that national media has been “the main vehicle for popular British nationalism” starting in the early nineteenth century (p. 139). In an era of devolution it is appropriate that both chapters in this section do not deal with England but rather consider the cases of Wales and Scotland. Jamie Medhurst’s "Television in Wales, c. 1950-70" traces the close relationship between broadcasting and national identity by chronicling the travails of attempts to produce quality regional content for Welsh viewers. Daniel Day’s “‘Nation Shall Speak Peace unto Nation’: The BBC and the Projection of a New Britain, 1967- 82” argues that the BBC participated in constructing a more polyglot vision of Britishness that took into account regionalism in the face of rising nationalist challenges in Scotland and Wales in the postwar period. Day concludes that media scholars should pay more attention to “the Corporation’s considerable role in reflecting the diversity of British life, not simply its role in homogenizing it” (p. 165).

The penultimate section of the book, “Radical Narratives,” offers a potent critique of the liberal tradition in media studies. Pessimistic and polemical, the radical critique holds that instead of freeing us from isolation, the media contributed to an increase in social fragmentation. As Graham Murdock and Michael Pickering conclude in “The Birth of Distance: Communications and Changing Conceptions of Elsewhere,” by the twentieth century technologies like the telegraph and photography emerged as “integral to increasing social control, objectification and stereotyping” (p. 178). Julian Petley in “What Fourth Estate?” starts tellingly with William Cobbett’s 1807 comparison of the press to the oppressor of the English people. The final section of the essay “The Dance of Death for Democracy” offers a stinging critique of Rupert Murdoch’s close relationship with Whitehall. Curran’s critique of the approach of the Toronto School of media studies that famously declared “the medium is the message” comes under scrutiny in the final section on “technological determinism” that attempts to rehabilitate technology as a force for good in easing human communication.

The clear purpose of the text, to engage James Curran’s thesis on media narrative, is reinforced throughout by what some might consider an overly structured narrative which makes the book conducive to undergraduate teaching. Overall, the ideas presented in the text can be engaged on a number of levels. Historians, it seems, can no longer afford to ignore the significance of media studies to their discipline.

[1]. Maria DiCenzo offered an important critique of the failure of Curran’s analysis to take into account feminist contributions to media history. "Feminist Media and History: A Response to James Curran," Media History. 10, no. 1: 43- 49.

Other articles

ENGL 485 Writing - Cultural Studies 2011

We'd all like to think that TV viewing doesn't affect us, but George Gerbner's research suggests it actually produces a skewed sense of reality that can affect our everyday beliefs and behaviors. In a 1982 Newsweek article, "Life According to TV," Harry Waters identifies problematic representations that include age, gender, health and weight, race and ethnicity, work, crime, and professions. (You can see Gerbner's reports on TV representations in the 1990s here. and you can see his explanation of the way violence on TV affects people here .)

After debating how much TV has changed since the 1982 Waters article, we decided to find out for ourselves.

As the chart below suggests, gender. race and ethnicity. and weight seem to be represented in slightlyhigher percentages overall than they were thirty years ago, though there is still room for improvement. However, disability and sexual orientation were not even categories under consideration in Waters’ essay, and they still don’t fare well in terms of TV representation. In addition, the blue collar professions are still under- or misrepresented.

Furthermore, one should keep in mind that the general trend charted below addresses the presence or absence of historically under-represented groups, and not with any mis representations that may exist. See the linked essays on the individual TV shows for a more comprehensive & nuanced analysis.

You might also be interested in checking out a current study of gender representations in films conducted at the University of Southern California.


The more "YES" entries in the chart below, the more likely that the popular 2011 TV show is progressive in its representations.

Are genders equally represented

Are there characters over the age of 65?

RACE &ETHNICITY
Are there characters who are not white?

Does any character have a blue-collar job?

Are there overweight characters?

Does the show rarely or never depict violent crimes?

SEXUAL ORIENTATION
Are there non-heterosexual characters?

Are any characters physically disabled? (glasses excluded)

overall:good, bad, or just ok?

Does our TV viewing affect our perceptions?


Although George Gerbner's work indicates that TV viewing does indeed affect our perceptions and belief systems, we decided to briefly compare our own beliefs to real-life statistics in order to see whether our class members (most of whom are light TV viewers) have accurate views of real life.

We found that we have skewed perceptions of many subjects. though we have a small sample size (12 students answered most of the questions) and it is unclear where these perceptions come from.

We were similar to participants in Gerbner's research because

we believed the best professions are those most often represented on TV (doctor, teacher, lawyer, and celebrity), even though studies show that the best professions tend to be software engineer, mathematician, and actuary.

we believed that more women are stay-at-home moms than there are in actuality (22.6% according to census data ), which may be connected to the representation of women who are stay-at-home moms on popular television shows.

We were different from participants in Gerbner's research because we believed the U.S. demographics were more diverse than they actually are according to census data and government statistics (which are represented in parentheses below). We overestimated the number of people who are
a) stay-at-home dads (2.3% of men in actuality)
b) women in law enforcement (12% of law enforcement employees in actuality )
c) women who have committed violent crimes (15% of violent offenders in actuality )
d) men who are teachers (24% of teachers in actuality )
e) over age 65 (12.9% of the 2009 population in actuality )


f) non-white (27.6% of the 2010 population in actuality )
g) non-heterosexual ( 10% of the 2010 population in actuality )
e) disabled (20% of the 2010 population in actuality ).

Our project is certainly not as extensive as the work conducted by Gerbner, but it does suggest that at least some change has taken place since Waters' 1982 essay.

And we can all work for positive change in the future, not least by thinking critically about the implications of what we see on TV.

Heavy TV viewers appear in front of the Charlie's Angels backdrop above: Adam, Joe, & Sarah.

Light TV viewers appear in front of the Full House backdrop to the right: Kendra, Emily B. Victoria, Jeremy, Jess, Peter, Lisa, Alicia, Beatriz, Amanda, Emily, Julie, and Peri.

Also, teacher Laurie is in the class photo at the top of the page along with the rest of the gang.


Return to Laurie McMillan's Professional Homepage

If you have questions or comments, please contact Laurie McMillan at lmcmillan@marywood.edu

Page last updated April 2011.

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Project MUSE - Critical Passions: Selected Essays (review)

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Critical Passions: Selected Essays. By Jean Franco. Edited and with an introduction by Mary Louise Pratt and Kathleen Newman. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000. Pp. vi, 536. Notes. Index. $69.95 cloth; $22.95 paper.

In March 2000, the Latin American Studies Association honored Jean Franco with the Kalman Silvert Award in recognition of her thirty-plus years as a ground-breaking scholar in Latin American literary and cultural studies. The concerns that the professor emerita of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University raised in her first book, The Modern Culture of Latin America: Society and the Artist (1967), also flavor this collection of 32 essays, originally published between 1971 and 1997. The editors have grouped the articles into four categories: feminism and the critique of authoritarianism; mass and popular culture; Latin American literature: the boom and beyond; and Mexico. The boundaries are somewhat arbitrary, for Franco's interests in the relationship between society, artists, and art, both high and popular, necessarily overlap. [End Page 422]

Can an artist simultaneously challenge the literary canon and advocate social justice? For all their freshness and innovation, Franco judges that most of the writers of the boom (Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, and Mario Vargas Llosa, to name a few) have failed to solve this conundrum. Franco argues that their emphasis on individual freedom over social action, their archaic stereotypes of the bourgeois society they criticized, and their discomfort with mass culture have limited their authority as moral critics. Unwittingly, and reluctantly, they themselves became transnational media stars, and their novels often became commodities in the mass culture they disliked. Ultimately, they neither replaced the Enlightenment novel nor dealt a telling blow to the capitalistic system it reflected.

Unlike the novelists, Franco finds much to value in popular, mass culture with its potential to defy the hierarchy of social and cultural values. The transmitters and the receivers of mass culture genres like telenovelas engage in constant negotiation. Items of mass culture are commodities that are packaged and marketed, but the receiver will choose the most meaningful among many options or may reconstruct and even invert the intended message. As an example, Franco cites the Mexican government's crass marketing of the image of Frieda Kahlo as an "advocate and intercessor of a new Mexico" (p. 43). A Chicano artist might receive that image but attach a different and more defiant symbolic value to it. The negotiation exists even in authoritarian societies, although its range naturally becomes more restricted, Franco argues.

The fight for control of public space is crucial in the struggle to replace the Enlightenment narrative of progress and technology. Franco observes that Latin American public space has long been filled by male, patriarchal voices. Gays, lesbians, transvestite performance artists, and women have weakened the gender order when they have dared to venture out of their private havens. For example, the 1970s authoritarian governments in Argentina invaded homes, spurring the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo to denounce torture in the public space of Buenos Aires. Since most dictators and torturers have been masculine, then their feminine opposite becomes inherently destabilizing.

Franco does not argue for the moral superiority of women nor suggest that women writers automatically challenge the patriarchal system. Although the works of writers like Isabel Allende or Laura Esquivel can help to displace a male-centered allegory, these "art romances" (p. 98) usually are not written from the feminist perspective that their authors may claim for them. Like their male cohorts, the middle-class women writers usually privilege individual values over social ones and remain somewhat aloof from issues of social justice for the masses.

Franco's leftist and feminist views guide her scholarship without turning it into dogma. She has remained a discerning, honest, and highly humanistic critic who believes that writers can contribute to the creation of a more dynamic and democratic amalgam of high and popular culture in society and in art. Her essays offer nuanced analysis for the specialist, while stimulating the casual reader of Latin [End.

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How to Write an Essay about Social Class

How to Write an Essay about Social Class

Social class is a form of social stratification studied by social scientists, historians and anthropologists to understand society. When writing an essay related to social class, there are important aspects of class to remember that will help to strengthen your essay and help you find new areas to analyze culture and society. There are different theories of class, each of which will result in a distinctly different thesis for your essay. Depending on the specific focus of your essay, you will need to choose the most appropriate theory.

Define your terms. This is the most important aspect of any essay, not simply essays about social class. What do you mean by social class? How many classes are you covering? Will you be conducting a comparative study across countries? Make sure that you explain what exactly you are going to cover in the introductory part of your essay.

Decide which class theories will be your focus. A Marxist reading would say there are two classes: the "employer" class and the "employee" class. More orthodox theories divide society into three classes: the "working" class, the "middle" class and the "upper" class. It is best to refer to more than one theory, although base your work on one.

Be analytical in your approach. Within different social classes, there are many different subdivisions. A more nuanced essay will be a stronger one. Strengthen your essay by referring to the "artisan class" and "skilled or unskilled laborers" rather than simply the "working class". Class labels are very broad, and shifts in society often come from subdivisions.

Be aware of shifting class boundaries. Society is inherently fluid, with upward mobility being a agent of change within social classes. A profession which was "working class" one hundred years ago may be regarded as "middle class" now, and vice versa. Never assume that class boundaries are static. The rise of the "middle class" after the Industrial Revolution greatly changed the developed world.

Avoid generalizations about class. You would never do the same about nationality or ethnicity, so do not make assumptions about class. Use "working class" as a term rather than "lower class", which can be derogatory.

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The Zoo Story Pages 1-5 Summary and Analysis

The Zoo Story Summary and Analysis of Pages 1-5 Summary

The whole play is set near a bench in New York City's Central Park.

Peter. a clean-cut man in his mid-forties, sits on the bench, reading and smoking a pipe. He is approached by Jerry. a carelessly dressed man characterized by his “great weariness” (1). Without any provocation, Jerry states that he is coming from the zoo, and asks Peter to confirm that he is going north.

Peter complies, clearly uninterested in conversation. Nevertheless, Jerry continues to talk to him, and warns that Peter will probably get cancer from the pipe he is smoking. As Jerry expounds on this prognosis, he cannot find the word he is looking for. Peter suggests ‘prosthesis’, which leads Jerry to the conclusion that Peter is educated.

Jerry asks Peter if they can talk. Peter reluctantly agrees, and has to insist on his willingness when Jerry notices his reluctance. Jerry immediately tells Peter again that he has come from the zoo. Though Jerry converses awkwardly and seems to be ignoring Peter's small-talk, Peter makes his best effort to stay amiable. We learn that Peter has a wife, two daughters, and two parakeets, and that he seems to enjoy a normal upper-middle class life. Jerry asks whether Peter would prefer having sons, and Peter admits that he would. However, he quickly becomes offended when Jerry insinuates that Peter cannot have any more children, without any evidence on which to base that assumption.

Peter soon realizes that he has let Jerry get under his skin, and he forces himself to calm down. Jerry confides that he rarely talks to other people, but that he loves to know everything about people he does talk to. This admission makes Peter distinctly uncomfortable.

The conversation turns to Peter’s pets; Jerry implies that Peter has been emasculated by his wife and daughters' insistence on having cats instead of dogs.

Analysis

The opening minutes of The Zoo Story are mostly focused on characterization. Considering that the play is centered around only two characters, however, this is quite important. Although Albee only gives the audience a small amount of information about Peter and Jerry, the details he chooses to include are carefully chosen. They tell us what we need to know about the play’s characters, and establish the contrasts between them.

Albee’s directions about costumes and acting are quite precise. For a reading experience, they can be useful since they give the audience hints about what to expect from the characters. Peter’s costume — which includes tweeds, a pipe, and horn-rimmed glasses — suggests that he is a stereotypical intellectual, perhaps a professor. Of course, as we later find out, he is actually a businessman. The fact that Peter chooses to dress like a member of a different profession in his free time implies that there might be some truth to Jerry’s later speculation that he is unhappy with his job. Albee’s note that Peter’s “dress and his manner suggest a man younger” is also salient (1). Again, that contrast suggests that Peter is unhappy with himself, and is trying to be someone else. This interpretation certainly helps to understand his quick reaction when Jerry suggests he cannot have children - such an assumption draws attention to his age, and perhaps to the true personality he works to disguise even from himself. And of course, this desire to look "younger" foreshadows Peter’s childish reaction when Jerry invades his personal space at the end of the play.

Albee’s initial description of Jerry also provides valuable insight into the character. In Peter’s description, Albee emphasized the physical details of the costume; in Jerry’s description, the character's actual appearance is emphasized less than is the sense that he has been beaten down in life by “a great weariness” (1). In many ways, he lacks the luxury to redefine himself as Peter has. The dialogue of The Zoo Story will emphasize that Peter and Jerry come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and Albee’s stage directions convey this right away by describing the characters’ attitudes rather than their physical appearances. Indeed, Albee even notes that Jerry should not be dressed poorly; instead, he seems to hope that the differences between Peter and Jerry will be conveyed by acting rather than by costumes.

Although Albee’s stage directions minimize the class and education differences between Peter and Jerry, these differences are a very important component of the characters’ dynamic. Early in the play, Jerry confronts Peter about their differences in background by observing that Peter is probably educated, based on his vocabulary and his reading habits. He further pushes social boundaries by asking Peter about his salary. Indeed, many of Jerry’s breaches in etiquette are directly related to this difference in class. By confronting Peter about his income, Jerry makes him self-conscious and forces him to acknowledge his privilege. One can understand this play's arc as a movement towards awareness; Jerry wants Peter to see himself the way that others (like Jerry) see him, not as the man he dresses himself up to be.

Even in the opening minutes of the play, observant audience members will notice Peter’s evolving attitude toward Jerry. Peter frequently becomes annoyed by Jerry’s overbearing behavior. Each time, he immediately quells his irritation by reminding himself that it is illogical to become upset by Jerry’s conversational jabs. Yet each time Peter becomes upset, his reactions become more extreme. His attitude changes quickly from amusement to fury. Although Jerry’s behavior suggests that he is mentally ill, Peter’s rapid mood changes suggest that he may not entirely stable himself. Further, it is possible to think that Jerry is far more deliberate than he seems. In other words, he might not be asking random questions, but in fact asking questions designed to irritate and anger the man he believes Peter to be. Peter's social etiquette requires him to be compliant and polite. Jerry knows this, and in fact makes Peter insist that he wants to talk. He forces Peter to invite the confrontation, which Peter does not because he wants it, but because he feels required to. So Jerry has engineered a situation by exploiting Peter's gentility, precisely so he can then poke holes in that gentility.

The first pages of The Zoo Story establish the animal motif that will appear throughout the play. Jerry questions Peter extensively about his pets, as Jerry clearly believes that a person’s relationship with animals reveals important information about that person's character. He expounds further on this connection later. However, the play also suggests that humans have animalistic potential within. As the story continues, Jerry and Peter reveal their own animalistic sides, until it becomes clear that the play’s title is a double entendre. It refers not only to Jerry’s visit to the Central Park Zoo, but also to Jerry and Peter’s interaction. People, Albee seems to suggest, are nothing more than animals, and the city, which keeps them in close contact, is another kind of zoo. In a situation like this, different types of animals are sure to cause trouble for one another if they are allowed to interact; this is one way to understand the action of the play. Jerry has been let into a cage with a totally different type of animal, and it is his instinct to then wreak havoc for that more privileged beast.

Early critics frequently compared The Zoo Story with the work of Samuel Beckett. In fact, when The Zoo Story was first performed in Berlin in 1960, it was part of a double bill with a Beckett one-act play — Krapp’s Last Tape. Indeed, there are a number of important similarities between The Zoo Story and Beckett’s best-known work, Waiting for Godot . Both plays chronicle the relationship between two antagonistic characters who are forced to spend time together, and more importantly, both plays are absurdist in style. Absurdism is closely associated with existential philosophy. In a typical absurdist story, characters must grapple with the meaninglessness of their circumstances — and by extension, of life in general. Absurdist plots are often driven by the emotions the characters experience as they recognize and accept that their lives are meaningless.

Beckett’s work lends itself well to an absurdist interpretation. In Waiting for Godot. the characters are cartoonish and exaggerated, and their predicament is contrived to make a philosophical point. The Zoo Story. on the other hand, is much more realistic in its approach — although it should be noted that realism and absurdism are not mutually exclusive. Realism is a style, and absurdism is a philosophical orientation. Peter and Jerry have quotidian nuanced personalities and quotidian back stories, and the play’s plot, which revolves around an awkward conversation between strangers, is drawn from a common situation of urban life. It could be said, then, that Albee’s work is innovative because it imports an absurdist outlook to the realist dramatic tradition. That it does this with such seeming ease and naturalness is a testament to its greatness.

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