Critical Ideas in Television Studies

By John Corner | Go to book overview

3
Image

VARIETIES of image constitute the hub of television as a medium (literally, 'seeing at a distance'). It is properties of the image which fascinate and attract, which become the focus for debate about sexually explicit and violent content, which are featured in most discussion of advertising and of the displacement of political substance by 'presentation'. The images which television can offer, and particularly the development of possibilities in content and in form of depiction, are central elements in determining the commodity value which programmes have in the television market-place. Those who have written about the ideological function of television (for example, Feuer 1983; Fiske 1987) have regarded the combination of pleasure and illusion of television's images to be the key to its efficiency in this respect, both in factual and fictional programming. Such critiques have connected with more general commentary about the dominance of professionally produced images in the public culture of late modern society, a dominance often seen as negative in its overall consequences, establishing a 'regime' of appearances and impoverishing the resources of critical imagination.

The television image is an instance, one might say now the classic instance, of the electronic image. It is also usually the moving image and, as a consequence, the edited image. All three of these dimensions give to television's picturing activity a distinctive semiotic profile, distinguishing it from the photographic and cinematic texts with which it nevertheless keeps close, if generically varied, relations. Further exploration of each dimension is a useful way into the central issues of this chapter.


The Electronic Image

Television's image is produced by a recording process, different from, but comparable with, that of photography. Objects in front of the television camera are registered by the light rays entering the camera lens. This registration is scanned and turned into electronic information for sequential and rapid ('instantaneous') transmission and recording or reception by a television set, at which point the information is converted back line by line into a picture again. Such a process gives to the television image a certain ontological character, its own being is in a direct causal relationship to the being of that which it represents (e.g. the presenter's head, the busy market square, the football field, the occupants of the car). Even allowing for the development of digital image manipulation, producing the image more as construct than as record, the evidential implications of this process are still strong and

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