Heartland TV: Prime Time Television and the Struggle for U.S. Identity

Heartland TV: Prime Time Television and the Struggle for U.S. Identity

Heartland TV: Prime Time Television and the Struggle for U.S. Identity

Heartland TV: Prime Time Television and the Struggle for U.S. Identity

Synopsis

'A groundbreaking book, highly original in concept and persuasive in its execution. Johnson elegantly rewrites the history of American television with an eye to its geographical imaginary.' - Anna McCarthy, New York University The Midwest of popular imagination is a ?Heartland? characterized by traditional cultural values and mass market dispositions. Whether cast positively - as authentic, pastoral, populist, hardworking, and all-American - or negatively - as backward, narrowminded, unsophisticated, conservative, and out-of-touch - the myth of the Heartland endures. Heartland TV examines the centrality of this myth to television's promotion and development, programming and marketing appeals, and public debates over the medium's and its audience's cultural worth. Victoria E. Johnson investigates how the ?square? image of the heartland has been ritually recuperated on prime time television, from The Lawrence Welk Show in the 1950s, to documentary specials in the 1960s, to The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s, to Ellen in the 1990s. She also examines news specials on the Oklahoma City bombing to reveal how that city has been inscribed as the epitome of a timeless, pastoral heartland, and concludes with an analysis of network branding practices and appeals to an imagined ?red state? audience. Johnson argues that non-white, queer, and urban culture is consistently erased from depictions of the Midwest in order to reinforce its ?reassuring? image as white and straight. Through analyses of policy, industry discourse, and case studies of specific shows, Heartland TV exposes the cultural function of the Midwest as a site of national transference and disavowal with regard to race, sexuality, and citizenship ideals.

Excerpt

In 1939, Westinghouse sponsored the production of a film promoting the marvels of modern technology on display at the New York World's Fair “World of Tomorrow” Pavilion. The Middleton Family at the New York World's Fair allowed movie-going audiences from across the United States to “travel” to the fair and to explore the Pavilion's wonders alongside its fictional featured family, the Middletons from central Indiana. Though the Middletons are thrilled by a series of electrical wonders housed in the fair's “Playground of Science”—including the “Electro the Westinghouse Moto Man” robot who smokes cigarettes and responds to human commands and the electric dishwasher admired by Grandma and Mother—television is the technology that uniformly captivates each member of the family's multiple generations. Television holds great promise in its newness—its ability to transcend and bind great reaches of space with sound and picture—and yet its adoption is simultaneously made non-threatening, consistent as it is with already-familiar media and modes of communicating. When Jim Treadway, an electrical engineer from “back home” introduces the Middleton's youngest son, Bud, to the Pavilion's TV studio, for example, the youth's first response is that the camera reminds him of Riverdale's portrait photographer's studio. “Ah, looks like the shop of old 'Watch the birdie' Schultz. Remember him, Jim? Six deluxe portraits for a buck.” Once Jim corrects him, pointing out that this camera enables television broadcasts, Bud immediately takes to the new medium, addressing fairgoers in a closed-circuit telecast with the chummy, “Hiya folks! This is Clark Gable Middleton speaking, as you can see if you've got your television sets turned on!” Bud's amazement at TV's technical capability is thus accompanied by familiarizing references to pre-televisual media . . .

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