Inventing Television Culture: Men, Women, and the Box

Inventing Television Culture: Men, Women, and the Box

Inventing Television Culture: Men, Women, and the Box

Inventing Television Culture: Men, Women, and the Box

Synopsis

During the fertile decade 1955-65 the television institution emerged in a form which would be familiar for the next half century: this book attends to two aspects of its formation. The first entails the production strategies, programmes, schedules, and emergent generic modes as these wereinvented through a process of trial and error, allied to a close attention to building the mass audience - in short the question of how television invented itself. The second aspect concerns the place of women and the concept 'feminine' in the new institution. Television offered women access to thepublic sphere in ways that were potentially disruptive of the order prevailing in mid-1950s Britain. Apart from new employment opportunities, images of women and definitions of the feminine were purveyed nightly to an heterogeneous audience of millions, an audience that was itself under constructionthroughout the period. Through close attention to three discrete areas of programming (women's programmes, news and current affairs, and popular drama), the book aims to convey a sense of the excitement entailed in establishing the institution and to ask where and how it may have posed challenges tothe prevailing patriarchal hegemony. Hence the productive interplay of two terms, television and the feminine, both of which were evolving rapidly during the period, is explored in the context of the contemporary discursive climate.

Excerpt

At the start of the twenty-first century there is little argument over the proposition that broadcast television’s output has consequences for the cultural identity of its audiences. It is this proposition, precisely, which informs the current negotiations over gats in which the pressing need for an ‘Instrument for Cultural Diversity’ is recognized as an essential safeguard against the possibility—or likelihood—of the WTO’s global market stifling regional creativity. As Elizabeth MacDonald of the Canadian Film and Television Production Agency put it, ‘Our challenge is to preserve our identity when our children watch exclusively us programmes.… We have come to the conclusion that a country that loses its voice and ability to communicate with itself may cease to exist.’ the global trade in audio-visual material is a relatively new phenomenon—certainly in its current volume—though the anxieties to which it gives rise are not so new. This book aims to explore some of the cultural anxieties provoked by early television, considering the extent to which we can understand it not only to reflect cultural change in the mid-twentieth century, but also to produce it. the anxiety generated by the potential of wto and gats for the future viability of local, regional, and, indeed, national identity, is directly analogous to that experienced in the later 1950s/1960s over the consequences of mass access to broadcast television for British national culture and identity.

Television history is tricky to research because of its volume, ubiquity, and ephemerality; this is further complicated in the early period because so little broadcast material has been preserved. Television was valued for its immediacy and much material was transmitted live in a once-only performance. Material shot on film was expensive, as was also the practice of ‘telerecording’ on tape: when this became available in the latter fifties its use was strictly

1 Elizabeth MacDonald, Canadian Film and Television Production Agency, speaking in the plenary session ‘Culture and Commerce: International Trade and National Culture’ at the ahrb Centre for British Film and Television Studies ‘Trading Culture: a conference exploring the “indigenous” and the “exportable” in film and television culture’ at Sheffield Hallam University, July 2002.

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