Television Myth and the American Mind

Television Myth and the American Mind

Television Myth and the American Mind

Television Myth and the American Mind

Synopsis

This book offers an interpretation of the myths that shape television images and reinforce this culture's dominant ideology. It provides histories of all television genres and connects developments within each genre to political, social, and cultural shifts in the larger society. This new Second Edition updates the previous edition's close textual analysis of representative series and serials to mid-1993, reflecting the significant changes that have occurred in both the business of television in the United States and in the larger society's dominant ideology. The Second Edition also reflects significant advances in critical theory related to the study of television that have occurred over the past decade, and it incorporates both the structuralist critical position (dominant in the first edition) and a post-structuralist position which moves away from a determinist textual analysis of ideology to a consideration of possible multiple decodings.

Excerpt

I completed work on the first edition of Television Myth and the American Mind in December 1983. In the ensuing decade, significant changes have occurred in the television industry in the United States. Among these has been a marked increase in viewing options, in terms of both the absolute number of available channels and the level of their penetration into American homes. The "Big Three" commercial networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC) had dominated national program distribution in prime time throughout the medium's history. Now they found themselves under siege by a proliferation of cable/satellite channels and the growing use of the VCR. In 1980, 15.5 million U.S. households subscribed to cable television; by 1993, 57.7 million households (62 percent of all U.S. television households) were cable subscribers--nearly a fourfold increase. Basic and pay cable services combined captured an 8 percent share of the prime-time audience in 1982; by 1993, these cable services commanded a 26 percent share of the prime-time audience (while pay cable's share dropped slightly, from 5 percent to 4 percent during this period, basic cable's audience grew rapidly, from 3 percent of prime-time audiences in 1982 to 22 percent in 1993). The rapid growth of basic cable cut directly into the Big Three's combined share of prime-time audience, which decreased from 81 percent in 1982 to 63 percent in 1992. In 1980, only one million U.S. television households had VCRs; by 1993, that number had risen to 70.8 million households (76 percent of all U.S. television households).

Remote-control devices allowed viewers to "graze" through programs, assembling a variety of short audiovisual bites into their "own" programs, and to employ the magical "mute" button to block out the sound of annoying commercials. Critic Raymond Williams's prophetic 1974 description of television as comprised of a "flow" of audiovisual information . . .

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