Prime-Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women's Movement since 1970

By Bonnie J. Dow | Go to book overview

Introduction: The Rhetoric of Television, Criticism, and Theory

Academic television criticism has come a long way in the past two decades if you date its birth, as I do, with the publication of Horace Newcomb's TV: The Most Popular Art in 1974. Its increasing theoretical sophistication is evident, and is made most clear, perhaps, by the metacriticism that has developed to interrogate the assumptions of critical practice. Television criticism has become an increasingly self-conscious and self-reflexive activity that requires definitions, explanations of perspective, and defense of positions before a critic can even begin to engage with a text (a term that also cannot be taken at face value).

This chapter is my attempt to situate this project within the myriad perspectives that constitute television study. In that process, I engage with debates that I will not resolve: my primary concern here is to explain why I approach the texts that I analyze in the way that I do, as well as to explain what I see as the merits of that approach. I organize this discussion around a series of key terms--criticism, text, audience and theory--that I will use repeatedly in this book and which I view as central to the practice of television criticism at this point in time. I begin with an explanation of my view of what criticism, both broadly and with regard to television, is about; specifically, I offer my perspective on its social, theoretical, and political functions. In the following sections on text, audience, and theory, I discuss some current debates over these concepts as I sketch my own position relative to those issues. Related to my discussion in the Preface, what emerges from this discussion is my view of television as a rhetorical medium and my belief that television criticism is a rhetorical activity.


Television and Criticism

Criticism is a social activity because it is written for an audience. As Said writes, "there is always an Other; and this other willy nilly turns interpre-

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