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

By Bonnie J. Dow | Go to book overview

attracted me to them as potential case studies. In the case of more recent and short-lived programming, such as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, I have followed the series since its debut.

My experience with the text itself governs the approach I will take to it, reflecting the belief that "working out from the particular (rather than applying ready-formed analytical systems) gets critics closer to the subject before deciding which analytical systems are appropriate and with what limitations" ( Deming, 1990, p. 48). Thus, while I have an overarching purpose in this book to explore the ways in which programming constructs feminism over time, the critical tools that enable my discussion of each unique text differ because each text functions differently. This is why, for example, my analysis of Designing Women relies heavily on theories of women's use of language and conversation, while my analysis of Murphy Brown pays a great deal of attention to intertextuality.

This inductive approach leads to the case study organization of this book in which I perform close analysis of relatively few examples of programming. I prefer to study television at the level of the series. When a series becomes an artifact for a critic, it becomes possible to do the kind of close reading that reveals patterns of plot and character, recurring rhetorical strategies, and, ultimately, repetitive rhetorical function, that I find interesting and useful. This focus on what Caren Deming calls "concrete particularity" means "resisting, or at least suspending, the manly inclination to argue deductively from principles assumed to apply to all television equally" ( 1990, p. 59).

Generally, my concern is with understanding the functions of this programming as part of cultural debates about feminism, rather than with using these texts to promote a new way of understanding television. Following Kenneth Burke's ( 1973) admonition to "use all there is to use," I attempt to integrate the insights offered by theorists and critics that will help me to make the arguments that I wish to make about the programming that I discuss. To the extent that the case studies reveal continuity between strategies of representation of feminism over time (as I believe they do), I am hopeful that this book produces a kind of grounded, historically situated theory that can be helpful to scholars studying the uses of feminism in popular culture.


Notes
1.
For example, some of the fine work done by the Birmingham group, which joins textual analysis and ethnographic approaches, is highly sophisticated and extremely useful (see, e.g., McRobbie, 1991) and does not attempt to value one approach at the expense of the other. A recent example of this kind of research that specifically treats women and U.S. prime-time television is Andrea Press

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