Critical Ideas in Television Studies

By John Corner | Go to book overview

9
Pleasure

To attempt to write about television and pleasure requires that connection be made with many different aspects of the medium. Therefore in this chapter I shall regularly refer to commentary to be found elsewhere in the book. Pleasure is, for instance, very clearly the product of the use of images and talk, it is often generated from forms of narrative, it is closely interwoven with questions of knowledge, and it raises specific questions about genre and about the nature of reception.

However, despite this, it seems to me to be useful to consider television and pleasure under a separate heading because quite clearly the giving of pleasure is the primary imperative of most television production and, with national variations, this has been true since the first services came on the air. In Britain, although there was strong continuity with the public service tradition of radio and its emphasis on information as well as entertainment, it was also quite widely recognized that television's potential most obviously lay in the massive extension of show business which it brought. As I shall show below, just how far television could be allowed to develop as a 'pleasure machine', and just what kind of pleasures were thought to be socially and culturally desirable for it to offer, were issues brought to a head in the debate about the introduction of a British commercial network in the mid-1950s. Here, the American experience of television pleasures was frequently put to service as an awful warning, however unfair this may have been to the full spectrum of American network programming. It is partly because, in most countries, television is given roles which include both entertainment and public information that the question of television pleasure is so different from the issues of pleasure raised around cinema, for example. Its amount and nature quite quickly become matters to do with the proper use of the medium, raising questions about national culture and about national polity too (including, in some countries, about public standards or even about political controls).

It is relatively recently that questions of pleasure have joined questions of knowledge on the academic research agenda and been seen to be interrelated with them in ways which are other than to do with trivialization. There has been a long tradition of seeing the medium as an agency of the culturally trite or even of cultural debasement. Asking serious questions about the kinds of pleasure which television gives and the way it gives them has occurred largely within, or has been influenced by, the strand of popular cultural analysis developed by the academic field of cultural studies. Within this strand, elements of popular culture (including the pleasures of television) are often rather ambivalently or uncertainly positioned. On the one hand, they are to

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Critical Ideas in Television Studies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Contents xi
  • 1 - Introduction: Research and Criticism 1
  • 2 - Institution 12
  • 3 - Image 24
  • 4 - Talk 37
  • 5 - Narrative 47
  • 6 - Flow 60
  • 7 - Production 70
  • 8 - Reception 80
  • 9 - Pleasure 93
  • 10 - Knowledge 108
  • 11 - Television 2000: The Terms of Transformation 120
  • References 129
  • Index 137
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