Meanings of the Medium: Perspectives on the Art of Television

By Katherine Usher Henderson; Joseph Anthony Mazzeo | Go to book overview

Introduction

Katherine Usher Henderson and Joseph Anthony Mazzeo

Television has wrought perhaps the fastest transformation of American life in modern times. As James M. O'Brien points out in his essay in this collection, "In the seven years between 1948 and 1955 . . . television became what it remains today: the major consumer of leisure time for all segments of American society, the dominant medium for both news and entertainment, and the bestower of celebrity and notoriety with an unmatched swiftness and intimacy."

The transformation is not yet complete, for American television has in the past two decades entered a new stage of its history. The proliferation of cable channels has created an almost endless potential for viewer choice, while the introduction of the video cassette recorder has enabled programs to be preserved much as books are -- to be opened, closed, and experienced at the viewer's convenience. It is a crucial time for us to examine the past, present, and future of the medium, and to ask precisely what television and its programs "are" and what they "mean."

Our book differs from many others engaged in this task in its premise that scholars from the traditional humanistic disciplines can contribute substantially to this intellectual venture. Our authors are for the most part not experts in communications theory or mass culture, but literary critics, philosophers, rhetoricians, and historians. We are television watchers who enjoy analyzing what we watch. In this book we have used the intellectual tools and scholarly methods of our own disciplines to examine a series of related themes: the origin and meaning of American attitudes toward television, the relationship between "high" art and the popular art of television, and the relationship between particular kinds of programs and the sensibilities of their audiences. Each essay in

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