The Melodramatic Imperative: Television's Model for Presidential Election Coverage
Mark B. Hovind
In the 19th century, classically trained dramatists were horrified at what lay before them: the melodrama--the ill-conceived, semiliterate creation of hack journalists--was undermining the classical theatrical world. Works such as Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street ( Booth, 1965) now replaced Gioacchino Rossini Barber of Seville, changing theater forever. What had been the traditional bastion of taste, quality, and erudition had been overrun by the hoi polloi: When faced with the Faustian decision between culture and commerce, the theatrical community chose the latter.
What was conceived in the 19th century has taken root and thrived in the 20th century, courtesy of the cultural touchstone--television. With little doubt, television has become the vortex for cultural development ( Patterson , 1993; Postman & Powers, 1992). Its power lies in its ability to mesmerize its audience, who, like the hoi polloi who marveled at Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, now grapples with the latest doings of Saddam Hussein, the Butcher of Baghdad. However, where journalists of the past created melodrama for theatrical purposes, modern-day journalists now use the theatrical practice of melodrama in presenting reality ( Altheide, 1976; Burke, 1967; Nimmo & Combs, 1990; Weaver, 1976). There is a notable difference of intent. In the past, journalists created melodramas as works of fiction. Today, melodramas are created as works of fact ( Davis, 1992; Dennis, 1993; Epstein, 1975; Graber, 1989; Parenti, 1992).