A PERFORMATIVE MODEL OF THE TELEVISION MESSAGE TRANSMISSION SYSTEM
In this chapter, I turn my attention momentarily away from the community to communication. The question is whether television, as a message system, can be subjected also to naturalistic observation which will reveal something about the relationships between the people involved in its production, transmission and viewing. This search for a novel description of television is not occasioned by an over-zealous methodologist alone. First, it is necessary to develop a common language which allows for the interpretation of television as a system which can be related to the interpretation of the community as a system. But the current situation in mass communications research is one of competing paradigms and models for the description of
television and its social influence and use. It become particularly necessary in such a situation to survey some of the major research traditions as a preface to any independent contribution.
Competing Theories Of Meaning
The ways researchers look at communication systems may seem bewilderingly diverse. Certainly different terminologies are used, and it is useful to consider the differing assumptions that underlie these. For the purposes of this chapter, it will be most useful to distinguish the different models in terms of where meaning is assumed to reside in each. The review of the literature will be organized as evolutionary tree of modern American mass communications research, followed by attention to some helpful studies which have not been incorporated into mainstream approaches.
I will suggest that the conceptualization of mass media as a transmission of messages from
senders to receivers characterized the first generations of modern research. This conceptualization was realized as "administrative" research when applied to international development, and as "effects" research when applied to domestic issues. By the late 1960's, similar criticisms were directed at both applications. In international studies, such criticism gave rise to research based on historical materialist models. Meanwhile, American researchers developed "Uses and Gratifications" perspectives. Some of these researchers then took the further logical step to phenomenological and interactional sociologies, implicit in audience-centered social psychology.
For contemporary scholars deeply involved in the distinguishing characteristics and contributions of their original approaches, this simplistic perspective may be suspect. But I believe it will aid in identifying some underlying contradictions in contemporary mass communications and identifying their sources.
I will conclude the first part of this section by suggesting that the criticisms of the administrative and effects perspectives did not
probe deeply enough into the sender-receiver assumptions. This may be more clear with respect to practice, than theory, which will help to explain why theories arising from equivalent criticisms of equivalent assumptions generate contradictory and mutually exclusive propositions. The resolution demanded requires a reconceptualization of people socially engaged in producing meaning. Semotics and ritual models will then be explored for their capacity to provide such a resolution. The concluding section of this chapter will offer an original conceptualization of the television message system as a socially organized cybernetic relationship between participants, messages and settings engaged in the production of media texts.
The Dominant Paradigm
The "dominant paradigm" associated with the classic studies of the first generation of mass media studies involved what Lazersfeld called "Administrative Research." (1) This label referred to the institutional pressures which influenced the
early work, the intention of getting information from small elites to large publics (or producers to consumers). As McPhail notes in his excellent summary of the American research tradition, (2) this paradigm grew out of a concern to measure the effectiveness of particular messages by determining, usually experimentally, the responses of a sample audience. The mode of measurement, as well as the experimental protocols, were borrowed rather directly from behaviorist social psychology. The model of communication implicit in much of this research was some variant of the "Sender-Receiver" model formalized by Shannon and Weaver to account for the efficiency of telephone signals. (3) But the short-hand label, "S-R," reminds us of the psychological origins of this model in the stimulus-response model
The message, in such a what is evaluated is the of Skinnerean psychology. model, is a stimulus, and subject's response.
Ray Birdwhistell, one of the few anthropologists to devote himself wholly to the study of communication, characterizes this model in terms of a number of assumptions contained in the conceptualization of communicating humans as
stimulators and respondents. He determines that even if the Shannon-Weaver model may be very useful for understanding how electronic impulses move across wires, it tells us very little about how telephones are used by human communicators. For example, a telephone that doesn't ring may carry as much information as one that does. But that information doesn't reside in the wires, or the telephone set, but in the social, temporal and psychological setting itself. (4) Ultimately, Birdwhistell criticizes the sender-receiver model for assuming that meaning resides in messages, rather than in (or between) people. And indeed, if we consider content analysis, the most common adjunct to this model, the problem of assuming that meaning equals message becomes explicit.
The determination of the meaning of a message in sender-receiver (or administrative or effects) research often is made by a technique called content analysis. The classic formulation, by Bud, Thorp and Donahew still applies, although the techniques have been refined, notably by Krippendorf, Gerbner, as well as the original authors. (5) As originally described,
Content analysis usually involves six stages. First, the investigator formulates the research question, theory and hypothesis. Second, he selects a sample and defines catagories. Third, he reads (or listens or watches) and codes the content according to objective rules. Fourth, he may scale the items or in some other way arrive at scores. Next, if other factors are included in the study, he compares these scores with other variables. And finally, he interprets the findings according to appropriate concepts or theories. (6)
There are several problems with this approach from the perspective of human social communication. The question of where meaning resides, and how it is produced, is essentially ignored by the emphasis on turning communication into discrete and quantifiable units amenable to hypothesis testing. Instead, one locates meaning in the message by reading, listening or watching according to "objective rules." The assumption is made that members of a rational audience will do the same. But there are a number of intellectual disciplines which occupy themselves with the question of how humans communicate, including linguistics and sociolinguistics, folklore and symbolic anthropology, as well as the social and
interpersonal communications fields academically quite close to mass communications. And in all of these, the received wisdom is that meaning cannot reside in messages alone, but must emerge as well with respect to the context of interaction in which the message is performed, produced and received. It simply violates our common sense to say that the same word, or action, means the same thing everywhere and everyplace. Birdwhistell notes, "There are smiles and there are smiles..." and that the right smile in the wrong place or time can get you into a lot of trouble. (7)
The limitations of the administrative and effects perspectives were not formulated in terms of meaning within the mass communications field itself. Rather, applications of the models to particular questions failed to achieve the desired results, producing a general reappraisal. Two major bodies of criticism developed, and a number of alternatives have grown from these. To understand these criticisms, it is worth reconstructing two crucial questions and analyzing the limitations that were revealed when they were investigated.
Research in International Media Development
The most debilitating failure of administrative research has been in the field of international/intercultural communications. In this application, the assumption that the same message will have equivalent meanings turns out not only to be patently false, but potentially dangerous as well. (8)
For critical researchers in international communications, the origins of administrative research designs in commercial marketing studies aimed at product dissemination became ideologically suspect when the democratic advantages of media development were not realized. Not only, it is claimed, is America interested in expanding its product market, but it also expands it research paradigm whose function is to preserve the status quo while privileging a power elite. (9) The criticism is extended to all behaviorist methodologies where statistical correlations based on normal curves imiDart social assumptions as well as a statistical one. McPhail notes, "These were eminently sciences for adjustment - essentially addresses to studying conformity with all the prevailing needs, aims, values and norms of the
established social order, so as to help the ruling system, to attain normalcy and to avoid deviant behaviors." (10)
The solution proposed by critical researchers is to consider the structural, organizational and institutional relationships to the mass media, as Halloran explains, within a sociological, rather than psychological model. (11) In practice, this typically involves research based on economic models of societies, drawn from revisions of Marxist historical-materialist analysis. Here, the concern is to discover how the
communication systems reproduce and reinforce the economic dependency of less developed countries
(LDC's) on more developed countries (MDC's). (12) The studies which emerge from such models tend to
abstract social meanings from economic data: the sources and uses of media supplies, hardware and
software. But how the correlation between society and media is reckoned depends upon what the researcher's social theory predicts about the relationship between the economic base and the sociological/ideological superstructure. Meaning, from this historical-materialist perspective
resides not in the message, or even in the public per se, but in the economic relationships which obtain in a given system of production (although research practice involves inconsistencies on this point). Presumably, television content has meaning only to the extent that it can alter economic relationships. And indeed, as Schiller has documented, the institutional context in which television is introduced to LDC's involves significant economic restructuring. (13) But the functions of media as symbolic systems, and the capacity for them to alter thought or behavior as a direct function of the transmission of symbolic
information remains problematic, despite theorizing by Gramshi, Lukacs and Althusser, (14)for example, regarding ways in which this might occur within a Marxist model. Jouet, for example, describes the unique circumstance of mass media's dual infrastructural and superstructural properties which he suggests demand qualitative study which, "...can lead to new theoretical inventions and a revision of the base-superstructure model in the consciousness industry." (15)But if, as some have suggested, historical materialism is itself a
product of industrial society, it may prove to be an inadequate tool for analyzing media in the coming "information age."
Commercials, by way of example, are thought to be more analytically significant than dramatic programs. (16) The latter are said to function essentially to showcase consumerist lifestyles, thereby creating demands for the products offered in commercials. The overwhelming questions of why "Dallas," "Gunsmoke" or "I Love Lucy" command huge international audiences is typically answered in terms of the emphasis on the higher production values and the manipulation of distribution channels and because they showcase consumer goods and values. Why an audience might find interest or value in some programs and not others, and how such response influences the evolution of dramatic forms are, as Schatz points out, important questions which require analysis but cannot be handled from a materialism perspective alone. (17) 1 believe this is a short-sightedness which risks reification of materialist ideology,
and may misrepresent at least some of the uniqueness of television as a medium, and therefore
misdirect both the questions we ask, and where we seek answers. Sahlins has pointed out that symbolic forms can influence relationships of production. (18) Because media traffics in symbols, we need to be alerted to possibilities other than those predicted by Marx.
The curious result of a narrow materialist perspective is that the bottom-up (materialist) model is operationalized much like the top down (administrative) model it criticizes. In both, the intention of the producers is privileged, and the choice and sense-making of the audience is underemphasized. Within the tradition of critical research, the complaint of insufficiency of data is now recognized by some as a problem of kind, not quantity. Halloran and Sarti both suggest qualitative data from media users should have high priority.
The American Response
A different solution can be observed in the American research community in response to a policy question of considerable concern throughout
the 1970's. On the domestic front, the S-R model was generally applied to the question of media effects, and its most thoroughgoing application was to the effects of televised violence on the behavior of children. Literally dozens of volumes, and thousands of articles were produced in an attempt to develop a definitive answer to the question, "What effect does the portrayal of violence on the television screen have for young
viewers? "Research was authorized by Congress, studies were well funded, privately and publicly, and reports widely distributed. (19) And while some of the principles in the investigation, like George Comstock could claim that the sum total of these presents a matrix of evidence for correlating violent depictions with anti-social behavior, (20) nothing like the kind of definitive answer sought was discovered. Contradictory findings, unreplicable results and even counter-studies began to suggest that the strongest predictor of the direction of findings might be the funding agent for the study. Although some researchers maintain that findings on violence and children were sufficiently strong, many others were
disillusioned. The equation of hard science, solid research and conclusive results was not realized.
Certainly, the industry policy did not significantly change, as it did when medical research sufficiently proved a correlation between smoking and cancer, for example. If one of the primary values of empirical research is to produce replicable results, this value was not realized despite enormous support for extensive studies.
In such an atmosphere, many of the assumptions underlying effects research, indeed the entire behaviorist protocol of the field came into question. It seems more than coincidental that new directions in research developed at about this time.
A number of significant articles appeared in 1973 in which Katz, Gurevitch (and Blumer) took quite seriously Shramm, Lyle and Parker's remark that,
In a sense the term "effect" is misleading because it suggests that television 'does something" to children-nothing can be further from the fact. It is the children who are the most active in this relationship. It is they who use television, rather than television that uses them. (21)
From these, and articles that followed later, emerged an alternative research direction in the "Uses and Gratifications" perspective. The theory was that media users were active in the selection of information and entertainment sources. Need gratification is not merely based on what is supplied (produced) but also by audience choice among various options. So research revolved around what functions the media performed in need satisfaction. The locus of meaning in the early research tended to be the individual viewer, and at least . originally, research protocols remained quantitative, empirical and experimental (or survey). The question was how the individual satisfied his needs by constructing meaning out of television. However, both field research and theoretical modelling associated with the uses and gratifications paradigm eventually brought the individualistic (and therefore psychologistic) bias into question.
In both the sociological and linguistic traditions, the construction of meaning is treated as a social process. Language, for example, implies a contract between its users. And among the more
recent sociologies (22) society itself is likewise conceived of as contracted between its members. In the strictest sense, therefore, meaning must exist between people, not within individual psyches (and I will develop this thought throughout my own modelling of the problem below). But this conceptualization has a profound methodological implication for a field whose research strategies and criteria for evidence are drawn from psychological behaviorism where the individual is the analytic unit.
A number of things are apt to happen in such a situation. The research horizon becomes unclear and all sorts of predictions for the future of the field are apt to be made. It is not my purpose to survey all of the recent, and interesting, developments that have emerged from the uses and gratifications perspective, but rather to describe some common problems and conceptual limitations still in terms of the locus of meaning.
Despite the uses and gratifications perspective privileging the viewer as the locus of meaning, the problem of the social nature of this
meaning construction resists appreciation by the psychological and behaviorist methodologies which, in many cases, still determine the testing protocol for the theory. Specifically, the individual, and his psyche, is still the analytic unit. Experiments, surveys, and questionnaires are analyzed with the intention of appreciating social conditions. But if meaning is shared behavior, then it is between people, in their interactions, that it can be studied. By remaining involved with a methodological predisposition that still isolates the individual from his social environment, meaning creation cannot be observed.
As long as the individual is conceptualized as distinct from his social life and his cultural tradition, individual surveys, interviews and self-reports are justifiable retrieval tools. But if a social theory is implicit in the uses and gratifications perspectives, demography seems to be its basis for for most researchers.
Phenomenology and Interactionism. One alternative has been to seek in phenomenological sociology an alternative social theory which may
still admit of statistical correlation/validation. (23) If reality is constructed by individuals, then conceivably, the sum of individual responses to a survey can be offered as the aggregate reality. The assignment of meaning remains in some sense an individualized matter, and social meaning can be analyzed summatively. Such a model still lacks any holistic perspective, or attention to what the preconditions, either of meaning, or of society may be. In its most extreme form, such a model denies that there is any meaning in the media message itself, or any rules for the derivation of meaning. This agnosticism of phenomenological been noted by British researchers, such as Harre, but seems yet to have been squarely faced by Meyer, Traudt, Lull or a number of other American researchers. (24) Surely, somewhere between the scylla of invariate meanings victimizing passive audiences and the charybdis of an interpretive free-for-all must be a model of mass media which respects both the variation of
interpretation and the possibility for negotiating common meanings and perceptions.
A 5ummary Comparigon of International and American Research
A curious contrast can now be noted between the uses and gratifications perspective and the international critical researchers', both responding the the inadequacy of the S-R model. The concern in international studies is that media messages are extensions of the idological structures of the exporting country. By
implication, the meanings of the media are all too well understood by viewers in many different cultural settings. (25) By contrast, the uses and gratifications scholars would dispute this (if epistemological consistency were at stake)by privileging the differences in the viewers, and their varying capacity to construct varying meanings. It should be apparent, however, that these differing perspectives are extensions of the different assumptions made in the two perspectives. In the international criticism, it is based on the Marxist (in fact, Leninist) conception of the
requirement for late capitalism to relentlessly expand its market. In the uses and gratifications research, it is an extension of the extreme relativism of phenomenological sociology, and its lack of an holistic social theory. That the two criticisms of administrative research and S-R models should predict logically contradictory hypotheses needs to be faced, and resolved. I submit the problem lies deeper than the criticisms reach, and that ritual models described below may offer a solution.
Ritual Models as Alternatives
A third stream of research, now emerging, treats media communication as a problem in socio-cultural ritual. In a helpful article by Robinson and Straw, (26) the ritual model is associated with European, and especially British researchers. Yet significant American voices contribute as well, notably Carey, Newcomb, Hirsch and most recently, Katz. (27) Carey sees the idea of transmission/transportation as the point of
departure. The traditional mass communications research models he claims are derived from the original concern to use media as a substitute for transportation. In a study of the telegraph, the pioneer electronic medium, he documents the substitution and extension of transportation systems to which the telegraph was originally applied. Indeed, he identifies deeper epistemological roots to this conceptualization, including theology and the evangelical uses of the printed bible which continue to enforce our notion of communication as a movement of messages between senders and receivers. (28)
Robinson and Straw identify the ritual model with semiotics, the study of sign systems. While this seems to be appropriate for a number of the British researchers, notably Fisk and Hartley, and recently Silverstone, (29) 1 believe this association may limit the full power of the ritual model. Semiotics is only one way of addressing ritual, and as I will indicate, tends to lead back to a rather literarily based concern with texts removed from their communicational functions. Some detail about the historv of
semiotics and its more recent critics is in order.
Semiotic Theory and Applications. Semiotics generally pays homage to Saussure as its progenitor. For him, semiotics would be a science "...that studies the life of signs in society.' (30) To do this, a distinction was advanced which divided the sign into signifier (message) and signified (meaning). one could choose to study the relationship between the two, which would produce an analysis of "parole," that is, speech as it is used in social life, or one could study the relationship between signifiers to produce an analysis of "langue," roughly grammar (there is a relationship here to Chomsky's familiar competence/performance distinction). (31)
The history of semiotics reveals that the study of speech remained elusive; although semiotics provided a vocabulary for talking about the relationship between words and meanings, it would be presumptuous to say that it was able to describe these scientifically. Considerably more mileage is apparent in the application of langue to the study of the internal relationships between
signifiers (intertextual studies, noted by Robinson and Straw) and to the relationship between signifier and sign (i.e., literary style. (32)
The failure of semiotics to appreciate ritual in the sense of lived, enacted, social performances has generated a criticism in precisely the field most concerned with ritual -- folklore. Ritual, and expressive performances of all kinds, have a long scholarly history in this branch of anthropology. A traditional and productive source of naturalistic data from diverse societies has always been expressive, ritualized performances. The retrieval advantages are clear-cut: events are focussed, usually begin and end with explicit, identifiable frames, and are highly enough structured to make the presence of an observer relatively unobtrusive. In traditional societies, such performances are often rituals proper, and express mythic contents. From the very beginning of anthropological fieldwork, the division of these events into mythic text on the one hand and ritual activity on the other has posed a problematic about the necessary relationship between the two. (33) Where the mythic content has been isolated, and
over-emphasized, the relationship between the text and the social context has become analytically difficult to determine. (34) An influential school of American folklorists has arisen which claims that mythic texts must be returned to their performed social contexts if the relationship of the ritual/myth to the culture is to be explained. (35)
Television meets the criteria of expressive, structured, recurrent performance, and therefore it becomes interesting to subject it to a folkloric analysis. (36) But it seems important to incorporate the prevailing criticism of textual semiotics to the application of ritual models to television research. otherwise, we risk involving ourselves in a very elaborate, and sophisticated content analysis which will not solve the fundamental question of the social usage and cultural meaning which now concern both communications researchers and folklorists alike.
Semiotics and Textuality
This problem may be clarified by
reference to textual semiotics' origins in the work of Vladimir Propp, the seminal Russian folklorist who may have been the first textual analyst to approach the problem of categorizing texts in terms of their internal structural elements as opposed to categories imposed externally to meet the classificatory passions of late Victorian folklorists and linguists. His criticism of the motif indices of the Scandanavian and German folklorists sound remarkably like the criticism raised here of the content analysts of television programming: "The majority of reseachers begin with classification, imposing it on the material from without and not extracting it from the material itself."(37)
Propp's solution, contained in his classic The Morphology of the Folktale, was essentially to invent what would become structuralist criticism. Although the particulars of his analysis of a hundred oral folktales are disputed, the methodological/theoretical introduction to that work has exerted a continuing influence on the whole course of the study of texts, from Saussure to Levi-Strauss.
By calling his work a morphology, Propp proposed a conceptual analogy to botany. "Morphology means the study of the component parts of a plant, their relationship to each other as a whole -- in other words, the study of the plant structure."(38)Such a study was to proceed from a rigorous empirical deduction. "In this type (of analysis) the structure of formal organization of folkloristic text is described following the
chronological order of the linear sequence of elements in the text as reported from an informant."(39) In its period (1920's)this formulation represented a significant expansion of textual analysis into a broader and more rigorous inquiry. The use of an informant and attention to the sequence of the tale was intended explicitly as a movement in the direction of a natural history and a lived context. But the intention was not
realized, and in fact was instrumental in keeping structural analysis text-oriented. Today, botanists no longer look only to the internal structures of plants to account for botanical forms; the relationship of the plant to its environment within an ecological system is also
required to explain morphology. Similarly, the isolation of the informants account from the performance setting is criticized as an inadequate boundary within which to account for the structure of folktales by contemporary folklorists cited here.
The same conceptual limitation mars Propp's further analogy to grammar. The components of the tales he wished to identify were likened to parts of speech, the "abstract sub-stratum, grammar," which is capable of explaining language and can only be abstracted if the right words are chosen for analysis.(40) So Propp searched for those elements of fairy tales which might reveal this hypothetical grammar, and called these functions. He identified these with character actions, "what a tale's dramatis personae do."(41) And from these actions he constructed a classification of folktales which remains controversial today. (42) But his linguistic analogy suffers from the same kind of criticism as his botanical one. This may be more familiar to the reader as the criticism which was directed at Chomsky's syntactical structures. These appeared to
offer the possibility of an exhaustive generative grammar of human languages, but were ultimately criticized for lacking semantic or pragmatic significance. The social, performative structures were not accounted for, and Chomsky retreated to a psycho-physiological reductionism. In essence, his exclusive emphasis on competence (langue) failed to provide insight into performance (parole). For those post-generative grammarians who wish to account for speech as it emerges in interaction, these psychologically based structures were inadequate; human discourse required new and different models to account for grammatical structures. (43)
Propp is acknowledged to represent the nearly application of linguistic segmentation to cultural artifacts.0 (44) as Robinson and Straw note. To the extent that his principles, his conceptualization of the problem and its solution shaped the field of inquiry that these authors claim, the limitations noted above apply as well to semiotic approaches to television. And in the case of television, these limitations seem particularly hard to ignore.
If we try to state a "Propp-position" regarding the morphology of the tele-text, an immediate stumbling-block presents itself. Not only does television offer the viewer an especially odd text from the literary standpoint -- riddled with commercials and programs and newsbreaks and all kinds of discontinuous structures -- but the viewer has several competing channels of such text which he typically shifts between while viewing. The ideal of a discrete, continuous text, isolatable for semiotic study, may be an artifact of analysis not remarkably different from the content analyst's creation of his "message" units. The "objective rules" required to create an analyzable text are both necessitated by the models, not by empirical observation of the phenomenon itself. I would claim that we need, like Propp counseled, to confront the television text on its own terms, to see what and where it is, and develop analytic models on that basis. And we have several generations of scholarship in biology (ecological models),linguistics (context-sensitivity; discourse analysis) and folklore (ethnography of communication) by which to
avoid some of the pitfalls noted above.
Holistic Antecedents in Media Studies
The attempt to grapple with a visual mass medium in its entirety as a socially organized system in which meanings emerge in performance has two pertinent antecedents that should be noted. Both, significantly, were influenced by anthropological participation, and neither, it seems, were incorporated into any mainstream of communications research.
French filmologists, of the Forties and early Fifties framed their "problematique" of film in holistic, systematic terms. The painful example of the use of film by the Third Reich propoganda machine justified the establishment of an interdisciplinary institute at the Sourbonne to investigate the social, political and economic influences of the media. While much of the literature produced by these scholars remains untranslated and unacknowledged (45), one significant distinction they generated has become familiar in academic criticism: the distinction
between film and cinema. Film, the celluloid artifact, was determined to be an inadequate source
for the solution of the problematic as the institute had posed it. What Metz called the "...vast ensemble of phenomena ... which intervene," from before the film, during projection, as well as outside it, and finally after the film as social, political and ideological impact, were conceived of as the "social facts" of the cinema of which film itself is only a small part. (46)The identification, description and study of all these
processes was advised, and some pioneering studies of institutions and audiences, notably by the anthropologist, Edgar Morin, were printed in the institute's Review. (47) The same kind of conceptual expansion from the analysis of the video artifact to the vast ensemble of influences on commercial television broadcast is prospet here for reasons equivalent to those the filmologists cite for cinema.
In the Sixties and early Seventies, Sol Worth at the Annenberg School confronted an equivalent problem when attempting to describe an experiment in cross-cultural film-making with
Navajo Indians. (48) Worth recognized that cinema could not be a simple mechanistic transmission of messages between senders and receivers where the efficiency of message replication served as an adequate critereon of communication. What his Navajo filmmakers thought they were "saying" with film was observed to be somewhat different from what an "objective" analysis of the film itself said, and certainly different from how academic Anglo audiences viewed it. Worth, sounding very much like the filmologists, suggested:
...that it is important to study film as an on-going communication process consisting of at least three interrelated parts. First, there are one or more filmmakers. Second, there is a piece of celluloid called film. And third, there are one or more viewers. Each of these three units, or parameters of the study, exists within a specific context .... It seems clear that research in this area must be concerned with the total process and with the social, cultural and institutional processes surrounding it. (49)
Worth described a "semiotic of film" which would "define film as a process involving the filmmaker, the film itself, and the film viewer ... which should allow us to describe within a common language the entire system within which filmic expression takes place." (50) This definition of semiotic clearly
falls within the intention of Saussure's "life of signs with society," but deviates from semiotic practice evolving from Propp. In fact, Worth devoted most of his subsequent attention to the filmic artifact, leaving the description and analysis of the social contexts of filming and viewing to his students. (51) But his point of departure, at least conceptually, is pertinent to the treatment of television.
Worth seems to have been influenced by his proximity at the University of Pennsylvania to Dell Hymes and his students who were, during the same period, developing a model for the "Ethnography of Communication." These studies incorporated the linguistic reaction to Chomsky, the performance folklorists' criticism of textual analysts and the anthropologists concern for natural historical observation (Hymes, nearly simultaneously, was president of the American Folklore Society, The American Anthropological Society and The Linguistic Society of America). The semantic and pragmatic goal of this model was to specify what an inclusive description of a performance event would require in order to provide
a data base from which to abstract the rules governing such performances in society. The model required roughly sixteen components, but these can be boiled down into the following minimal units of a performance event:
1) the personnel (senders, receivers, addressees, etc.)
2) the communicated content (linguistic and paralinguistic) as well as the codes, frames, genres and other features which structure the message and provide cues for coding and decoding.
3) the message channel/medium of expression
4) the performance setting in physical, social and temporal space (including the "speech community" conceived of as the socio-cultural context in which such performances are generated and appreciated). (52)
The model enjoyed considerable prestige for a generation of scholarship and produced particularly rich accounts of performances in many societies. (53) But despite several revisions of specific components, and increasing precision regarding their operationalization, the model apparently failed to achieve predictive power or specify the process of rule generation which might account for the dynamism of these performances in
social interaction. A kind of structural-functional lethargy set in. The problem seems to have to do with the difficulty of specifying and describing the speech community, according to Hymes' own evaluation. The speech community was conceived to be a community that shared meanings (or rules), and the conditions under which this occurred could not be specified other than to acknowledge that geographical
proximity might serve as the basis. I shall return to this conceptual problem a number of times,
because one interesting quality of television is that broadcast media have an omnidirectional,
aetherial geographical boundary, so that physical geography cannot be invoked to account for the
existence of a community of shared rules or meanings with respect to TV performances. Indeed,
this was central to the problem the Amarillo audience faced.
If I apply the definition of ethnography posed in the introduction, as a set of descriptive conventions, then these conceptual problems of communication ethnographies can be ignored for the moment. Hymes' model seems quite servicable for
simply descriptive purposes, and that is all that I will require of it here. My purpose is at the outset simply descriptive; I ask a similar kind of question to what Hymes asked of folklore performance: What components need to be described to form a basis for the analysis of the system of communication under observation? At this point, the properties of the message/text itself are not at issue. Rather, the ensemble of features which influence the text within the social/institutional context of this particular communication system require description. From Hymes, then the following descriptive components will be borrowed:
1) the agents (Hymes' personnel: performer, audience, the participant who is responsible at a given point for the message)
2) the location (the setting, in physical, but also social and temporal space)
3) the text (a general label for the content produced by an agent at a given location, without specifying its internal elements at this point)
4) the message channel/medinm (which will be conceived of as a constant -- that is, television)
I will proceed to simply follow the evolution of an imaginary message, content "X", through what we
know of the system of television. I will identify, as Worth required, each socially organized arena in which the content appears, and describe the influences which intervene, as Metz suggests.
The contribution that this exercise makes is to demonstrate that the content is realized as a different surface text each time the location and/or agent changes. The question of television textuality therefore requires the recognition of the relationship between these different texts. I believe that one of the applications of this model may be to resolve contradictions described between uses and gratification researchers and cultural homogenization theorists. The problem involves imprecision about which texts have what effects, and I will attempt to clarify the issue. Subsequently, I will consider under what circumstances this model can be operationalized as research designs capable of testing particular aspect of the model within the interests and requirements I have outlines for an anthropological investigation of TV tribes.
The Context of Television Message Transmission
It is conventional to begin a description of mass-mediated processes with the production of the message. In fact, as my model develops, the artificiality of this entry point will become clear and its implied linearity will be disputed. But beginning here has a common sensical advantage, and is consistent with the literature.
At its inception, a television message begins in someone's head, most likely a writer or a producer, and is translated into a treatment or a full script. For the sake of simplicity, we will treat this script as the initial Conceived Text, and call its agent the producer. Newcomb and Alley, Pekurny, Cantor and the forthcoming Newcomb and Alley (54) describe some of the operations of the conceived texts. There are apt to be a discernably number of participants in its creation, and one of the questions frequently raised is whether the notion of autuership, derived from cinema, applies to TV. The research identifies institutional and economic pressures which influence the evolution of story ideas. Commercials are produced in equivalent
negotiations. (55) A producer's success in selling his conceived text apparently will depend upon a
number of issues, not the least of which is how well he anticipates and manipulates institutional
constraints and the intentions of corporations which control access to the modes of media production. These constraints and intentions themselves have been an area of scholarly interest, and Schiller has defined these in national and transnational contexts. (56)For analytic purposes, it seems justifiable to take this entire ensemble of influences as a unit, so that the production script which is finally approved is the
entry point for the model.
When this script is approved, it goes into production. The production script itself will be transformed in response to a new set of constraints and demands. Capabilities of actors, unanticipated costs and inevitable delays of praxis, acts of God, illness, technical resources and programming pressures from other networks are examples of common interventions in production of the final program. The end product of this complex process may be quite different from what the
conceived text promised. We can designate this altered text, the videotape, film or live broadcast event itself as the Produced Text. The producer retains primary responsibility, although his supporting players have changed. The location is now neither in the mind nor on paper, but in a studio, where the film, tape or camera image is put into a mixing console. There has been considerably less scholarly literature on the intervention of production processes and constraints on the transition from conceived to produced texts. Descriptions such as Gans provided for news and magazine publishing, and Powdermaker provided for film (57) would help fill this gap. Otherwise, anecdotal evidence from notable actors and producers is often available, and some idea of the problems may be gleaned form introductory texts in television production courses. (58)
Television networks, by broadcast or narrowcast, create an evening of programming by taking apart produced texts, segmenting them temporally, inserting commercials, newsbreaks, cross-plugs, teasers, locals and so forth, and reconstructing from these a patchwork of new texts,
what Raymond Williams identifies as a "flow," and Newcomb and Hirsch designate as a "strip." (59)
This Transmitted Text is so remarkably characteristic of commercial television, that the tendency of many critics and researchers to ignore or disdain it (treating television as though it were film) seems a crucial oversight. While some content analysts have exempted themselves from this criticism by claiming the redundancy of television messages requires no particular attention to the format which contextualizes any particular message. (60) Levi-Strauss, however, sees in the peculiar nature of the transmitted text, an analogy to primitive myth-making structures:
This language with its limited vocabulary able to express any message by combinations of oppositions between its constituitive units, this logic of comprehension for which contents are indissociable from form, this systematic of finite classes, this universe made up of meanings, no longer appears to us as retrospective witness of a time when "...le ciel sur la terre Marchait et respirait dans un peuple de dieux," and which the poet evokes only for the purpose of asking whether or not it should be regretted. This time is now restored to us thanks to the discovery of a universe of information where the laws of savage thought reign once more: "heaven" too, "walking on earth" among a population of transmitters and receivers whose messages,
while in transmission, constitute objects of the physical world and can be grasped both from without and from within. (61)
it seems of particular importance therefore that we respect the characteristics of the transmitted text, acknowledge not only its unique structure, but recognize that its location is in the aether, and its agent, in a peculiar way, is electrons.
The model has now exhausted the traditional "texts" considered as messages by media researchers. When remarks are made about the content of television, when research is performed analyzing a text, or correlating the contents of TV with audience behavior, it is either the conceived, produced or occasionally the transmitted text on which research is based. But in fact, what the network airs is not what the viewer is most likely to see, unless his set only receives a single signal. The transmitted text is only one of a, surprisingly large and growing number of resources available to the viewer from which he may construct an individualized text. This also represents a unique property of the medium, and must be
The typical American home viewer has a minimum of four strips of broadcast text: three
Commercial networks and PBS. With cable, this increases to as many as fifty or more. Many of the
innovations in television hardware over the last decade are aimed at increasing these options.
While the viewer always had the channel selector, he may now have off-air sources (tape, disc,
computer software) and a remote control module to facilitate switching. As data on channel switching
becomes available from interactive cable systems which conduct frequent viewer sweeps, (61) it
becomes apparent that viewers are highly active in tailoring their own, personalized texts.
Naturalistic field studies are difficult to undertake in the home setting, for reasons already
described. But where such studies have been performed, it becomes clear that television is not
watched with the singular, specific focus that filmologists attributed to the cinema (62) and may
reasonably be assumed for theatre and literature as well. All sorts of social and individualistic
activities are likely to take place as well, so
that the viewer uses not only his television, but a variety of other non-televised activities to create an evening of home entertainment and information. These observations highlight the fact that in the case of television, the viewer is an especially important agent in the creation of a Received Text, which is located in the home.
The context in which the television message system operates, and in which texts emerge, can be described at this point as a series of four locations, involving three agents, and producing four texts:
To summarize, a producer conceives a message/text which is translated to a script. This conceived text is translated into action and recorded on film or videotape (or broadcast
directly) in the studio. This produced text will be demonstrably different from the original conceptualization, but also different from what gets aired. What is transmitted as text depends upon how the network inserts other messages in and around it. But what the viewer receives at home depends upon how he uses the multiple message channels simultaneously available to him, as well as what other activities he attends to. But the television communication system cannot stop here.
The tree, in effect, has fallen in the forest. Did it make a noise? For a message to have meaning, it must be interpreted. In fact, the television text as it is received in the home clearly presents a particular challenge in this respect. Several different narratives, message packages, stories or information segments interpenetrate and destroy the forward linear sequence which we associate with print formats and which are conventional in most film and theatre as well. We must imagine, therefore, a fifth location in which another text is constructed, the viewer's mind. Somehow, these sequentially disjointed messages must be reconstructed to produce a new
message which is consistent with the viewer's expectations for what texts ought to look/read like. Of course, this is true in any semiotic system; language is arbitrary. Its rules must be learned and its conventions observed for a speaker to operate in the discursive universe. How this happens is the central issue of semiotics. But without describing the entire history of linguistic or hermaneutic approaches to this issue, it is still possible to note that the received text seems to place an additional responsibility on the viewer regarding interpretation and sense-making. How do the receivers of these disjointed, interpenetrating texts reassemble them and cause them to make sense?
One solution is to recognize television's heavy reliance on older formulae for stories, narratives and genre, and the extreme redundancy of the programming itself. Schatz and Newcomb have both highlighted the tendency of the new bottle to contain old wine, (63) presumably to aid the viewer by keeping him instructed regarding rules for reading/decoding. From this base, TV can venture out into more novel presentation by particular recombinations of these formulae and by developing
also a self-referential system from which reflexive, especially parodic, commentaries can provide the basis of new forms. This is certainly a plausible approach, and accounts for a good deal of programming, as well as noting the rejection of programming which ventures too far afield. If we insist that cultural media work by enforcing shared meaning, then such hypotheses regarding the psychological processes involved in creating the Reconstructed Text that the viewer must somehow create in his mind, may solve the problem. But my theoretical orientation, and the data collected in the field projects dispute this explanation.
Natural historical observation cannot peer into the mind, or properly speaking, devise experiments to test mental hypotheses. Instead, consistency demands I consider only the observable conditions under which information may be processed mentally, and consider observable outcomes which might be associated with these. In this case, the conditions are 1) the message received and 2) the reception setting. Outcomes, considered later, include discussions people have about TV, play, imitation, sponsor boycotts or any other observable
activity which can be associated with viewing.
The received text has been demonstrated to have some remarkable qualities when compared to other expressive media. The combination of the fragmented text and the viewer's activity in channel switching and selective attention seem to differentiate television reception in degree, if not in kind, from other popular or mass media such as theatre, film or books.
The setting in which television is viewed, unlike theatre or film, is a private space, the home. Theatre is a social event where, as the filmolgists noted, considerable social engineering is directed towards the sharing of the viewing experience, and the interpretations may be cued and enforced by laughter, clapping, more subtle nonverbal behavior, as well as the characteristic intermission verbal chatter. While these social interactions cannot guarantee film or theatre will produce shared meanings, the combination of the singular focus and the social response cues certainly work in this direction.
Reading, by contrast, is like television, a private experience. Although language, and print
in particular, represent a more rigid and referential system than visual media. Recent "Reader Response" critics have come to question the assumption of the "correct," or privileged reading of a literary text. (64) In so doing, they have also questioned the proper role of the critic as privileged reader, and implicitly raised social scientific questions about print media not unlike those I raise here regarding television.
This combination of individually tailored texts and consideration of private settings, combine to threaten the conceptualization of television as a mass medium. Although McLuhan notes that mass media is in violation of Aristotelian logic in that the same thing is in many places at once, I submit that it is somewhat different things which are apt to be in many places. And furthermore, the sense that is made of these things may be quite different from setting to setting. Without further evidence that the rules for decoding visual texts are discrete, well-developed, and shared, the idea that different viewers are brought into electronic communion by their identical experience of television must be
rejected. The variations in the information available (the received text) and the variations in the private settings in which it is viewed, combine to suggest considerable variation in the constructed texts, across a population. The stories viewers tell themselves about the stories they have seen are more likely to be different than similar.
Yet we do share the experience of television. It provides for us a continuing topic of conversation,a model for play, courtship, behavior and imagination of all sorts. And when we re-tell last night's episode of "Dallas," or a play-by-play experience of "Monday Night Football," we do so under the impression we have all seen the same thing. If, indeed, we have actually seen somewhat different things, how can this be explained?
I believe that the meaning of television is not established entirely in the viewer's mind during the reconstruction of the text. Rather, meaning is also negotiated in those social interactions away from the viewing setting when people talk about, act on or out, television. It
is as if the meanings established during viewing are somehow tentative, to be refined and confirmed in social life itself. This hypothesis has several significant implications for mass media research.
First, and I think most important, is that the capacity of the medium to homogenize the audience is limited to the extent that the social organization stratifies the public, bringing some people together and keeping others apart. The Russian linguist Volosinov suggested the same solution for the problem of meaning in language. Meaning, he claimed, emerged in inter-individual territory. Shared meaning was limited to those classes of society that interacted. (65) Across class lines, the same words could have very different semantic weight. If this is true for television, then an interaction between social structure and the medium is proposed which makes the effects of television on culture more diverse and conservative than other models imply.
Evidence to this hypothesis is readily available. Vidmar and Rokeach discovered that viewers with different attitudinal predispositions
"read" "All in the Family" in remarkably different ways. Some saw Archie Bunker as heroic and normative, and approved of his racism, while others enjoyed the program because they read Archie as a parody of bigotry. It was concluded that the program may reinforce, rather than reduce previously held but contrasting beliefs. (66)
Second, the implications for research are that a segmentation of the population based on social structure and personal association may reveal the parameters of interpretation of television. Vidmar and Rokeach lack such a model; attitudinal predisposition is a psychological construct. But if we apply Volosinov's observations and recognize the cultural stakes in associative organizations as well a the social stratification of the workplace, we may be able to identify arenas in which negotiations about television meaning occur, where commonalities of interpretation emerge and propose social boundaries which differentiate such populations from each other in social structural and perhaps cultural terms.
To accomplish this, we must propose a
final text, the Negotiated Text, whose agents are members of the public, and which is located in society. The identification of this arena and its description are an ethnographic problem solvable through natural historical observation. These, then, would be the TV tribes I have set out to discover.
An intriguing implication of this sixth text is that it includes not only the consumers (viewers) of media, but the produces as well, who in fact are also members of the public. Thus, the entry of the text into the public sector makes it available not only to the researcher, but to the producer as well. We have all heard producers claim that they design their programs to anticipate the public taste. We know, given the commercial structure of the American media industry, the producer's value to his sponsors is precisely his ability to do this -- to deliver an audience. But our linear models which begin with senders and end with receivers, fail to account for this claim. They don't explain how information gets from the public to the producer. Invoking Neilsen Ratings is insufficient, because they only tell us what is
successful, not why. But by completing the message system as this model does, the message of television now becomes circular and includes all of the participants in a collaborative enterprise which functions continuously through time to refine and evolve the overall structure while simultaneously producing specific texts. Some ancillary remarks regarding the systems properties of the model can, in an abstract fashion, account for these implications.
Systems Properties of the Textual Model
The model may be described as a systems model in which information is processed continuously and obeys the properties observed for cybernetic/information systems in general. The textual system processes information by moving it through six subsystems. In each subsystem, the information is altered due to the agents and settings which characterize a particular subsystem. New information may enter the system other than that input across the subsystem boundary. For example, the viewer reconstructing the text draws on both the aired resources and off-air situational
circumstances. Likewise, some of the boundary conditions are particularly "noisy," and transmission across boundaries may itself alter information. For example, the electronic transmission is subject to atmospheric interference; the producer's information about public tastes may be skewed. As a result, the system remains open and resists entropy.
The manner in which information survives in the system is, like in biological evolution, stochastic. New information entering the system includes both sought and unsought information, the latter being random information. The system selects from this randomness (as natural selection sorts out mutations) on the basis of certain discoverable rules which may include generic consistency, informational value, and, probably ultimately, size of attracted audience. But the significance in analytical terms is that in such systems, outcomes cannot be predicted and teleological arguments will not serve. The objective in the analysis of such systems is descriptive, to specify how the process works, what conditions govern the selection of information and
explain its transmission. But because the system is open, it cannot generate predictions because it cannot anticipate the random. This is one way to specify the purpose and limitations of research guided by the above model.
How can the preceding model's assertion -- that television meanings are negotiated in social life and thereby obey social structural boundaries in the creation of interpretation, meanings and ultimately cultural influences -- be tested? In what ways can the agents be observed in the appropriate settings? The research reports that follow are offered as solutions to these questions.
I have already suggested that the sixth text, the negotiated text, ought to be easier to identify and observe through natural historical approaches, as well as described ethnographically. The agent, members of the public, and the setting, social life, are both typical anthropological subjects. The problem, then, is to choose an
example where a researcher might be welcome and not inordinately obtrusive. This rules out certain arenas where we might suspect TV negotiations will take place; neighborly gossip, children's play, and other small-group interactions which pose particular, although not insurmountable retrieval problems.
During the last decade in the United States a number of formal organizations have expressed concern about television's impact on particular areas of social life, and have brought these to public attention in varying ways. These include newsletters, public forums and workshops, organized by such groups as the PTA, CTW, NOW, etc. An even more interesting kind of public activity has been undertaken by theologically-based organizations, especially those with limited constituencies. The National Federation for Decency, for example, seeks to bring attention to issues of morality in media by staging religious-based media events, and calling for various kinds of public protests over particular targeted programs or sponsors. In such cases, media issues may become lively and observable. The
setting of the first project (Chapter 2) was chosen because a NFD protest in Amarillo, Texas, created a situation where a large community was actively debating the meanings and effects of television in the public sector.
In one sense, I designed the advance protocol with a journalistic sense to discover the who, what, and why of the protest. This would be contextualized by an ethnographic description of the community based on direct but general observation, bolstered by what would be available in the public record. But in- terms of the psychological protocol through which this had to be justified, an exploratory design was formalized in terms of Selltiz's "Experience Survey". An experience survey is designed to retrieve information where little is known in advance about the phenomena and settings to be explored, and where a research design which imposes categories or analytic boundaries, predicts variables or tests hypotheses would be premature and likely to mask significant features. The technique is essentially a series of open-ended interviews regarding the subjects or activities under investigation with
people most likely to have information or to be involved.
An Experience Survey may provide some essential ethnographic data and is generally consistent with the informant technique used in anthropological field work. While interviews are indeed intrusions, it seemed possible to design the interviews around the very questions which the community itself was raising, and additionally to pay attention to observed and publicly reported events that seemed pertinent. Finally, research would be conducted both in the field and through literature and record searches to attempt to develop a model of the social organization and cultural character of the community in which these events were occuring so that a holistic framework would be available in which to situate these events.
The 1979 interviews attempted to answer three questions which were of explicit concern to the community at that time: 1) What programs are considered offensive by which people and why? 2) What action is appropriate to take with respect to offending programs? and 3) What are believed to be
the effects of offensive programming on the general public? These questions were abstracted from the newspaper reports and preliminary phone conversations with the principles of the controversy. They irrevocably tie the solution of the general research problem to the particular community issue, so that the relationship between religious values and institutions and broadcast media become highlighted.
In addition to these interviews (which are described in some detail in Appendix --), we conducted more structured interviews with a small, snowballed sample of local householders. The rationale for so doing was not to generate a statistical base for correlation to the community as a whole, but to discover to what extent the principles in the controversy were speaking for their constituents, as they claimed. But these interviews proved suggestive in their own right and provided impetus for some measures used in the second study.
The original conceptualization for the second study was to provide a follow-up of the original pilot and to ascertain what had happened
in the three intervening years. Because the exploratory study predicted certain outcomes of the media protest, these were to be checked against the historical facts, and accounted for. The processual emphasis of natural history seemed to require such expansion of the original, synchronic data base.
During the interim, the model of television textuality was developed and implied another level of analysis in addition to the interview/observation techniques. Would it be possible to identify the operations predicted in the movement from the reconstructed text to the negotiated one? And would the interpretations of television programming conform to (and thereby confirm) the cultural segmentation proposed in the first study, based on the sociological stratification realized in this community as church membership? Two additional data bases were retrieved in the second study: First, focus groups were led by the researcher in a number of different churches where the church members were encouraged to discuss media issues. These were compared to discover if the predicted differences could be
observed for different churches. Second, a relatively large (n.150) sample of people in the community were asked to monitor and describe an hour of television viewed at home. These descriptions were sorted by church affiliation and were analyzed in terms of a textual coding developed as part of Newcomb and Hirsch's Cultural Forum project described in Chapter Four. The purpose of this procedure was not to test the validity of the Newcomb/Hirsch coding scheme, but to provide a source for comparative measurement which seems more sensitive than content analysis. Because the community resisted demographic questions, agreeing only to supply essential descriptors and church affiliation (for reasons described also in Chapter Four), no comparison between the strength of the theological affiliation variable and more familiar predictors can be advanced. But even more pertinent limitations should be noted.
Such a field experiment stretches the requirements of natural historical observation, as I have presented them. Frankly, there are conceptual problems involved in claiming these
solicited descriptions reveal accurately the contents and qualities of the reconstructed text. The demand characteristics of the questionnaires themselves place an unusual and unnatural burden on the respondents. Therefore, the claims made for this aspect of the project will be carefully limited, and the analysis of the data will not be as thoroughgoing as if I were convinced that I understood the exact relationship between what is on those pieces of paper and what is in people's heads when they reconstruct TV. That the participants seemed to enjoy the exercise and that it produces a provacative data base may be the extent of the justification for this survey.
In this chapter, I have presented several ways that mass communications researchers conceive of and therefore analyze television. The main streams are aptly described as transmission models on the one hand, and semiotic on the other. While agreeing to the semiotician's criticism of the transmission model's failure to appreciate the influence of the complexities of text in the
creation of meaning, I agree to the transmission scholar's criticism that textual critics lack a model of communication which will account for the social relationship between message producers and message consumers. The solution I pose is based on the work of performance folklorists, especially Del Hymes' "Ethnography of Communication". While this has not been applied to mass media heretofore, similar approaches can be recognized in the work of the French filmologists and in Sol Worth's Navajo project, both of which treat film communication.
Based on Hymesian principles, and taking cues from Worth and Filmologists, a model of television's transmission context is developed respecting the notion of texts in context. An imaginary text "X" is followed through a round of transmission, noting the socially organized settings in which different agents become responsible for the creation and maintenence of the text. It is discovered that in the case of television, at least six texts seem to be observable, and that the institutional and social influences on the text cause each successive text
to be altered in ways that cannot be predicted simply by reference to the preceding text in the chain. In addition, the texts appear to become more fragmented and varied as they move through the circuit, so that the notion of the mass medium whereby identical messages are shared by a large viewership is challenged in the case of television. This necessitates and highlights a final text, which is believed to be negotiated outside the physical setting usually associated with televiewing, but rather in the public, social sphere of daily life. Here, viewers are said to refine and corroborate their interpretations of what has been viewed. What is especially significant is that the boundaries of negotiations, and therefore the extent to which meanings and interpretations may be said to be shared, is coterminous with the social structures of the
society. Hence, different "classes" of people may share somewhat different ideas about what a given
TV text means.
A procedure for testing this latter assertion is designed and constitutes the original research for this dissertation. The research
problem must be posed in anthropological terms, because the social structures in which culture is transacted must be identified and tested for media use in a particular community. The requirements for such study, based on natural historical research models must be observed. A public protest, linked to the theological sector, in Amarillo, Texas, provided the opportunity for such a study. The field procedures, measures and protocols are described for two projects, three years apart, which are designed to solve the problems developed in the first two chapters of this dissertation.
The model of the television transmission system suggests that there will be considerable variety in the meanings attached to or taken from in the home environment, but that these will be mediated in subsequent social activities. Moreover, cultural theory predicts that within a cultural group meanings will be somehow more similar than across groups, and that this will be
reinforced by the tendency of social organizations to bring together people of similar cultural values/traditions while excluding dissimilar ones. A follow-up to the original Amarillo exploratory study is designed to test these predictions based on the ethnographic knowledge of what constitutes social affiliation and cultural values in the Amarillo community described in Chapter Two.
Where possible, participants in the original study will participate in this follow-up. In addition:
Church Leaders: respondents: Rabbi, Methodist Minister, Baptist (independent) Pastor, Fundamentalist Missionary, Episcopal Priest.
Secular Leader: Chicano Community Leader (to compensate for the absence of Chicano Catholic participation).
Householders: Each of the church leaders and the secular leader will provide a constituency of 20 respondents to answer a questionnaire/TV log.
Public Meetings: each leader will be asked to advertise and support a public gathering for his
constituency for the purpose of studying/discussing television in a group forum.
Within the church/organization variable, comparisons will be made between interpretations of television advanced in the privately recorded questionnaire/log and the public sessions. Dependent measures may be expressed as:
1. Program viewed
2. Topics/issues identified in programs
3. Messages identified in program
4. Message approval/disapproval
5. "Extraordinary" and objectionable material viewed.
1. Leader Contacts/Questionnaire/Log Distribution
1. Phoned explanation.
2. Sample questionnaires and cover letters explaining research objectives sent with request for input into research design in the form of an open-ended questionnaire.
3. Site visits to leaders to deliver questionnaires and, where possible, to discuss the status of media issues and the outcomes of the 1979 sponsor boycott and subsequent media directed community activity.
4. Pick up questionnaire, where possible, in conjunction with church service which the researcher attends.
2. Community Meetings
1. Solicit participants through church leaders.
2. Meet in participating churches.
3. Introductory speech by researcher explaining the objectives of the research.
4. Solicit discussion about particular, especially highly controversial and/or highly approved TV shows.
5. Request identification from respondents by church affiliation.
6. Tape record session.
1. Separate questionnaires by program viewed/reported.
2. Code questionnaire/logs for identified topics, issues, noting extraordinary/objectionable labelling. code
messages and note message evaluation.
3. Analyze audio-tapes of community meetings for categories as above.
4. Summate responses in steps one and two by church affiliation. Compare frequencies of responses for each step by church; establish degree of varience and determine significance. Compare frequencies of responses from step one to step two for each church; determine correlation; establish significance.
5. Extract from interviews with leaders the course of events following from the 1979 protest. Check questionnaire replies for organizational membership and determine participation of any respondents involved in active media organizations. Reanalyze these separately for correlations.
6. Independently code, according to protocol established for "Television as a Cultural Form" model, topics, issues, themes and character relationships for each program. Compare with response categories used by respondents and determine congruency/discongruency with textual
In summary, the questionnaire requested that during an hour of prime time, if viewers happened to be watching TV, to write a summary of what they saw. Probe questions also asked the viewer to describe what they thought about what they saw, and to identify any especially provocative or unexpected or objectionable content. The analysis is aimed at determining two things: first, if viewers' replies would be more similar within church groups than across, whether what viewers saw and how they evaluated it would find consistency within groups, and to what degree; second, the degree of consistency or agreement
About what the programs were about, and how they should be evaluated, would be compared to the degree of agreement observed during a meeting where face-to-face discourse about television would involve a socially organized group. Note that the programs discussed in groups would be different than those written about in the questionnaire. This limitation was created by practical considerations surrounding the setting up of group meetings and the time constraints; it would be
desirable at the meetings to describe programs recently viewed. To accomplish this with several groups would have required several field researchers to conduct simultaneous meetings. It is, of course, possible that some programs are less ambiguous than others, and the consistency and inconsistency could be a result of different contents and/or texts. It was determined to set this problem aside, for the reasons noted above, but to recall it as a limitation, particularly if the data analysis left the question open.
The data were to be presented, and the analysis offered, within the context of the ethnographic description provided in Chapter Two, updated in terms of relevant changes in the status of community groups and leaders as revealed by the leader interviews. In addition, the public record, including television itself, would be observed and used as an additional source of descriptive data. The purpose of this phase of the study is to reassemble the text and the social context to account for the meanings that emerge in the community which are attributed to television, and to discover whether the model of the society and
its values and the model of television and its messages adequately combine to describe the situation in Amarillo.
1 Lazersfeld, P., 1941. "Remarks on administrative and critical communication research." Studies in Philogophy and Social Science 9: 2-16.
2 McPhail, T., 1981. Electronic Colonialism. Sage, Beverly Hills, Chapter 3, "A misguided start: the media and development research traditions." pp.61-88.
3 Shannon, C. and W. Weaver, 1949. The Mathematical Theory of Communications, The
University of Illinois Press, Urbana. There are many useful applications of this model, but its
applications to the behavior of people, rather than of information per se, is objected to here.
4 Birdwhistell, R.L., 1970. Kinesics and Context, The University of Pennsylvania Press,
Philadelphia. In fact, Birdwhistell in Chapters 1, 11, and 15 takes off from a point apparently raised
by Bateson in a similar criticism of a quote from King Lear, "Nothing will come of nothing." Bateson
uses the example of the larval tick who waits for the absence of an animal to fall from tree to
ground. "In the world of information ... the complete absence of an indicative event can be a
message." (Mind and Nature, p.50).
5 Krippendorff, K. 1980. Content Analysis: an introduction to its methodology, Sage, Beverly Hills. Gerbner and Krippendorf, 1969. The Analysis of Communication Content, Wiley, New York. See also Rosengarten, E. 1981. Advances-in Content Analysis, Sage, Beverly Hills.
6 Budd, R.W., R. Thorp and L. Donahew, 1967, Content Analysis, MacMillan, New York, P.6-
7 Birdwhistell, op.cit.,
8 The Danger, McPahil notes (op.cit.) was
realized as successive failures of the administrative perspective and top-down models to meet the objective of increasing opportunities for development in a democratic fashion. Instead, communication development on this model led to further dependency and greater economic segregation in countries where it was applied.
9 McPhail, op.cit., pp.68-74, where various researchers' conclusions, including Rogers, Schramm and Sharp, as well as critical researchers are cited. This represents a fairly widely held evaluation and may be found throughout the critical literature.
10 Ibid. p. 70. McPhail quotes Beltran, 1976 ("Alien premises, objects and methods in Latin
American communication research." p.121).
11 Halloran, J., 1981. "The context of mass communications research." in McAnany, E, J. Schnitman, N. Janus. 1981, Communication and Social Structure. Praeger, New York, pp.21-57, "A theory
of society is necessary --on this perhaps many of us can agree. But what theory?" p.50.
12 A variety of designations have replaced the developed/underdeveloped labels, including North/South, center/periphery, dominant/dependent, and developed/developing. McPhail uses LDC and
13 Schiller, H., 1976. Communication and Cultural Domination. International Arts and
Sciences Press. White Plains, New York.
14 Althusser, L., 1971. "Ideology and the state" in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays,
discusses the idea of the Idological State Apparatus (IAS), where the "internal contradictions
of capitalism," are expressed. Gramschi earlier proposed the idea of hegemony, whichhas been
broadly applied to cultural expansionism (1971, "Structure and Superstructure" in Prison
Notebooks, (1929-1935), International, New York.) and Lukacs revision of the base superstructure
relationship, while not cited as extensively in communications research, has affected cultural and
literary marxist studies and has been criticized by Sahlins, as will be noted below.
15 Jouet, J., 1981. "Review of radical communication research: the conceptual limits." in
McAnany, et al, op. cit., pp.100-101.
16 "Mass communications are structured as advertising channels .... Galbraith (1958, The
Affluent Society) argues that the mass media create artificial needs that are satisfied by association
with the advertised product." See also Valdez, 1982. "The economic context of U.S. children's
television," in McAnany, et al, op.cit., p.149. "Advertising, rather than of 'only incidental'
connection with the media, is a major force shaping the very form and contents of today's mass media. Any attempt to describe their character without reference to the role of advertising is both
unproductive and misleading." and Janus, N. "Advertising and the mass media in the era of the
global corporation." in McAnany, et al, op.cit., p.288.
17 Schatz, T., 1983. Television Ritual, (working title) Oxford University Press, New York,
18 Sahlins, M., 1976. Culture and Practical Reason. The University of Chicago Press,
19 "Television and Growing Up: the impact of televised violence, a report to the Surgeon
General from the Surgeon General's Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Violence,"
(1972)is the official citation in the FCC "Report on the Broadcast of Violent, Indecent and obscene
Material, "19 February 1975 which is the official policy statement (FCC 75-202 30159).cited
elsewhere as Rubinstein and Comstock, Television and Social Behavior (1972). It represents a
compendium of studies. Included, was continuing research by Gerbner and Gross, "The Violence
Profile," published annually in the Journal of Communication; it continues to exert influence and
has become controversial.
20 Comstock, G., 1980. Keynote address, National workshop on Children and Television,
Washington. These claims were made precisely because the evidence is conflicting. The dispute
is more clearly described in Hirsch's article in Communication Research 7:4 and 8:1. With the
forthcoming publication of Gerbner, G, L. Gross, M. Morgan and N. Signorell's book summarizing their
15 years of research on violence, we can expect a rather distinct public debate.
21 Katz, E. Blumler, J. and M. Gurevitch, "Utilization of mass communication by the
individual." in The Uses of Mass Communication cite this quote from Schramm, W.J. Lyle and E.B. Parker, 1961, Television in the Lives of Our Children. Stanford University Press, Stanford. This Katz
article, along with Katz, E., M. Gurevitch and H. Haas (1973)"On the use of media for important
things," Am. Soc. Rev. 38:2, represent perhaps the most influenctial early formulations of the Uses
and Gratifications perspective.
22 Berger, P. and Luckmann, 1967. The Social Construction of Reality Anchor, Garden
City.is a seminal text, as are Goffman's works. Dreitzel, H. (ed.) 1970. Recent Sociology, No.
2: patterns of communicative behavior, Macmillant New York, has also been an influential collection.
Paul Traudt has compiled a most useful bibliography on the subject.
23 I believe there is a readily available misreading of the sociological phenomenologists which implies that if there is no prior reality, then reality can be the sum of people's perception of it, and a conception of "normative reality" can be produced through correlation. A number of effects researchers who have graduated to a social-interactionist, model continue to use essentially the same scales and correlations for
the new work as they did for the old.
24 Harre, R.,1978. "Accounts, actions and meanings: the practice of participatory psychology." In Brenner, M., P. Marsh, eds. The Social Contexts of Method. Croom Helm, London, pp.46-65. (The entire anthology devotes itself to
the epistemological limits of the new sociologies, and is worth attention by American researchers.) Lull, James, 1979. "Theoretical approaches to ethnographies of mass communications." (unpub.: ICA meetings, Philadelphia, 1979). Meyer, T., P. Traudt, J. Anderson, 1981. Non-traditional mass communications research methods: an overview of observational case studies on media use in natural settings." in Nimins, ed., Communications Yearbook No. 4, Transaction Books, New Bronswick, pp.261-276.
25 Lee, C. 1981. Media Imperialism Reconsidered, Sage Beverly Hills.
26 Robinson, G., and W. Straw, "Semiotics and communications studies: points of contact." in
Voight, M. 1982, Progress in Communication Sciences, Vol. 4.
27 Carey, J.W., 1975. "Communication and Culture." in Communication Research 2:2, 173-191; Carey, J.W., and P. Hirsch, eds., 1978. special issue, Communication Research, 5:3; Newcomb, H. 1978 "Assessing the violence profile studies of Gerbner and Gross: a humanistic critique and suggestion." Communication Research, 5:3 pp.264-281; Katz, E., and T. Szecsko, eds., 1981, Mass Media and Social Change, Sage, Beverly Hills. Katz has recently been working with live broadcasting as ritual event.
28 Carey, J.W. "Technology and ideology: the case of the telegraph." in preparation, 1982.
29 Fisk, J., and J. Hartley, 1978. Reading Television. Methuen, London; Silverstone, M., 1981. The Message of Television: Myth and Narrative in Contemporary Culture. Heinemann Education Books, London.
30 Saussure, F. de., 1966. Course in General Linguistics. Baskin, W. trans. McGraw Hill, Toronto, p.16.
31 Chomsky, N., 1957. Syntactic Structures. New York, Humanities press; also, 1955, "Logical syntax and semantics: their linguistic
relevance." Language, 31, pp.36-45.
32 Jakobson, R., 1960. "Linguistics and poetics." in T. Sebeok, ed. Style in Language. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp.350-377.
33 This is widely discussed (perhaps Levi-Strauss dwells upon it most often), but there is a fair summary of the traditional problematic in Kroeber, A.L. and C. Kluckhon, 1952, "Culture: a critical review of concepts and definitions." in Papers of the Peabody Museum 47:1, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
34 In essence, the idea that morphologies might be described and a formula for myth qua myth, as Propp intended (discussed later in the chapter) did not produce the expected results.
35 Hymes, D.,1975. "Breakthrough into performance." in Ben Amos and Goldsten, eds. Folklore: Performance and Communication. Mouton, the Hague, pp.11-74; Abrahams, R.D., 1968. "Introductory remarks to a rhetorical theory of folklore." in Journal of American Folklore 81, pp.143-158; Ben Amos, D., 1972. "Toward a definition of folklore in context." in Parades and Bauman. Towards new Perspectives in Folklore, University of Texas Press, Austin.
36 Folklorists tend to prefer non-mass mediated performances, partly for analytic simplicity and probably for aesthetic reasons as well (if not political). I am aware of no "folkloric" proper treatments of television per se, although work by Sacks has included the telephone discourse.
37 Propp, V., 1968 (1928). The Morphology of the Folktale. trans. Scott, University of Texas, Austin, p.5.
38 Ibid. (author's forward)
40 Ibid., p. 15
41 Ibid., p.20.
42 Eagle, D., 1979. "Ballad Classification and Social Criticism." in, Brednich, R., 9. Arbeitstagung uber Forgen des Typindex der europaischen Volksballaden Protokoll. Ethnographisches Institude, Budapest, pp.156-173.
43 Chomsky, 1955. op.cit. Chomsky's "retreat" was to an hypothesized 'language center" in the brain in which the structural pre-conditions for linguistic syntax might be found. The pertinent question, as Sherzer points out (course notes, Ethnography of Speaking, University of Texas, Fall, 1974) is not whether such a center exists, or even the reductionism it implies. Rather, the very idea that the aspects of language which concern Chomsky are the invariate psycho:physiological constants removes his study from the social uses of language where variability, multi-purposeness, are what makes language socially useful. Sherzer saw performance, discourse and ethnographic concerns in linguistics as a direct reaction to the narrowed Chomskian scope.
44 Robinson and Staw, op.cit., p.8.
45 Lowrey, E., 1982. The Filmologists unpub. Doctoral dissertation, The University of
46 Metz, C., 1974. Language and Cinema. trans., Donna-Jean Umiker-Sebeok, Mouton, the
Hague. Metz and other French film critics have been deeply influenced by the filmologists.
47 Some of Morin is currently being translated for American publication, including his diaries with Rouch during the filming of "Chronicle of a Summer." (University of Pennsylvania Press, in preparation). The central books, Le cinema ou l'homme imaginaire, (1977 (1956) Editions de Minuit, Paris) and L'homme et la mort (1977 (1951) Editions de Seuile, Paris) remain untranslated. Some articles, including "Autocritique" (1959) for example, are available outside of their original communications context (in Caute, D., 1964, Communism and the French Intellectuals, 1214-1960.
MacMillan, New York.
48 Worth, S. and J. Adair, 1972. Through Navajo Eyes. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
49 Ibid. p. 36.
50 Worth, S., 1969, "The development of a semiotic of film." Semiotica 1:3, p.283.
51 Richard Chalfen, the research assistant on the Navajo project, subsequently wrote his
dissertation (University of Pennsylvania, 1974, unpub.) on the application of the Navajo model to
three groups of Philadelphia high school students. In this research, Chalfen paid particular attention
to how different groups organized socially in the making, editing and viewing of the film.
52 Hymes' actual components were: message form, message content, setting, scene, speaker (or
sender), addressor, hearer (or receiver or audience), adressee, purposes-outcomes, purposes-goals, key, channels, forms of speech, norms of interaction, norms of interpretation, and genres. (1972, "Models of the interaction of language and social life." in Gumperz, J. and D. Hymes, Directions in Sociolinguistics: the ethnography of communication. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York., pp.35-71. I would have no
objection to expanding inquiry into the more elaborate taxonomy; the problem is logistical. Telecommunication is a highly complex system; a few "central" components seem adequate to begin with.
53 Gumperz and Hymes (see note above) include several examples. Labove's work with black speech has perhaps been the most influential (1966, The Social STratification of English in New York City. Center for Applied Linguistics, New York; 1972, Sociolinguistic Patterns. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.)
54 Newcomb, H. and R. Alley, 1982. "The producer as artist." in Ettama, J. and D. Whitney, Individuals in Mass Media Organizations. Sage, Beverly Hills. This chapter is part of a
forthcoming Oxford Press book by the authors, of the same title. Pekurny, R., 1982. "Coping with television production." in the same Ettama and Whitney collection. Cantor, M., 1971. The Hollywood TV Producer: his work and his audience. Basic Books, New York.
55 Arlen, M. 1980. Thirty Seconds, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, New York.
56 Schiller, op.cit.
57 Gans, H., 1979. Deciding What's News. Pantheon Books, New York. Powdermaker, H., 1950.
Hollywood, the Dream Factory, Little, Brown. Boston.
58 It is interesting that a standard work is by the head of a major network's research department (Wurtzle, A., 1980. Television Production.)
59 Williams, R., 1974. Television: Technology and Cultural Form. Collins-Fontana, Glasgow. Newcomb and Hirsch, 1981. "Television as a cultural forum." proposal to the Markle Foundation).
60" ... our message system analysis finds such general features as demography, action structure, and fate of characters to be similar in most program types. Therefore, it is these general featuresrather than specific programs, that would be likely to cultivate the most pervasive perspectives..."Gerbner, G., L. Gross, M. Morgan and N. Signorelli, 1982. "Charting the mainstream: television contributions to political
orientations." Journal of Communication, Summer, 1982.
61 While with the Southwest Laboratory, the interactive system at "the Woodlands," a community
outside of Houston, Texas, made available an hour of sweep readouts to us. While the channel choices
were summative, and individual switching behavior couldn't be described, within each 5 minute sampling, even these collapsed figures indicated significant switching.
62 The filmologists were particularly interested in how theater audiences, ushers, the entire social and physical setting influenced individual viewing and turned it into social activity. I suspect the difference in how we view TV in terms of the setting in which it is watched may significantly effect the capacity to bring critical approaches based on film directly into television studies.
63 Newcomb,H. ed. 1974. TV: the most popular art. Anchor Doubleday, New York. Schatz, op.cit.
64 Tompkins, J. ed. 1980. Reader Response Criticism. Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore.
65 Volosinov, V. 1973 (1923). Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. trans., Matejkah and Hunik, Seminar Press, New York. A truly revolutionary book, which was lost for half a century due to Stalinist purges.
66 Vidmar, N. and M. Rokeach,
1974. "Archie Bunker's bigotry: a study in selective perception."
Journal of Communication 24:1, pp.36-47. Note the psychologism
that attributes differential meaning to selective perception."
Other evidence, such as Neuman, 1980. "Television and American
Culture: the mass medium and the pluralist audience." (unpub.,
Yale University) does not reduce the interpretive pluralism thus.
Proceed to Chapter 4