FOLLOW-UP STUDY: AUGUST, 1982
Some people, when asked why they live in Amarillo, reply grimly, "Everybody has to be somewhere." Others will point out that if you travel west from Dallas, Oklahoma City, or just about anywhere, this is where the gas gives out. Historically, there is more to these replies than mere cynicism. Amarillo emerged as a frontier outpost precisely because it was in the middle of nowhere, and Western travellers required someplace to stop and refuel or reorganize. For example, the Black community, we were told, exists because freed slaves travelling northwest from the old South, lacking a clear destination, tended to give up at about this point.
Today, people are migrating from the northern industrial states, the frost-belt. With a
solid employment future based partly on defense contracts, one of the lowest cost-of-living indexes in the state, and a median household disposable income in the $25,000-49,000 bracket, the city promises to be one of the most attractive magnets for the influx of northerners economically dispossessed from the industrial frost-belt emigrating to sun-belt cities.
Driving into Amarillo from the Southeast reveals a remarkably different landscape than the 1979 plane flight from Dallas. What appears to be a flat and featureless landscape is surprisingly well-cultivated. Sunflowers are a recently developed cash crop in this area, so that whole sections of the panhandle now display millions of golden discs pointed at the sun. Wildflowers color the roadsides, for this has been an unusually cool, wet summer. So wet, in fact, that flooding has devastated some better sections of town for the second year in a row. Old lake beds, shallow depressions periodically rain-filled that are typical of the southern high planes, have been surrounded by development. If the rains are unseasonably heavy, these lakes have nowhere to
drain, and simply overflow into adjacent neighborhoods. Much of the Paramount section was under water for the second summer in a row, and people are murmuring about whether the city council should resign.
Amarillo offered a number of surprises only three years after the first study. The news from the city on the national wires this time was again of a theologically based protest to technological impact. But now, it was the Catholic Church taking an activist position against the government. Bishop Mattheison has made an impassioned plea to Catholic defense workers at the Pentex armament plant (the city's largest industrial employer) to refuse, as Christians, to participate in the building of nuclear weapons. Such liberal sentiments are hardly what I had come to associate with Amarillo. It turned out, as might be expected, that his position was ignored or repudiated by some Protestant clergymen. Catholics are, after all, a small percentage of the population, mainly Hispanic, and therefore mostly poor, powerless and easily ignored. But to the extent that Matteison's statements may serve the
1980's nuclear freeze movement as Rev. King's did the civil rights movement, the national image of Amarillo may become quite different from the city where evangelical housewives lead pray-ins at TV stations. These and other differences I discovered between 1979 and 1982 in Amarillo are partly due to changes in the city itself, and partly due to changes in myself and my perspective. These differences expose inadequacies in the research design and conduct which caused the failure of this phase of the study.
The protocol for the study involved the use of questionnaires combined with community/church meetings to provide data by which to test two related assertions. First, I wanted evidence of the diversity of interpretation and evaluation of television across the population. Second, I wanted evidence of the negotiation of interpretations in social discourse organized by theological affiliation. The success of this procedure required that the high-level of public interest and expression in media problems which justified the 1979 study still exist, and also that the social structures of the community based on
church affiliation be essentially the same as they were in 1979. In essence, I required that the community not change, either in fact, or in my perception of fact. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Therefore, this chapter takes the unusual tact of reporting on an unsuccessful study. I believe there is potential value in such a report, however, and agree with those critics of media scholarship who see something wrong with the reluctance of most investigators to report anything but statistically significant results.
In the widest sense, it is difficult to claim an ethnographic failure. This is more than simply the pressures for deliverables in the context in which field research is authorized and funded. It is because from the holistic perspective, the failure of an expectation, properly considered, is itself data. In reporting on the failure of the questionnaire to elicit response capable of testing the model it was designed to, I hope to turn the failure to evidence for a more sophisticated approach to the conceptual problems at hand. In the failure of the community to respond to the meetings and to provide an
observable forum for the negotiation of television meanings, I hope to understand better what people are concerned with at the moment in Amarillo, and to pose a relationship to what concerned them in 1979.
This chapter will first consider therefore my expectations and perceptions in theoretical terms and contrast them to the research praxis. Then, the data elicitation procedures and the data retrieved will be described and analyzed, and the chapter will conclude with suggestions for how a study with equivalent objectives might be conducted in another setting at another time.
All the processual systems jargon in the lexicon will not guarantee that a less-than-diligent researcher will not revert to the structural/functional stasis from which systems models emerged and to which they remain in some ways related. It is quite difficult, no less since Gallileo's heresy, to believe that things really do
move or change. The case in point was my belief that an ethnographic description three years old would provide a sufficiently sensitive appreciation of contemporary social organization and activity to provide the basis for a survey of reconstructed and negotiated texts. Because the follow-up research depended for its anthropological reliability on the validity of community segmentation, it was critical that the model still apply.
The conceptual model of the community proposed in the second chapter was indeed a processual one. The outcomes of decisions made by participants and adversaries in the sponsor boycott were conceived to have real stakes, and the possibilities of social/structural change were admitted. The Evangelist, if she were successful in establishing her credibility and her constituency, would presumably be drawing both constituents and power away from other leaders and groups. The significance of church membership could c onceivably change. At the same time, Amarillo perceived itself as at a moral watershed in 1979, due partly to population growth. As the strong economic base attracted newcomers to the
city, and as the size of the community pushed towards the 200,000 population mark, a number of traditional features were perceived to be jeopordized. So it was in violation of the original model that the three-year interval between the pilot and the follow-up were treated as ethnographically insignificant.
Likewise, the model of television proposed in Chapter Three suggests process and change are likely to occur in the message system. Texts themselves will alter through new and random inputs, and at the 'same time, the institutional character of the medium itself is subject to change. Both things occurred during the three-year interval, and combined to create an impression of a changed situation in terms of value-orientation. First, there is a perception that network television has backed off from more explicit sexual contents and titillatios. Many of the shows mentioned as objectionable are no longer network broadcasts, i.e., "The Dating Game" and its spin-offs, "Charlie's Angels," "Soap," and "Carol Burnette". "Mork and Mindy" got married, Klinger hung up his dress. While Rev. Wildman continues
his activities, and in fact staged a boycott of NBC sponsors early in the summer, it received very little attention either nationally or, as far as I could determine, locally. A political split with moral majority leader Jerry Falwell, although variously reported and explained, certainly defused the issue for many "New Christians". Falwell is noted by a number of informants to have claimed the networks have responded to pressure, and that the moral situation of the media has improved.
Perhaps more significant regarding the media value issue has been the increasing penetration of cable. Amarillo penetration increased from 49% to 57% in the three year interval, and the number of -tiers of service increased from one to two, along with an increase of pay movie options. While cable was available in 1979, research was able to ignore the issue. Nor was it raised by the public. Television was perceived to be the responsibility of networks and local broadcasters. But today, the cable is perceived to be the offending medium; a number of householders reported absolute moral approbation when they discovered what cable provided,
especially HBO and the other movie options. "I had them come right down and pull the thing out the next day," one fundamentalist housewife claimed. It would appear, impressionistically, that the community accepts the FCC distinction between broadcast as a common carrier and cable as private enterprise. Because one has the option not to pay or install cable, the issue of its immorality is treated less publicly. Perhaps the Calvinist emphasis on private property and ownership is partly responsible for this distinction among fundamentalists. At the same time, the cable provides continuous coverage of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) at the first tier of service (along with only imported regional stations and three text services). If one chooses only the first tier of service with no movie options, therefore, Christian programming becomes readily available with little in the way of additional offense. The effect of all this seems to have had a defusing effect on the morality-in-media issue. And certainly, when the cable (i.e., HBO) and not the networks is the worst moral offender, the tactic of the sponsor boycott is moot. Cable is
technically in local control, and should the community wish to censor, its capacity could conceivably be expressed through elected officials placing direct pressure on the cable suppliers. No such attempts were noted, however, and while it would have been interesting to have observed the franchise agreement negotiations, it appears that like many other communities, Amarillo was largely ignorant of its power and options in the matter.
The combination of indeterminate change in the community structure and determinate change in the media diet and message system combined to create a very different atmosphere for the conduct of the follow-up study. A rationale of the 1979 study was that in a community actively debating media issues, naturalistic observation would be possible and people would want to participate in research. Data was anticipated to be readily available and could be efficiently collected; this proved to be the case 1979. As I will illustrate, by 1982 media was no longer a "hot" issue. Getting cooperation from community leaders and then from their constituents proved very difficult. Ultimately, I had to resurrect the issue for the
community, and as my attempts to do so became more extreme, I began to doubt both the justifiability of this study (and the naturalistic label) as well as the currency of the model of the community arrived at in 1979.
Part of this doubt was generated by a rather literal translation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which acknowledges that the position of the observer with respect to the observed will necessarily alter the observation itself. What this meant for the follow-up study is best appreciated in the distinction between living in one of the city's better hotels off the new interstate in 1979, and living in a motel on Amarillo Blvd. on the wrong side of town in 1982. The distinctions follow through in terms of the model car I drove in each study, the assistance or absence of additional fieldworkers (not incidentally females), differences in service in getting and sending messages both in terms of efficiency from the desk, and in the likelihood of call-backs. Not only was I unable to meet people at the hotel itself, but the weight of my own authority was quite different. As a doctoral
student working on my dissertation, my status was apparently perceived as less important than as a researcher for an educational laboratory funded by government contract. The distinctions were both in respondent's perception of me and in my slant on the city as a whole. What had appeared to be a well-organized, moral, affluent, conservative community from the south side of town now looked like a rather dangerous free-for-all. Police were common callers at my motel and were conspicuous along the Strip. The thousands of motel units designed to relieve servicemen from the extinct airbase from goodly parts of their weekend pay, as well as to encourage local tourism, were now housing a remarkable variety of lower-income bracket people who camped out along the Strip in anticipation of work from the steadily growing economy, or at least inexpensive living failing that. The sociology of these tribal motels seemed irresistible up close, but would have required a very different protocol than that with which I had come equipped. One culturological note worth mentioning, however. The Scottish Inn, where I stayed, housed a family of Thai natives who served
the city's best Cantonese food in a restaurant called the Aztec Lounge. Clearly, the notion of culture will take some rethinking in such a context.
The field schedule established for the follow-up appeared superficially similar to the original study. The intention was to conduct interviews with religious/community leaders who had agreed before hand to participate in the study. This prior agreement was solicited by mailings to 15 religious leaders. These mailings included a cover letter explaining the intent of the study, a sample of the questionnaire leaders would be asked to distribute, a suggestion that the researcher conduct a study/focus group with the congregation and a reply sheet to be returned asking for comments and suggestions on the study itself, and reactions to the questionnaire. In addition, all participants in the 1979 study were also provided with a personal cover-letter acknowledging the
researcher's appreciation for earlier assistance and recalling particular contributions the clergyman or his congregation had made to the study.
Of the 15 inquiries, only two were returned. The first seemed significant and useful, a missionary who ran a "Christian's Activity Center," coordinating activities for 63 different churches. This gentleman encouraged the study groups, but felt the questionnaire focussed on irrelevant issues while not providing enough space for containing the Christian concern over "immoral media". Recognizing in the rhetoric fundamentalist biases, and recalling objections raised by the Evangelist in 1979 to "humanist" scholarship, I revised the questionnaire, deleting demographic questions which might be construed as personal (i.e., income, education, etc.) and provided more space for evaluation, interpretation and objections to programming (see Appendix --). The revised form with a letter explaining the revision and my appreciation for the missionary's advice was sent, and began a significant relationship that was important to the study, as will be described below.
The second reply was from a pastor who had just resigned his pulpit. The reply not only arrived days before the field trip, but the pastor had misinterpreted the instructions so thoroughly as for the questionnaire to be useless.
When it became apparent that no more replies would arrive, I began a program of extensive follow-up calls. First, it soon developed that a number of participants in the original study had subsequently left town, including the Rabbi and the Catholic Priest. The new Rabbi agreed to participate, but the new Priest did not, and attempts to develop alternatives through the Diocesan office failed. It appeared that everybody was out of town, or moving, or unavailable this summer. In two cases, the First Methodist Church and an Independent Baptist Church (which was particularly active in moral majority issues), the assistant pastors agreed to cooperate. By contrast, the First Baptist minister, so valuable in the first project, remained remarkably unavailable, and repeatedly was out of his office and left ambiguous messages with his secretaries, despite personal follow-up letters and calls. The
Evangelist was out of town, on a Billy Graham crusade, I was told. Later, when she returned, she did not return my call. The other significant participation was developed through the Episcopal Church. But since the pastor of the major congregation would be on vacation, I was referred to the pastor of a smaller congregation on the outskirts of the city. The Black Baptist minister neither replied nor could be reached, either at home or through the church.
The original intention, to field a hundred questionnaires to five denominations now seemed jeopordized. However, out of the Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist Independent and Jewish groups, a worthwhile sample still seemed possible. The most serious omission seemed to be the Chicano, Catholic community, and it was hoped, and it developed, that a solution would be worked out in the field.
Upon arriving in Amarillo, I proceeded to arrange meetings with each of the church leaders, and with the missionary, along lines similar to the original study. My research questions were more limited, however. I wanted to explain the research and my expectation of variance in interpretation,
to develop an idea of each church, its membership and its ideology, and to listen to the respondent's own views of media. I was particularly interested to hear what had happened to the Evangelist, her protest and the morality-in-media issue in Amarillo as a whole.
Of the four church leaders, only one meeting produced an interaction anything like the extended dialogs that characterized the interviews of the first study; this was the Episcopal Priest. The Rabbi, while cooperative, had just arrived in Amarillo within the month. Not only was he especially busy, but he was unfamiliar with the setting and understandably hesitant to offer opinions and interpretations of his new community. The other church leaders were both assistant pastors and perhaps were reluctant to speak for the church as a whole or to act in particularly
assertive ways. Both these meetings were quite brief and revolved around distributing, and then collecting, the questionnaires. The most extensive interview, in fact, was with with missionary. As our meetings recurred during the ten day field trip, it is more accurate to speak of him as an informant in the traditional ethnographic sense than as an interviewee. Therefore, our interaction will be described in a separate section.
The interview with the Episcopal Priest was the first meeting I had in Amarillo and proved very useful. The conversation lasted over an hour and a half in his comfortable study on the Saturday afternoon of my arrival (the ten day field trip was designed to include two Sundays to facilitate distribution and collection of the questionnaires). The conversation began by my description of the project, based first in the findings of the 1979 study. I was explicit regarding what I expected to find in terms of interpretive consistency within church groups (and while this might be considered objectionable in a non-reactive protocol, it seemed unlikely that an opportunity for respondents to cross-check replies would be possible.)
The Priest then described his congregation as a small one (approximately 150 families) which had split from the major Episcopal church because they grew "tired of the tea party set". Their particular fellowship developed from a weekly covered dish supper where their responsibility to the community was a major topic of discussion. They began to minister actively to the poor and minority neighborhoods and to look for a church site in these areas. But an endowment became available, including land and building funds on the Western edge of th city, which in fact borders the more expensive neighborhood. The present church stands here, and is about two years old.
It seemed, therefore, that this congregation might in many respects prove equivalent to the Unitarian congregation in terms of demography and values, and the unavailability of that congregation might be compensated.
Two additional areas of probing involved information on the Evangelist's media activities and a discussion of the Catholic Bishop's anti-nuclear arms position. The Priest
confirmed that the Evangelist had not continued the media activities and in fact had maintained a lowered profile in general. She was active now in the issues of school prayer and textbook controversy. She was in the process of building and opening a Christian children's residential facility. The Priest suggested that the woman's presentational style as well a her interracial marriage had affected her leadership role, and that she tended now to participate in fundamentalist issues rather than initiating them. She had recently more exposure nationally through her relationship with Billy Graham than she had locally in terms of her community activities, much as had been predicted at the conclusion of the initial study. The Catholic Bishop's activities were likewise receiving more national than local attention.
Finally, a point from the original study was also checked. The relationship of the church to the neighborhood, which seemed absent in Amarillo, was confirmed. Churches drew not from locality, ethnicity, nor from necessarily social class. The priest felt they were more likely in the
Protestant case to be ideologically classed. (Although in the case of his own congregation, a class criticism was implicit in the separation from the mother church.)
Sunday morning I was up bright and early, and as it turned out, even before the Methodists. My purpose was to deliver questionnaires to that church and meet with the Pastor. In fact, he was available only after the service. However, I "met" in some sense several other religionists that morning by watching the church broadcasts on the local TV stations. It proved much more informative and efficient to get around the dials than to get around town.
Two local services, the First Baptist and an Independent Baptist Church are aired in between national religious programs, each commanding a full viewing hour.
The two churches and the two pastors (the first, the Pastor involved in the 1979 study) provided a significant contrast and at least one important observation: both funcitioned primarily
as interpreters of media, in this case print media. They were there to explain to their congregations, both live and electronic, what the scriptural word means. Because for fundamentalists the Bible is literally true and can be understood by simple "common sense," this interpretive function of the preacher poses a curious contradiction, especially in the case of the second preacher, who maintains a fundamentalist perspective and congregation. The fact that both had to perform an interpretive function nonetheless seems to confirm the interpretive function of the church itself. There was considerable difference between the approaches taken and a rather stark contrast in interpretation.
The older pastor of the more established and traditional church explicated a single biblical text, drawing on surrounding texts, other interpreters, history and etymology for evidence. He was detailing the reciprocal nature of God's love in terms of the metaphor of the adoption contract referred to in Romans 8:2. This contractual reciprocity served both as a model for secular relationships and as a reminder of God's
paternal love for his children. This pastor's delivery was resonant, careful and authoritative, not marked by particular dramatic movement. He later sat a young girl on his lap, whose own father was out of town, and comforted her in front of the congregation, perhaps in illustration of the sermon.
The younger preacher at the fundamentalist church was a dramatic and forceful speaker, considerably more theatrical in his delivery and more expressive in his movements. Rather than explicate a discrete biblical text, he had a message to deliver, which was illustrated by biblical quotes culled at random from the New Testament. The purpose of his sermon was to illustrate God's wisdom in condemning the sinner to hell. He was aiming the message at the unsaved, whether church-goers or not. He continually denied any worth in life than God's salvation and explained why damnation of the unsaved was the proof of God's love. A strongly anti-intellectual position was advanced; speaking directly to the camera, he noted that the Ph.D. and the bum on the street go to the same hell. He was a most moving
The more interesting, informative and challenging relationship that developed in the field was with the Missionary. In part, this was because the relationship evolved over several initial phone-calls and letters and four extended meeting in the field. In a traditional anthropological sense, I found myself developing an 'informant" relationship with him, and as such, he was an important figure in the study. In addition, he represented a kind of fundamentalist perspective that characterized the female Evangelist in the first study, as well as her constituents. But where they were inaccessible beyond a limited point, the Missionary was intimate, talkative and seemed to develop trust in me.
This trust was not easily accomplished. In the first place, it grew out of a better understanding on my part of what concerned fundamentalists, a result of the first study and subsequent readings. Certain words, I learned to
avoid, such as "objective," "Scientific," or "humanistic". I also learned that being admittedly Jewish was an advantage. Where I had been reluctant to respond to questions bout my own belief with the Evangelist, I was considerably more prepared here. Fundamentalist theology provides a special dispensation for the Jews, whose existence is prophesied at Armageddon and therefore justified. While I was indeed witness to and provided ample opportunity for conversion, it was not pressed upon me, nor was I damned.
Part of this trust was developed in the preliminary phone conversations and letters, as described. Subsequent phone conversations in the field preceded our first meeting. These revolved around whether I would be invited to a luncheon on the Baptist pastorate. As a guest of the Missionary, he would be responsible for me, and so I was questioned extensively on the phone about what I was trying to find out ("...that what church you belong to is important to what you believe, even about TV.") and how my results would be published or effect policy (" ... you know the producers are mostly interested in profit and they
haven't paid much attention these issues before. I don't think they will change on the basis of my reports in the unlikely event they read them.") The Missionary was satisfied by my answers, but subsequently discovered there was a variety of opinion among the pastors whether I should be given a voice at the meeting. As useful as that luncheon would have been, I sensed the Missionary's discomfort. When he admitted he didn't plan to attend, I suggested we meet at that time in his home instead.
What the Missionary revealed regarding media evaluation was entirely consistent with the fundamentalist model presented in Chapter Two and needn't be detailed here since there was little new insight. However, a perspective on the Evangelist and her relationship to the fundamentalist community was revealed which helped clarify that situation. The Missionary explained that interracial marriage was a generally unacceptable relationship from the scriptural perspective. (Indeed, mixing of races was seen to be an effect of both school integration and certain kinds of
television.) Although marital contracts should be honored after the experience of salvation, he felt that the Evangelist should include a caveat or disclaimed in her teachings, lest her marriage be perceived as a model for the young.
The racism revealed in this observation is significant for two reasons. First, it has been noted that the Moral Majority had its origins in the anti-integrationist campaigns of the 1950's-601s. Today, meetings and fundamentalist media are conspicuously integrated. How did this change occur, or is it more apparent than real? The answer may be that one has a right to be any race; it is the merging of races, the mediating of original categories which is disapproved. Indeed, I had a right to be a Jew, but when asked if I dated Christian girls, I replied that my family would not approve (which is not entirely untrue) and thereby passed a "test".
The personal problem that such a value system poses with respect to my own is, I believe, writ large as a problem in both anthropology and media. The question of whether we are protecting enclaved peoples or integrating them (and thereby
homogenizing them to some unavoidable degree) is a moral ambiguity which remains unresolved but clearly needs to be faced when we talk of "Cultural Homogenization" versus cultural self-determination.
It appears that the Evangelist has had a difficult time of it with respect to these values. Indeed, the Missionary noted that after the interior of her Children's Home was completed, it had been vandalized and the damage had not yet been repaired. It was unclear who the vandals might have been. Interestingly, when I asked what neighborhood the home was in, my question was redirected.
The Missionary assisted in setting up the one study/focus group which was to be held. While other church leaders thought it was generally a good idea, they were not motivated to participate. I decided to take advantage of the single group and try to make it as large a gathering as possible. To this end, I sat for an interview with the local
paper to be published the morning of the day of the meeting. The article (see Appendix) was reasonably accurate, and prominently displayed on the first page of the second ("Local") section. The meeting was to be held in a large Independent Baptist church most closely associated with Moral Majority issues in the community. The pastor had agreed to participate on the basis of phone calls before the field trip and directed his assistant to broker it because he would be out of town that week. Questionnaires would be distributed at the meeting and from this the fundamentalist sample would be drawn.
The Missionary contacted over twenty-five church leaders by phone, informing them of the meeting and requesting they inform their congregations. Information about the meeting and about the study was included in several church bulletins distributed the preceding Sunday.
I prepared remarks explaining the general purpose of the study and a number of questions I would like to field, depending upon how well the meeting ran. These ranged from the very general ("What do you think shouldn't be on TV?") to
considerably more specific ("Do you think it's good for kids to watch 'Fame'?") The intent was to get the group discussing particular programs and to see if negotiation of interpretation could be observed. The meeting room was wired for audio recording.
I met the Missionary at his home and drove him to the church. It soon became apparent that no one would show up. The Missionary seemed to feel personally responsible and, after leaving questionnaires with the assistant pastor, we rode around the flood neighborhood to view the damage and chat. I was feeling quite predestinational and told the Missionary that the failure of response was interesting information in itself, that I wasn't upset about it and looked forward to reviewing the questionnaire.
One other distribution point was unusual, a luncheon meeting of young Chicano professionals committed to community service. I was one of three speakers, provided with ten minutes to explain
myself and to distribute the questionnaire. I had earlier explained to the chairman of the group the failure to develop a sample through the church and that I felt it was important the Chicano community be represented in the study. He agreed, and introduced me in those terms. Fifteen questionnaires were distributed. According to a subsequent phone conversation, three were returned, but none reached me as requested.
Ninety-six questionnaires were distributed: twenty each to the Methodist, Jewish, Independent Baptist and Episcopal church leaders, fifteen to the Chicano organization, and one to the Missionary. The Rabbi later reported only distributing twelve questionnaires, the Independent Baptist, five.
Twenty-one questionnaires were returned: one from the Missionary, four from the Methodists, seven from the Episcopals and eight from the Jews. Despite phone calls and assurances that "a few"
replies were in the mail from the Chicano leader and the Baptist assistant pastor, these were not received. Because this small addition seems insignificant, the matter was no further pursued.
Of the twenty-one responses, ten participants reported that they were watching TV on the target evening. Of these, however, three reported watching programs that were not listed as on either cable or network at the 7:00 time slot, so it is presumed the instructions were misinterpreted (one of these reported turning on the set at 7:00, but reported on a 9:00 program).
Of the seven questionnaires which responded to the correct time slot, three declined to respond to the last essay question which was to be the focal point of the analysis. Of the four usable replies, one viewer reported on PBS's "Sneak Previews," which had not been recorded or analyzed by the researchers; two reported on "Fame," and one reported on "Magnum PI".
While there are some interesting comparisons that might be made between the two comparable replies (on "Fame"), both from Episcopalians, the original sample intention and
the minimal size requirements were not realized and therefore do not permit analysis.
While no minimum sample had been set, the research design aimed at retrieving a sizable response to a single show (i.e.,at least 30 replies), distributed between three or more congregations. From such a sample, similarities of interpretation within congregations could be compared to differences across congregations to test the predictions to the model of television (which predicted variation) and the model of the community (which predicted commonality within congregation). These data simply are not adequate to any part of that task. It becomes important therefore to analyze not the response, but the failure of response in both the questionnaire and the study groups to determine what, if anything, was learned.
Evaluation of the Follow-up
Was anything learned in the follow-up
study that helps to clarify either the model or the media situation in Amarillo, despite the failure of the measures which were employed? Is the failure of these measures itself informative? This evaluation will advance tentatively postive replies to both questions.
First, the initial motivation for the follow-up study was to lend a processual dimension to the original study. Natural historical observation proceeds through time, and it was admitted that the short span during which the community was observed in 1979 was inadequate. Instead, predictions were advanced about how the community was likely to respond in the long run to the protest. Generally, the present study confirmed those predictions, substantiating the dynamic model of the community proposed earlier. The Evangelist had not been successful in her media protest and, while remaining in the community, had moved on to issues which were already well established and where coalitions of constituents were well rooted. This is interesting conceptually because it suggests that while the issue changed, the fundamentalist coalition persisted. This
fundamentalist coalition was identified in the first study as those people who held similar values regarding media and related issues such as parenting, authoritarianism, etc. We noted that the Evangelist had only tapped a percentage (probably a small one) of the potential constituency. We concluded that personal/political issues were probably at stake.
By choosing to work with an issue deeply rooted in the fundamentalist tradition, and by taking a less conspicuous role, the Evangelist demonstrates a better understanding of the community structure and is presumably more effective. Clearly, both her marriage and demeanor will remain problems for some members of the community for some time. But by working with existing groups on traditional issues, she risks her legitimation considerably less than she did in the TV protest.
Impressionistically, the persistence of the value-based social group moving on to another but (for them) related issue has a correlary in uses and gratifications literature. Here, the viewer is seen as having a choice of information
sources from which to select, both mediated and non-mediated, to serve some prior need or fulfill some essential function. Here we see a community which has a variety of responses to media/information and a choice of arenas in which to express these. Because school text-book choice is a local and state issue, there is clearly a better chance to affect the flow of influence and information to children (which was at issue with TV as well) by confronting this issue. The state and the school boards provide avenues for the expression of these concerns. If we have any question regarding the relationship between these issues, the action of People for the American Way should be instructive.
People for the American Way was formed by TV producer Norman Lear to combat the Moral Majority, particularly Rev. Wildman's media boycotts which were the model for the 1979 Amarillo protest. PAW has become extensively involved in school textbook issues. Where the fox goes, the bound follows.
I would submit, however, that in the changing technical and legislative status of
television transmission, greater local control of television distribution may become a possibility, depending upon which of a variety of innovations become commonplace and how the FCC and the courts regard them. In such a situation, it seems very likely that the community's attention could return to media issues. If avenues for control more feasible than sponsor boycotts become available, the fundamentalist critique could have considerable impact on what happens to Amarillo media.
Methodological and Theoretical Problems and Solutions
The failure of the field protocol, the questionnaire and the study/focus groups to produce an analyzable response is due partly to a violation of my own original formulation of the research problem. The original study was occasioned by the community's interest and public debate over relevant media issues. The rationale for that study was that the research team would not have to generate data, only to retrieve it. Indeed, despite some actual hostility on the part of some participants, that proved to be the case in 1979. But, as noted, by 1982, media was no longer a hot
issue and I therefore had to attempt to resuscitate it. This was done in subtle and overt ways, the most explicit probably being the newspaper interview. I became aware of this self-contradiction while in the field and felt myself stepping over the line from observer to participant and finally to PR agent. I was therefore less concerned than I might have been when these measures failed because I realized that this confirmed my original conceptualization, even though I would have to admit my later mistake.
In fact, an additional ethnographic problem was faced, because it turned out my ability to analyze the lack of response was limited by the brevity of this field trip. For example, when informants are used in anthropological fieldwork, it is essential that the researcher understand the position of the informant in the community and be able to comment on the particular slant he may have on his culture (as well as how he is perceived by his fellows). In the case of the Missionary, I was depending upon someone not only for information but for arrangements, notably the advance work on the study/focus group. When no participants arrived,
several possible explanations involving how I was being perceived and how the Missionary was being perceived, not just how television was perceived, presented themselves. But I had insufficient knowledge of either of our placement in the community to choose between the alternatives. Was it simply that no one was interested in my work? An argument could be made for each case. A longer period in residence might have clarified the problem. Note that it wasn't until the second study that I found people willing to discuss the perceptions of the Evangelist's interracial marriage, which I only suspected may have been significant in 1979.
What is lacking in such a study is holism, not as a conceptual model, but as practical experience. In extended field work, various loose threads begin to tie together; diverse bits of data unexpectedly relate and explanations begin to emerge. In the first study, the longer time frame and the participation of two additional fieldworkers aided this process. In the second study, a few threads from 1979 drew together, but the emergent experience remained fragmentary.
Should such a study be undertaken? Can it be successful? I believe this follow-up study, while lending confirmation to some particulars of the original exploratory project, was most important in confirming the technique of looking at lively issues. Therefore, I would not attempt to apply the protocol of the second study again except in such a context where I believe it might be quite successful.
A study with some similar objectives was undertaken by Neuman at Yale in 19800, but has not been published ("Television and American Culture: the mass medium and the pluralist audience.") That one differed from this in that a sample was first contacted and interviewed and, subsequently, phone interviews were conducted immediately following targeted TV programs. Viewers were asked to interpret the programs through a series of probes. The technique seems like a useful one. However, it should be noted that a considerably larger number of interviewers is required: one (or at the most
two) per interviewee per program. At the same time, this study did not address itself to community structures, contained no social theory of cultural segmentation, so that its demographic segmentation of the audience makes Neuman's findings inapplicable to the specific questions asked here regarding community and communication.
The conditions for a successful study therefore would involve:
1) A community actively involved in media issues;
2) An opportunity to establish a sociological model of the community and a cultural segmentation within an ethnographic framework;
3) A technique for the retrieval of interpretations of particular programs sufficiently sensitive to the concerns and interactional styles of the community to be non-directive, and applied while people were still concerned with media issues.
Under these conditions, much more specific data might be retrieved than was possible in this study. But in concluding, I want to recall the anthropological, naturalistic and ethnographic requirements outlined in the introduction to this dissertation. The study could not have been saved by simply longer field-work, a larger research staff or better funding or a more sophisticated
questionnaire or other retrieval techniques. In a quite literal way, I was at the mercy of the community, as I ought to have been. Had I chosen to, the appropriate field conduct for me would have been to ignore media and study the groups meeting to discuss textbooks and school prayer, and to develop field techniques to appreciate that issue. Because these issues lay outside my immediate objectives and available resources, I did not pursue that direction, which should be noted as a caveat to those who would borrow ethnographic models for narrow objectives. It is precisely to the extent that I violated the requirements and constraints of anthropological fieldwork in attempting to force an issue, and a study of the community, that these attempts failed.
Proceed to Chapter 5