Do media bring people together, or pull them apart? Does TV homogenize culture or is meaning so culture-specific that TV had no capacity to alter it? Within an apparently homogenous community like Amarillo, Texas, do viewers perceive programming in similar ways, or are interpretations and evaluations different? And do the objections raised by these same people have any substantive value or possible effects? These are some of the questions which have been raised in this dissertation. They have not been answered, in the sense that one or another option was proved or disproved. Rather, they have been illustrated, considered, and evaluated in terms of how different answers to these questions are related to different perspectives and values. This approach applies for the public in Amarillo as well as for the
researchers considered in the surveys of pertinent literature. It will be the purpose of this chapter, however, to organize these perspectives and to suggest some tentative answers to these questions. First, this will be done by summarizing the work, identifying its original contributions in theory and method, and suggesting what contributions may be made to the tradition of analysis of the issues at hand. Then, I want to introduce an historical speculation which may help explain how and why electronic media raises the issues it does, for both the public and the academic sector. Finally, I will conclude by an exercise in futurism, suggesting possible directions society and culture might take in the "electronic village," and ultimately explaining why this dissertation has been entitled TV Tribes.
Summary of Findings
Theory. I have advanced the proposition that because media is a central issue in how cultural information is both formulated and transmitted, an
anthropological theory of humaness is important to media research. We accept, as received wisdom, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that there must be an intimate relation between the language people use and how they perceive the world. (1) This relationship may be expanded to include all communicative systems, including visual mass media, whether linguistically based or not. (2) But to operationalize this proposition, theory needs to be developed in two complimentary directions.
First, a serviceably model of what culture means in the contemporary world must be developed. The difficulty of this task is attested to by the extent of disagreement between anthropologists regarding the matter, but also among other social scientists. Some of these difficulties and disagreements have been noted, particularly with reference to-several prevailing models: marxist, phenomenological sociology, and semiotics. In each case, the tautology of the model proved too narrow for the issues at hand. It has been argued that data from social life and cultural values/meanings may provide an antidote. But without some clear sense of what culture might
be and where to look for it, there is no assurance that even extensive fieldwork will be really useful. Two solutions have been offered in this dissertation: a closer attention to the concept of culture as it was originally formulated with a better fit to methodology, and an example by way of illustration of an actual community observed and analyzed for sociological structures and cultural values as they pertain to media.
The second direction in which theory needs to be developed is a model of media which conceptualizes it as a system linking human beings in the process of communicating. I have proposed such a model in Chapter Three, based on a mode of analysis and description culled from ethnographies of communication and performance. In the process, I rejected psychologistic models which take the individual as the analytic unit and sum their responses. And I rejected the semiotic perspective for its tendency to revert to the text as the analytic unit.
The model which emerged through induction from rather common sense observations regarding the processes of TV production, transmission and
reception bears refinement and elaboration. However, it accounts for a number of things that other available models do not. Specifically, the relationship between individual viewers and social groups, and then between such groups and television producers, distinguishes this conceptualization. Whatever applications this model may find in the future, I believe it is this enlarged size of the analytic boundary that may prove most valuable. For this model contains more than simply the activities interfacing with media hardware, a boundary too narrow to describe television from a social or cultural perspective. The enlargement of the model ultimately identifies a relationship going from the public to the producer. So this model of the television message is a processual one and can account for how the messages, apparently redundant when synchronically observed, in fact change over time.
While I have denigrated textual analysis for the objective of describing the message system itself, I do not mean that such studies are not useful. (In fact, the data analysis of the follow-up study would have relied heavily on
textual detail.) It is clear that the content of the medium does matter for the questions raised here. The tendency of many researchers to ignore or oversimplify the complex reality of the text jeopardizes the validity of their work, as the violence research illustrates.
In essence, much as we need a more concrete idea of what cultures and communities look like, we need to be more specific about who is involved with television, how this involvement operates, and what its texts are. If described in a common language, these elements can then be recombined to provide a more thorough description of television and human life than we now have. The theoretical work of this dissertation was aimed in this direction.
Methodology. I have admitted to the risks of separating theory from method in anthropological inquiry. However, it is appropriate to make the distinction in this post mortem, in order to distinguish what worked from what didn't.
To the extent that the methodology of the exploratory study produced a satisfying description
of a community involved in a media issue, that methodology may be said to be successful. It's essential components were:
1) The requirement of a holistic description, or at least a recognition that the media issue impinged on other issues and features of the life of the community.
2) The correlary requirement that because culture arises in society, the social structure of the community must be appreciated as a central holistic context for the data.
3) The naturalistic requirement that categories of meaning must be based on those expressed by the community, and this means that the community must raise the issues to be surveyed, not the researcher.
The methodologies that are ruled out by these constraints obviously include random sampling and demographic correlations; the structures of the community cannot be discovered through these.
Once a conceptualization of the social structures and cultural meanings for a community are developed, it becomes possible to perform survey work as long as the socio-cultural segmentation is not violated. That is, responses within a segment might be summated and compared under careful circumstances. If correlations in the expected direction are discovered, then the
segmentation may be said to be valid and further analysis may be performed. In the second study, it was the intention to exploit this principle to discover commonalities and differences in the interpretation of specific TV programs within socio-cultural segments, and to contrast them across the population. Had this worked, confirmation of certain aspects of the model of both the community and the message system would have been possible. The failure was related to the movement of the community away from the issue of media to other related issues. When I attempted to resuscitatd the issue, I violated the naturalistic requirement for field observation.
This could have been corrected by including the second protocol (Chapter Four) as part of the initial study (Chapter Two). This was not possible, because of the intervening years required to understand the original data and to develop the model and a test of it. Meanwhile, the community itself was learning and TV was changing. There is no reason, however, that where a community again raises media issues in public fora, this methodology might not provide a guide for the
design of research appropriate to that situation. Should this occur, I hope that the necessity to tailor such a design to the specific requirements of the site and the community will not be overlooked, and that the size and scope of such an undertaking will be anticipated. For those who suggest that anthropological methods be transferred to media research as though these were discretely packaged techniques, the present study may serve as an intentional discouragement.
Findings. I believe there is sufficient data to make the following interpretations (which are not to be confused with proof) of what was observed in Amarillo. The extent to which these can be generalized depends upon the extent that what was observed to be cultural, and how it was socially organized in this community, applies to other communities as well. That, of course, can only be determined by additional fieldwork in other communities.
1) Within a community of a given sort, differing value/belief systems can be observed across the population which will influence, and probably correlate with, the interpretation of television programs and the perceived effects of such programs.
2) Within a community of a given sort, institutions will exist which bring together people with similar value orientations/belief systems. These institutions are likely to be theologically based.
3) Where such institutions exist, they are likely to reinforce the commonality of perspective, enforce interpretation, and function as negotiating sites for evaluation of media as well as other informational influences. As such, responses to these influences, where they are perceived as threatening, may be organized within these institutions.
4) One way of appreciating media's uses, influences and responses is to utilize such institutions as an entry point for study and as a basis for segmentation of the research population.
These, then, in the narrowist sense, are the claims I would make for the current study, and the contribution I would offer for suggested research directions for the field of mass communications. What follows, however, is a far more speculative interpretation, based also on the Amarillo research, but raising, rather than resolving questions.
Culture and Society
At this point it seems useful to return to the definition of culture advanced in the introduction to this dissertation. Culture, I claimed, is information. More specifically, it is information learned in society. Therefore, it is shared, and transmitted over time. It depends upon society as a vehicle for transmission, but is somehow distinguishable from the social structures themselves. And as Sahlins points out (3) the information cannot be predicted from these structures alone. In this sense, society is very like a message transmission system, and culture is analogous to a text. But in both my description of television and in my description of Amarillo, I have focused not on text, or culture, but rather on the transmission context, and on the social structure. In what follows, the apparent contradiction will be addressed, and partially resolved.
The problem, as Geertz and others have pointed out, is that culture cannot be directly observed. (4) It must be interpreted from what is
"on the ground." (5) In this case, it is people, and their social connections, as well as their message transmission system, which are observable. The leap to cultural interpretation necessarily involves drawing from additional sources, and synthesizing information and structure, or text and context. While the matter of bringing people together or pulling them apart is an important one, it is still essentially a sociological one. Around what issues, and to advance what information, do such social structures arise?
I will treat the problem by identifying three topics, and describing historical relationships between them. The topical divisions will be social-structural, ideological (in the broadest sense of values, cosmologies... in short, ideas) and message transmission. These will match the Amarillo data, which revealed that a socially structured community which perceived its structures to be threatened, also perceived its values to be changing and vulnerable. Some members of the community sought to solve these problems by attempting to control and thereby alter the television message system in both structure and
content. And their failure seems to have been related to the local social structures and the degree to which the powerful churches had already accomodated themselves to the television system politically and economically, if not ideologically.
When these issues are related in an historical perspective, however, the coincidence of the emergence of telecommunications, the rise of relativist philosophies and the changing institutional structures of American families and communities all may be seen to impinge on the issues raised in Amarillo, and suggest the situation can be explained in this wider context.
American Social Structures
Inventions, such as television, are neither created or utilized in a vacuum. Societies may be very selective about what inventions they adopt, and for what uses. We know, for example, that many hunters and gatherers know the technology of agriculture, but choose not to plant presumably because it does not solve any perceived need. Mesoamerican civilizations knew the principle of the wheel, as children's toys and ceremonial
artifacts demonstrate. But it was not put to use in any technological system. Television, by contrast, was adopted by Americans with extraordinary speed. Within a decade of its commercial introduction, it was to be found in nearly every household. This fact cannot be accepted at face value, nor attributed to the greed of TV's manufacturers. We are too aware of inventions that failed to become popular to accept such explanations. I submit that some attention to the conditions of the institutions of American society provide a better understanding not only of television's popularity, but of its particular usage.
The second half of the 19th Century was a remarkable period in America, by all accounts. From the Civil War until the first World War, the vast waves of immigration which would give America its characteristic ethnic diversity, while providing a labor force for the amassing of great fortunes, and power, by an essentially Anglo elite, occurred. This cultural pluralism was managed by a social structure which segregated ethnic groups both by location and by economic class. Neighborhoods in urban areas, and whole villages in rural ones, were
culturally homogeneous, and maintained separate economic, religious and educational institutions which were able to preserve the cultural traditions of the (usually European) homeland. Economic opportunities were likewise ethnically limited, and Hannerz describes the cultural solidarity of the working class ethnics that persisted well into the 20th century. (6)
Overlaid on this cultural pluralism was a "Melting Pot" ideology, which promised social and economic mobility to any ethnic willing to assimilate into the mainstream Anglo culture. But this promise was something of a cruel sham, as Novak has pointed out. (7) Opportunity was at a minimum; the culture of the mainstream is closely guarded, and difficult to learn. And if, as anthropologists claim, culture is learned early, out of awareness, and is conservative, such wholesale assimilation seems unpromising at best. But considerable public policy was based on the assimilationist model, and was not without its effects. Certainly, universal secular education for children was patterned after a melting pot ideal. And various progressive and liberal measures, aimed
at making social and economic opportunity democratically available, took their toll on the ethnic homogeneity of the workplace, the neighborhood, and eventually all public accomodations. Only the church, protected as it was by its Constitutional separation from the state, could remain an enclaved institution, a matter of considerable importance in explaining Amarillo's situation.
The cumulative effect of the progressive attack on ethnic institutions combined with the failure to provide much in the way of cultural alternatives was to create by the mid 20th Century a curious kind of society without much in the way of a recognizable culture. For some sociologists, such as Gordon (8) America could be described as a society segmented by both economic class and cultural background, creating a large number of sub-cultures which he termed "eth-classses." Lenski identified the church as the central institution which preserves ethnic identity. (9) But even the champions of ethnic pluralism, such as Novak wondered whether ethnic tradition was continuous, or whether it would have to be reconstructed.
Domhoff identified the power elite as essentially Anglo, suggesting that at least one enclave, that of the privileged, persists. (10) But Steinberg and others dispute even this finding. (11) The situation for the second half of this century may therefore be described as a progressive deterioration of cultural identity in a traditional, historical sense, and it is hardly clear what kind of identity has replaced it.
The most central cultural institution is everywhere admitted to be the family. However this configuration of people is reckoned (and it is a characteristic of different societies that families are organized differently) it fulfills many of the central functions involved in the transmission of cultural information from one generation to the next.
The question of what is happening to the American family probably takes up more space in all media than any other single subject. It is generally recognized that the modal "urban industrial family" has become nuclearized, and that considerable emphasis is now placed on the parental pair-bond. Keller notes that this "makes great,
some would say excessive demands on ... the dyadic principle... (which) is inherently tragic and unstable." (12) What these demands are from the requirements of the cultural system may be described.
For the family to participate in the transmission of culture, three things would seem required: a stor of cultural information, a mode of transmission, and an individual or individuals seeking such information and capable of receiving it. Traditional societies appear to provide all three requirements to most or all adults within the context of the family. But any, or all of these things may be missing in the contemporary household. As the size of the family dwindled, beginning in 1920 to 3.5 children post-World War II, and something less today, and as the number of childless adults grows (13) the opportunities for transmitting information between generations in the family context is obviously reduced. But the less obvious fact is that the likelihood that an adult will have such information, or the means or mode of transmission, are also in question in the contemporary world.
The simplified model of cultural transmission above differs from the sender receiver model in that no conscious purpose or intentionality in message transmission is proposed. In fact, the claim that cultural information is likely to be out of awareness is well illustrated by the example of socialization. In traditional society, how you treat the children, even what you teach them, is what your parents taught you. It is not very much in question, or particularly negotiable. Traditional parents do not reinvent child-rearing in each generation, or cultures would have no continuity. This is precisely the feature of culture which makes it conservative and keeps it traditional. But assimilationist techniques seem to have had a progressive effect on such continuity. And this may be most important not at the individual level, but in the marital pair. The breakdown of ethnic identity logically leads to ethnic exogamy (although census records are difficult to interpret on this point) so that the child has conflicting (as well as deteriorated) cultural models to draw on. By the 1940's, we find a large segment of the population unsure about
child-rearing, consulting books and experts, accepting the psychological assumption of acultural normalcy which suggests that there are right and wrong (or worse, healthy and unhealthy) ways to rear children to be learned by all parents. Only a culture which had already become passionately uncertain of its own values seems likely to accept such assumptions. (Note, however the time frame assumed here; the full assimilationist effect takes an assimilating generation, an intermarrying generation and then a child generation to produce these circumstances, in other words, about sixty years.)
Analysis of the economic base of American societies produces similar evidence to the hypothesis that the capability of parents to transmit traditional information is being reduced. The entry of married women into the labor force during and after World War II (the proportion more than doubled from 1948 to 1960, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics) surely had profound meaning on the family as well. The geographic mobility of the middle class during this period is also cited as a factor in the deterioration of
cultural identity, as well as the development of mass marketing and advertising.
My purpose in describing these conditions is not to make any new contributions here to the considerable body of theory on the changing circumstances of American society and the family, but rather to identify an historical period during which the transmission of cultural information in discrete ethnic enclaves progressively deteriorated for many Americans and to note the recency of the full effect. What is of peculiar significance is that it 'is within this same period that telecommunications was becoming developed in America. From the first commercial use of the telegraph in 1844 through to the post World-War II development of commercial TV, there is a suggestive coincidence which needs to be pursued. This coincidence becomes most apparent with respect to the functions television evolved to serve.
Television was developed as a household appliance, often used as a baby-sitter, and chose family life and relationships as its most persistent theme. It is important to remember that, like the wheel, or like agriculture, many
applications of the invention were possible (and still are). Clearly the choices to develop these functions were intimately related to the very stresses the producing society (America) was experiencing at the time of its introduction (which may be common to many societies entering the electronic age). Whether we see this as an expression of wthe internal contradictions of capitalism" or as a cultural solution to a social structural problem, the intimate relationship between society, culture and technology should be admitted. The causality is bi-directional. But even this observation is an inadequate one on which to draw conclusions, or to explain the circumstances in Amarillo. For in the same period just described, an ideological battle of profound significance was being waged which must be included in the argument.
Ideology: Darwin and God
Fundamentalists in Amarillo and elsewhere maintain that this country was founded on "Christian" values, and has deviated from this course. If true, what caused this deviation?
Before exploring these questions, and
considering just what "Christian" values are, and how contemporary society might violate them, I believe it is important to identify my own value system and the perspective from which I approach these questions. This is more than an academic or theoretical exercise; these were very important questions to the fundamentalists that I interviewed. They believed that my treatment of their situation would depend upon my own value system, and they refused to accept any assertion that because the study was scientific it was therefore objective and value free. Philosophers of science raise similar questions, as I have indicated, and they should be taken quite seriously.
A Speculative Interpretation of Some Relations
Between Media and Society
Some anthropologists claim that the objective of anthropological inquiry is to see the world through the eyes of the "native". (14) 1 have immersed myself in three research populations to
date. I have studied Melenesian cannibals, American homosexuals and Amarillo Christian fundamentalists. What attracted me to these groups, and what they have in common, is that unlike "traditional" cultures, the rite of passage into membership in any of these societies is, formally speaking, available to all human beings. Anyone can eat human flesh, perform sodomy, or receive Jesus. To varying degrees, and with varying available resources, and to varying effects, I have allowed myself to consider the personal plausibility of each of these acts. In each case, it was not an easy task. My idea of what it means to "look through the eyes of a native," is intricately bound up with these experiences. In what follows, I will reconstruct some of the ways I attempted to look through the eyes of an Amarillo Christian Fundamentalist, acknowledging from the start that I discovered instead a depth to my own commitment to Judaism, and an absolute resistence to apostasy. Nonetheless, my task was to make rational, explanations which seemed at first irrational; to take seriously an idea of what man is and what his
responsibilities are, deeply antagonistic to my own; and finally, to discover if I could respect these people's right to belief when, from my perspective, they intended to abridge my own.
Another and less extreme subjectivity can be accomplished not by trying to "go native," but by simply asking, "What are the concerns of these people? What matters to them?" This is probably a more defensible approach and, in the present case, the answers are more revealing. The matter can be approached by asking, "Why is television of such concern?" "What kind of threat is it perceived to pose?" "Why are fundamentalists particularly involved?" and finally, "Why were school prayer and textbooks perceived as a related issue?" The answers have to do with what fundamentalism means.
In its simplest form, fundamentalism is an approach to Christian belief which elevates the scriptural word to the central position of authority. "For every place in the Bible, there is only one meaning." (15) This meaning is amenable to "common sense," accessible to every literate human. No priest or other human authority can stand in the way of an individual's direct experience of God,
through his revealed Word.
What happened to shatter this precept? Charles Darwin. The Origin of Species is a profoundly heretical book. (16) It is not so much that man is related to apes, or even that species are mutable which challenges biblical literacy. Both of these ideas could probably have been contained in a theological explanation, as were other provocative discoveries, such as Galileo's disputation of the geocentric universe. What cannot be resolved is contained in a higher level of abstraction of evolutionary theory: the stochastic implication of mutation and natural selection. Evolutionary change involves an ordering of random inputs (mutations) and as a result, the teleology of the system is unpredictable. There is no one in the driver's seat. Evolution does not work towards an identifiable goal. The positivist clock-maker's universe is repudiated. (17) 1 will return to this point, for it is central not only to understanding the fundamentalist response, but to understanding the academic and intellectual problem of
post-positivist research. But first, the relationship between religion and culture needs to be defined.
For tribal societies, the division of cultural information into discrete institutions is often inappropriate. Religion is not separate or different from kinship, for example, or even economics. A singular cosmology is believed to underlie these systems and activities, and which in practice reinforce the holistic ideology.(18) In contemporary societies, religion may be the central repository of cosmological meanings encoded as value systems. But it is likely, especially in an economically industrial and culturally pluralistic society, to be isolated and discontinuous with other institutions and meanings.
Clearly, among the founding fathers of this country were to be found a variety of beliefs: Christians, Jews, agnostics and atheists are all signers of the Constitution. And yet, for the Darwinian heresy to have the impact it did, their conceptualization of religion must have involved some greater commonality and some broader agreement than we associate today with such a diversity of
belief. This may be seen most clearly with respect to science and academia.
Despite the Constitutional separation of Church and State, the evidence is quite strong that positivist science had its roots in Protestant theology, and that academic teaching and practice were consistent with Christian belief until the second half of the 19th Century. (19) Children's first readers relied on scriptural sources. Theologians headed the major Universities. Positivist science was assumed to be in the service of scripture because empirical investigation of God's world could only confirm the genius of his handiwork as reported in the Bible.
Perhaps the social, geographic and occupational segregation of communities of differing religious dogma and values submerged those ideological positions implied by pluralism. Transportation and communication were expensive and inefficient, remaining essentially the same as a thousand years before, (excepting the advances in sea travel). Differences in dogma perhaps are easier to ignore in such a world.
In any case, "Darwinism shattered the
Christian cosmos,"(20) and that cosmos was, by all accounts, deeply entrenched in the American experience and its institutions. There were a variety of immediate and long ranging effects as America struggled to redefine the meaning of Christianity and its place in the social-institutional structure. Boller traces some of these effects on especially philosophy, science and academia, recognizing the profound epistemological depths to which the naturalist, evolutionary challenge reached. (21) American academies were essentially reorganized during this period. Relativist models emerged in the sciences, culminating perhaps with the Einsteinian theories of the early part of the 20th Century. But Marsden, in a history of American fundamentalism, traces an equally significant and related institutional shift the origins of the fundamentalist movement. (22) Prior to the impact of Darwinian though in science, academia and other areas of public life, there were no "fundamentalists," because fundamentalist principles were quasi-official policy in these sectors. But as public policy, as well as many
Protestant denominations, moved to resolve (or ignore) the inherent contradictions, the fundamentalists recognized the absolute irreconcilability of the evolutionary model to traditional Christian dogma. From this recognition grew the fundamentalist response, a response which cut across denominational, class and ethnic lines and expressed itself in a variety of institutional formats including Populism, evangelism and eventually anti-communism, before emerging in its present form as the "Moral Majority".
As with any religion, violation of dogma invokes certain consequences. in the changing social structures described above, the alteration of the familial institution, the changing socio-economic status of women, the deterioration of cultural meaning through ethnic exogamy, ample evidence of the sinfulness of the society was found. The corrective would be to return to fundamentals by evicting Darwin and all he implied from the public sectors which his theory progressively invaded from the late 19th Century onward. In this corrective, media must occupy a central position, for reasons that lie very deep
within the entire history of Protestantism and the meaning of fundamentalism itself.
Media and Protestantism, History and Belief
There are a variety of ways that history can be segmented. But the very term itself refers to writing and is contrasted to pre-history, a period before records were made; it is usual to think of civilizations in terms of whether or not writing was known and used and to speak of literates or pre-literates. If we explore this idea further, we find that additional eefinements, such as whether writing was picto-graphic or alpha-betic, manuscript or print, provide a further insight into basic cultural and historical features of the associated societies. As Goody and Watt have described for alphabetic literacy, Eisienstein and McLuhan for print (23) the introduction of new modes of literacy can be associated with a wide range of economic, social and ideological changes. These changes are in turn associated with theological changes. The origins of Judeo-Christian belief are deeply involved with the introduction of script, and the significance of
the Word in manuscript (or Torah) are central metaphors for this tradition. Protestantism is associated with the introduction of print. (24) It is no surprise that Gutenberg's first pressings were bibles. The broad availability of printed scripture to a literate population is exactly what makes Protestantism possible.
'The belief that electronic media will supplant print and even literacy is widely held and variously described. (25) If the association we make between the central mode of information processing and the forms of society and history is correct, then we can expect electronic information to herald essential changes in our entire world, as well as our perception of that world. if Judeo-Christianity is associated with literacy, and Protestantism with print, what does telecommunications forbode for theology? That this problem arises, and not, incidentally, so close on the heels of Darwin and the relativist revolution, defines a battleground for fundamentalist activity. For the transition to be made to the information age with Christian belief intact requires no less, in Christian eyes, than an absolute shoring up of
fundamental value and belief, while bringing the media under control of Christian authority (of which both the Christian Broadcasting Network and the Sponsor Boycott of the commercial networks are examples). Failing this, Armageddon is prophesied. When we recognize the extent to which modern science and technology do threaten Christian tradition, then the fundamentalist response, including media activism, become considerably more comprehensible. In fact, there are identifiable correlaries to the academic situation.
The difficulty of defining post-positivist theory and method, which is described for mass media as a "paradigm crisis," is also implicit in our concerns over media imperialism and the possibilities of information dependency, no less than our concern that TV is stealing our children. In all these examples, the question of values, of what kind of society we think is best, is at stake. The search for clues as to what the electronic future holds is thus highly motivated.
I submit that some of the clues to the futurist puzzle are to be found in the
fundamentalist response. Here we find people directly addressing central questions of value and belief which the academic world has found difficult to consider, at least since the theologians were dethroned from academic administration in the years following Darwin. Because anthropology has always considered peoples' beliefs to be essential data for cultural description, it poses some possibilities for handling this problem. And because one of the central questions we ask is how society will be reorganized (as it was at the time of the introduction of other media), anthropological inquiry seems particularly well-suited to the issue. Let me return again to the question, "Do media bring people together or pull them apart?" to see what the Amarillo example can provide.
Amarillo: Explication by Example
In Amarillo, the churches seem to operate as central cultural institutions and thereby socially organize the community with respect to varying value and belief systems which can be regarded analytically as cultural expressions.
Pastors function as interpreters of media and information for their congregations. Traditionally, this was literary media, but we now see it extending to electronics, not only as TV issues are confronted from the pulpit, but as the pulpit itself is transmitted electronically. This interpretive function represents a cultural specialty associated with priests and shamans in many societies where emergent meaning is focussed in such roles.
Amarillo's major denominations are White and Protestant, especially Baptist and related "sects," Church of Christ and Pentecostal. These denominations alone constitute roughly 70% of the population. But these are not ethnic churches, like those described in the literature as cultural enclaves. Their members, when asked questions about their cultural identify, were most likely to say they were "American". Nor did probing on national origins or second language reveal much more than this. So the questions are raised, "What does it mean to be culturally American?" and "Why does the Whute Protestant church still seem to function equivalently to what has been described for ethnic
populations whose cultural identity is more 'traditional'?"
The problem is important for two reasons. First, while only a generation ago, it was still possible to describe America in terms of an anglo ruling class, ethnic minorities, and those recently acculturated (who could be explained in terms of reaction to ethnic tradition), the cumulative effect of various factors now makes it more accurate to describe the populations as largely assimilated (with the notable exception of non-white minorities). Second, television seems somehow intimately associated with this shift to a culturally assimilated population.
International critics claim that the relationship is causal: TV homogenized culture and then TV extends the assimilated American culture. There is reason to reverse the equation, however, to see the assimilation of American culture as caused by other social influences but finding expression in the mass medium of TV. In fact, an unanticipated advantage to traditional anthropologists' and sociologists' reluctance to consider electronic media is that we have quite
workable theories of American assimilation which do not rely on television as a causal factor.
For scholars who view television as a top-down stimulus to mass respondents, the recognition of the expressive function can be contained in a theory such as "mainstreaming," as Gerbner suggests. (26) While TV may express culture (or some aspect of it) the sum "effect" is a reinforcement of central values and perceptions, a continual corroding of the variability of life; the reification of the normal curve. But such interpretations may prove to be tautological conclusions of a self-fulfilling model. The question is whether when we consider data from society itself is this what we find? Clearly, the data from Amarillo suggest diversity, if they suggest anything. Within a small community which prides itself on "normalcy," remarkable differences could be discovered in attitudes and interpretations associated with TV viewing even within a small, and for this community, middle of the road sample. In fact, some of these people were motivated by their differences to organize themselves into institutional forms where
television meanings were explicitly negotiated and responses to the media were enacted in extreme activities, such as pray-ins and boycotts.
The more common Amarillo response was simply to use the church to negotiate interpretation. This is reminiscent of the findings of the "Critical Viewing" studies where it is suggested that parents are capable of mediating TV meanings for children and thereby ameliorating "effects". (27) What I believe I observed in Amarillo was an equivalent activity on the community level, where various "families" employing an interpretive specialist exploited the church's cultural functions to mediate TV messages and cultural values. What little evidence could be amassed suggested this was a traditional and successful activity. In the more extreme response, a woman isolated from the community attempted to exploit the need for message mediation to establish herself as an interpretive specialist and assemble a constituency of unaffiliated people, or people dissatisfied with the interpretations their own specialists provided. When she was unable to raise the issue of television to the central status
required to achieve these objectives, she returned to what I also believe are basics: Darwinism. She joined the more traditional problem associated with cultural transmission -- school prayer and (evolution).textbooks. And, she inveighed against print, rather than electronic media, an activity which is also more traditional.
Amarillo society thus appeared to me to be exploiting the traditional and constitutionally sanctioned function of the church as an institutional vehicle for interpreting and negotiating values. This did not mean that the church members were related through common cultural tradition as we have come to think of it in the case of ethnics, for example. Rather, the necessity for negotiating common meaning, or communion if you will, found in the church an appropriate and available site. Church membership appears to be ideologicly based. That is, prior agreement with the general interpretive mode and prevailing value system brings people in or drives them out. And while "in fellowship," the interpretive function is active.
Functionalist explanations, however, imply the concept of "need," which is is a very uncomfortable one, suggesting a reductionism to physiological or psychological explanation. The need to communicate, to structure and share perceptions of TV no less than of the world, is in fact an essentially logical, rather than physio- or psychological prerequisite for human conduct. For if anything differentiates humans from other species, it is the degree to which culture has supplanted biology as the means for responding to the environment. Cultural information must be socially transmitted for the species to maintain itself. To be human is to communicate. And unshared communication is no communication at all, or perhaps it is schizophrenia. (28) Transmitting, or receiving, does not assure communication.
At precisely the point in time when more sheer information, a greater quantity of mediated information is transmitted to the typical household than we associate with any other cultural moment, the structures which used to be available for negotiating meaning and sharing interpretation seem to have weakened. For example, culture, in the
sense of a traditional interpretive model or world view, transmitted by the family and shared within the community, is not evident for many Amarillians, and probably many Americans. The physical and institutional settings where such mediation probably occurred are disappearing as well in a mobile, industrial, fragmented society. But as systemsf cultures seek self-correction. What institutions do remain appear to increase their scope and functions. High church membership in Amarillo reflects growing church membership nationally. Religious education is booming. But the church may not be the only institution to benefit or to evolve in response to these demands.
Contemporary society may be characterized as a period when public experimentation in social structuring and institutonal invention occurs on an unprecidented scale. Various institutions and catagory structures emerge to classify people and provide arenas in which to gather. Communes were the most familiar and elaborate example in the 60's. and they failed precisely because they removed their members from society rather than enabling them as social beings. (29) Formal
organizations, such as the Klan, EST, fraternaties, and so forth, are ideologicly based communities which are growing conspicuously in membership. Discos and singles bars provide highly ritualized interpersonal spaces. (Here, one may need to further classify oneself as a member of an astrological tribe, a jogger, a backgammon player, or whatever.)
The problematic of mass society may be precisely its massness. Anthropologists are most familiar with small-scale societies and tend to think of culture in terms of limited populations. But this may be more than an artifact of field conditions. There may be a limit to the number of people with whom one can share meaning. Or, conversely, the possible variations in meaning may each demand a constituency. In any case, while the society organizes production and consumption in terms of larger and larger masses, a public response seems to be to create smaller, ideologicly based groupings and to develop institutional infrastructures to contain them.
As I was driving up to Amarillo, I kept searching the radio for "my kind of music". In the process, I was treated to an interesting but familiar variety: country western, disco, Black, R&B, easy listening, and for a brief surprising haul through Abilene, new wave and punk. Each of these kinds of music was featured on a different kind of station. Each presumably appealed to a differently conceived-of public. The country western stations (the most common) appealed quite explicitly to particular values, political and social issues and interpretations. It occurred to me that it organized a community of sometimes passionately committed listeners who felt this was their music, these were their people. Going through Abilene. I could make a good guess what kind of music I would hear in different public facilities along the roadside: cafes, truckstops, gas stations, restaurants, bars. I would have some idea of what kind of people I would meet in each, and I sure wouldn't stop in any place where I suspected I wouldn't know the lingo.
Traditional ethno-musicologists will immediately point out that this music is produced in Nashville (although sometimes Hollywood or New York). None of it is local and, generically, it bears very little resemblance to the kind of music that was once made by the folk in these parts. This will be offered as evidence to mass media's homogenizing influence. But it is the variability of the music from station to station which offers an interesting counter-interpretation. What media seems to be doing is redefining the relationship between geography and community, much as McLuhan predicted when he talked of the global village. Except the village seems to have a clan system and the relationships between and within clans may turn out to be quite complex. (It is tempting to extend the metaphor to talk about media totems, but it was precisely in extension of metaphor that McLuhan's own value may have become obscured.)
American society therefore seems to interact with the media message system in specific ways to accomodate the properties of the information and its distribution. The current situation, at the end of the "Network Era," can be
described in terms of a response to the network definition of the mass audience. Producers provide an unusual kind of text designed to be attractive to as many people as possible. To do this, they rely on the most central cultural issues on the society's agenda: the family, sexual roles, violence, etc. And so, they stripped down the culture-specific messages that would only be readable by minorities. They created instead ambiguous texts, encouraging varieties of interpretation. The public response seems to have been structurally inverted. To handle the barrage of massified information, social boundaries were etched (along traditional models when available, and in new ways when not) to bring together viewers along the lines of value and interpretive commonality. Within these socially and culturally defined segments, commonalities of interpretation emerged, and were even presided over by specialists in the case of the church. But this commonality may not extend beyond the social segment. So within a community, the same message will likely be associated with different meanings by different groups.
The research presented here did not provide data on which to comment about the ways in which these segments are associated nationally. But, as the media protest was nationally coordinated, and represented coaltions of local groups, this suggests that a given interpretive segment of a particular community may feel it is culturally closer, and more related to some equivalent group a thousand miles distant, than to the people across the street. The question whether TV brings people together seems therefore to require a socially complex answer. If neighbors in Amarillo perceive themselves as more closely affiliated with non-local tribes than they do with other tribes in their own community, the viability of the local community may well be at risk. But these complex social structures are so recent, hardly a generation or two old, that they are very difficult to assess, and their impact has probably yet to develop fully. Most important, the situation is now changing.
New TV distribution systems, cable, disc, and DBS, for example, are developed partly to provide the viewer with more "choice." From the
perspective advanced here, these developments are especially important, because "choice" means more information on the one hand, and possible more specifically oriented texts on the other. We may see software developed for very culturally specific audiences, and distribution which comes close to point-to-point. The ambiguity, the openess of the current texts which encourage the bringing together of people in social life for interpretive purposes now somehow changes. Television might become a more private matter, and this would obviously affect the public sphere, and perhaps the social structures. How and where meaning would emerge in such a setting becomes a new problem, unanswerable from some of the perspectives I have taken here. And it might prove a public problem as well as an academic one. In fact, the situation is somewhat more like radio, a medium whose popularity with youth and minorities, may be worth noting. The image of the black teenager blaring a huge stereo radio in public or a college student lost in is Walkman headset are both current targets of public concern and legislation.
It is interesting that this new
technology, like universal public education and desegregation in public accomodations, both seen as causal in the levelling of American cultural diversity, is proposed to benefit minority rights and local self-determination by liberal policy researchers. From my vantage point, the result again could be the opposite of this intent. The possibility to watch only specifically targeted messages would seem to invert whatever capacity TV now has to bring us together, even in segmented ways. The fundamentalist housewife won't be watching home Box Office. But Jews and Unitarians won't go for the tier of service that includes CBN. Meanwhile, some young psychopath has a videodisc library which he has carefully selected to confirm only his view of society. And he may never have to discuss this in any social group.
If I were to return to Amarillo three years hence, this is what I would look at. In fact, I suspect that some of this was what I was seeing in the 1982 follow-up, and only the myopia of a too narrow research design kept me from addressing the issue. To wit, nobody seemed very interested in talking about TV. They had cable, (remarkably, 100%
of the survey respondents) and some tape and disc, and more control over what they wanted to see. They could arrange for limited services, even child-proof switches to regulate the viewing diet.
Perhaps fundamentalists understand their objectives and have a more coherent media policy than anybody else. After all, Christians controlled print for evangelical purposes for most of its history. At just about the time when TV was introduced, evangelists had completed the task of surveying the globe and witnessing the Bible to every society. It is this purpose they believe TV should also serve, and this requires Christian control of the media. Somehow, though, expanded distribution services and program availability may defuse even this issue.
Scientists concern over TV's capacity to homogenize culture and imperialize a given ideology seems to ignore the equivalent case of print and literacy. These were blatantly enlisted in the service of Protestant evangelism. And they were remarkably successful. Yet we privilege literacy, still insist on its importance for development, while we demean television. In contrast to print,
television may prove to be comparatively ideologicly free, encouraging in its present form, interesting and potentially viable social structures and cultural forms, capable of mediating meaning, and involved in some ways with the production of new messages. While each thing in the Bible may, for some people, mean one thing and one thing only, this hardly seems a characteristic of contemporary TV.
I have offered sociological evidence for the existence of TV tribes, which is to admit no more than an interrelationship between media and social structure and to suggest that in its present form, TV seems to require people to come together in face to face groups to complete the task of creating meaning from television messages. But what of the content of TV, and its relationship to the content of culture? The evidence from Amarillo identifies an ideological struggle for the control of content and the interpretation of meassages between at least two ideas: that of biblical literacy associated with print, and that of evolutionary relativism, a newer concept which is perhaps yet to find its medium. The current
contents of TV seem to aim towards a blurring of the contrasts, a mediating of distinctions. But for some Christians, no less than some philosophers and scientists, the differences are cosmological, and irreconcilable. This of course is the question in any dialectical struggle -- whether one option will prevail, or whether a synthesis is possible. In the cybernetic system of television message transmission, it is in the interest of the producers to arrive at such a synthesis, utilizing the relationship between audiences and producers to develop texts for mass audiences. But the fragmentation of the mass audience into specifically targeted markets for maximum channel and off-air resources may indicate the failure of the system to find and hold this middle ground.
So far, we might say that television contents have been as conservative as cultural contents are claimed to be, evolving slowly from traditional narrative and dramatic forms. But if we extend the evolutionary metaphor, we recognize that the new technologies offer the potential for speciation, and a period of especially rapid change and variation in information over the next
generation of the technology. To predict these varieties, or to identify which may be advantaged, would go beyond the bounds of even speculation at this point. What can be recognized is the possibility for considerable experimentation and novelty both in the system, and the information it carries, and perhaps in the society and in the culture with which it interacts. Historically, this has been the case. Media inventions proved to be associated with rapid alterations when their potentialities were fully developed. This happened not immediately, but after a period of attempting to fit the new technology to traditional uses.
What may prove most interesting about the historical lesson is that in no former case was it the society which invented the new media which ultimately profited from it. Greek civilization flowered from the Phonecian invention of alphabetic script. Catholic Germany was supplanted by Anglo Protestantism made possible by the former's invention of print. And it seems entirely feasable that it is not America, or even the "First World" at all which will realize the flowering of the
telecommunications age. Despite the extraordinary industrial infrastructure designed to capitalize on the production of hardware, it has always been software, the contents and meanings, whose development priviledges a society. Culture, I have maintained, seeks the evolution of ideas, not individuals. Empires sufficiently evolved to create media technology are perhaps too entrenched in familiar and overspecialized information to generate the new ideas required to maturate them.
1 Sapir, E., 1921. Language. Harcourt Brace and World, New York.
2 The question of whether all communication is linguistically based and whether, for example, visual communication can be appreciated through linguistically-based models is the problematic I am hedging here. Various authors have commented on the issue (i.e., Worth, 1969, Op.cit. and Ruby, 1982, "Ethnography as Trompe D'oile Film." in Ruby, ed. Anthropological Fictions, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia). In fact, semiotics was proposed exactly to deal with linguistic and non-linguistic communications within the same system (signs). I would take the position that language is one special case of the larger communication system, which is probably a common one, but is not always spelled out in terms of the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis (above) which underlies our analytic interest.
3 Sahlins, op.cit.
4 Geertz op.cit.
5 Haris, M. 1979. Cultural Materialism. Random House, New York. (Chap. 1)
6 Hannerz, U. 1974. "Ethnicity and opportunity in urban America." in Cohen, A. Urban Ethnicity. Tavistock, London. pp. 37-76.
7 Novak, M. 1973. The rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics. McMillan, New York. Compare with Glazer and Moynihan. 1963. Beyond the Melting Pot. M.I.T., Cambridge.
8 Gordon, M. 1964. Assimilation and American Life. Oxford University Press, New York.
9 Lenski G. 1961. The Religious Factor. Doubleday, New York.
10 Domhoff, W. 1979. The Powers that Be. Random House, New York.
11 Steinberg, S. 1981. The Ethnic Myth. Atheneum, New York.
12 Keller, S. 1974. "Does the family have a future?" in Coser, R. The Family, its Structures and Functions, 2nd. ed. St. Martins, New York. p.853
13 Gile, J. 1974. "Changes in the modern family." in Coser (Ibid) p. 469
14 Geertz (op.cit.) takes this position which he describes as "informant oriented accounts"(Chapter 5) The idea itself pre-dates Geertz and is in some sense implicit in participant-observation itself.
15 Ames, W., 1968 (1623). The Marrow of Theology. John Eusden, ed. Boston, p.188. "There is only one meaning for every place in Scripture. Otherwise, the meaning of Scripture would not only be unclear and uncertain, but there would be no meaning at all -- for anything which does not mean one thing surely means nothing."
The common-sensibleness of this meaning, available to "any stranger" was an observation of importance to an entire school of Scottish "Common Sense" Philosophers, associated with Thomas Reid, derived from Baconian inductive method, and the dominant paradigm for American thinkers until at least the Civil War.
16 Boller, P. 1969. American Thought in Transition: the impact of evolutionary naturalism 1865-1900, Rand McNally, Chicago.
18 This is Levi Strauss's essential distinction between the primitive and the industrial, as revealed throughout his work. I wonder, however, if somebody else's culture is
always easire to grasp than ones own. Shalins seems to indicate this, as I have already suggested.
19 Marsden, G. 1980. Fundamentalism and American Culture. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
20 Boller, op.cit.
21 Boller, op.cit., p. 23
22 Marsden, op.cit.
23 Goody, J. and I. Watt, 1973. "The consequences of literacy." in Giglioni (ed.), Language and Social Context. Cox & Wyman, London; Eisenstein, E. 1977. The Printing Press as an Agent of Social Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. McLuhan, M. 1969 (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy. New American Library, New York.
24 Eisenstein (Ibid) makes this point, but so does Marsden, with particular emphasis on fundamentalism, "Like the Puritans, the dispensationists were strongly oriented toward the printed word..." p.61. (Marsden, G., op.cit.)
25 This is McLuhan's point in Understanding Media. (1965, McGraw Hill, New York). But Ong makes an interesting exception, claiming that print remains with us and important, so we might call the new age one of "secondary orality," because print is not precisely supplanted, as in the case of teletext. (Ong, W., 1971. Rhetoric, Romance and Technology. Cornell University Press, Ithaca).
26 Gerbner, G., et al, op.cit. Also, Gerbner and Gross, 1976. "Living with television: the violence profile." Journal of Communication 26:2 pp.173-199.
27 Dr. Corder-Bolz held one of the four "Critical Viewing Skills" grants from the U.S. Office of Education (1978-1980). His findings are reported in Corder-Bolz and S.L. O'Bryant, "Significant other modification of the impact of television programming upon young children." submitted to the Office of Child Development, January, 1977, and Corder-Bolz, 1978, "Using adult
commentary to mitigate the impact of television violence on young children." SEDL Research Series, Austin.
28 Bateson, G., 1972. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Ballentine, New York, pp.194-271
29 Hostetler, J., 1974. Communitarian Societies. Holt, Rinehart Winston, New York.
Proceed to Appendix 1