FORWARD AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
It seems unlikely that in 1982, many American students in the humanities and social sciences can fail to owe a profound debt to their parents when graduate studies are completed. My parents' support included not only material and emotional sustenance but intellectual and ethical guidance as well, for which I would like to express particular gratitude. My father was able to revive the ancient tradition of Talmudic dialogue which characterized father-son relationships in a world that neither of us had ever quite lived in before.
As an engineer, expert in international
applications of new technologies, and also a writer, he scrutinized and criticized sections of my field reports. Where he encouraged further investigation and study, I trusted his encouragement as involving professional as well as personal faith in me. My mother, perhaps somewhat more indulgent in her evaluation of my work, still could become quite adamant when it challenged her professional knowledge in social work, personal development and cross-cultural counselling. In all these exchanges, our relationship strengthened and I believe my thinking matured.
Because one usually has but two parents, it is possible to take some space acknowledging them in a preface such as this. It seems more difficult to describe the contributions of many friends and colleagues adequately. I have discussed this problem with my colleague Kay Sutherland, the anthropologist who accompanied me on the first field trip reported in this dissertation, and with whom I still consult on difficult questions. Kay is a hundredth generation Texan, and the best interviewer I have ever worked with. I trust her
opinion. Kay says she likes long acknowledgements; they tell a lot about the person writing them. So I should first acknowledge Dr. Sutherland's contribution to the work, and her valued friendship, and then acknowledge her contribution to this acknowledgment, where I will take some space to describe a number of important influences on my thinking and my work.
Jay Ruby, of the Conference on Visual Anthropology, is owed a personal and professional debt of the first order. As a scholar, he defined an area of anthropological concern with communication and culture on which I cut my teeth. As a counselor, he has kicked my butt every time I stumbled academically, while always making things ahead easier than they might have been, involving me in research and teaching projects which broadened my sense of what anthropology could be.
At the University of Texas, I was able to assemble a program for myself, and a kind of personal college of scholars to study with, who encouraged and advanced my interdisciplinary interests when they easily could have been
deterred. The idea for my program came from Roger Abrahams, whose scholarship has had considerable impact on my thinking. Many of the people with whom I was to study also were related, in some way, to Dr. Abrahams. More than coincidence, this reminds me that even though he has been elsewhere throughout the research for this dissertation, his presence continues to be felt not only on my own work, but in humanist studies throughout this university.
My committee members, Robert Fernea, Rita Atwood, Thomas Schatz and Horace Newcomb all were unusually generous with their time and their encouragement. They nursed me during the last years from studenthood to friendship. And they were able to provide the closest attention to this project, despite the hectic time-frames by which I tend to research and write. There were times when the collection of backgrounds and people (social anthropology, communication research and measurement, film criticism and TV criticism) created the liveliest and most stimulating apparently disparate interests of these international
collegial exchanges. These were moments when it seemed that together, we were indeed more than the sum of our parts. Archie Green, who retired during my studies, was an original and pivotal member of the committee. Archie probably doesn't feel particularly fond of these kinds of homages, and so my acknowledgements to him will be found in the body of the text itself.
My committee was chaired by Emile McAnany, a position intended to be a temporary administrative solution to interdisciplinary bureaucracy. It soon became clear, however, that there was more substance than this to our shared interests, and so he remained as chair, not only to broker my interests administratively, but to teach me of the possibilities for a humanistic empiricism, where the largest theoretical questions must be grounded in data from lived experiences. Through him, I came to see the applications of my work to questions of international communications, a field of growing importance and intellectual excitement.
During the data analysis for the initial
project at the Southwest Laboratory, Horace Newcomb visited the Lab and chaired a seminar to share his own approaches with us. From there, Dr. Newcomb took me quite literally in hand, brought me back to school, and kept the closest eye on me. So much of the last few years have been spent working and talking together that there are times I have difficulty determining which, if any, of my ideas are truly original. Perhaps I am most grateful, however, for his ability to share his own deep faith, and by doing so, to transform Amarillo Baptists from "subjects" in a study into human beings responding from a profoundly felt experience.
It is traditional in prefaces such as this to acknowledge the people whose lives became the object of study. In fact, although I am indeed grateful to the people of Amarillo who assisted me, particularly Buddy Sewall, T.C. Cole, Peggy Brandon and the pastors of the various churches, I remain somewhat ambivalent about my experience of the community. It is difficult for me to construct a romantic fantasy about Amarillo. But more than
this, the fundamentalist challenge to liberal and progressive principles proves to be quite real. The struggle for control of government and the schools, no less than media, poses a quite personal threat from my perspective. And yet, in the opposition to their principles, my own beliefs became clarified, and some of the ideological contradictions and obfuscations of a naive liberalism were rightly challenged. I think learning consists of such challenges.
I shared the experience of my studies with an extraordinarily talented and supportive group of graduate students. We collaborated when others would have competed. Among both anthropology students and Radio-television-film students, bonds of respect and affection were created which we all hope will be lasting. To Bob Lawrence, Jackie Byars, Sergio Mattos, Margie Fish, Michelle Wolf, and Peter Melnick, special thanks are due.
A few friends of mine who had just installed a word-processor in their co-op household suggested that I move in during the final drafts of the dissertation so that we could use the computer
instead of a typewriter and so that the dissertation would be in all respects contemporary. Steven Stepan, my typist and roommate, barely survived the ordeal. I appreciate his sense of humor at least as much as his industriousness. Other friends, particularly Richard Rae, had to come by often to drag me out to dinner or even a day in the country. Carol Nash was also able to roust me out of my preoccupation. Finally, today, the Apple II is spewing out these last pages in a relentless ease that makes it all seem so simple. I think acknowledgements to a computer, however, would be extreme.
In a matter of days, I travel to Australia, to live with an aboriginal tribe during their first experience of television. I will be seeking the continuities between those events and the ones reported here. To whatever cosmic agency governs the allocation of these opportunities, and guides one past ones own failings and hubris, as well as protecting us all from the possibility of great harm that seems implicit in our technological eagerness, I offer this last acknowledgement.
Eric Philip Michaels, Ph.D.
Supervising Professor: Emile McAnany
ABSTRACT: What are the relationships between media, society and culture? Do media bring people together, or pull them apart, around what issues, and to what effect? These questions are approached through anthropological field studies of media issues, and interpreted by way of an original conceptualization of the television message transmission system. First, central terms for the research are defined, including culture, natural history, ethnography, and information. Then, a natural historical observation of a Christian fundamentalist media protest in Amarillo, Texas, is designed, conducted and ethnographically reported
to determine what kinds of media issues arise publicly in community forums. The results of this study indicate that considerable variation in the interpretation and evaluation of television messages can be observed and may correlate with church membership in this setting. Traditional models of mass communication do not account for such variation, requiring that a conceptualization of media as a cybernetically organized system of social performances be deduced. A follow-up study is designed and conducted to refine this conceptualization and to test predictions from the original study after a three year interval. This restudy indicated that fundamentalist protests have shifted from electronic to print media issues, and that school text-books were the current focus of activity. Naturalistic protocol therefore limited the extent to which the systems conceptualization could be tested and refined. But the lack of interest in the second study contrasted to the positive response to the first, and the shift of focus to text-books, both are suggestive findings
which require interpretation.
Conclusions assert the efficacy of the cultural segmentation proposed
in both studies, and explain its operationalization in future
research. A speculative interpretation of the relationships between
the issues raised by the community -- Protestantism, media, and
socio-cultural change -- identify the significant co-occurance
of evolutionary naturalism and telecommunications, and the possible
implications of this are considered in an excercise in cultural
Proceed to Chapter 1