Live television ‘the extraordinary and the everyday’

This week we looked at the role of television broadcasting in the construction of the nation. Television allows public values to “penetrate the private world of the residence, with the world of the house being integrated into the metaphor of public life” (Morley, pp.1-5). By blurring the lines between the public and private sphere, television is involved in the construction of ‘the nation’. Contrasting the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony to the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony we were able to see how television can be nation building.

The opening sequence of the Beijing ceremony of 2008 drummers performing perfectly in sync was a display of perfection, demonstrating the might and discipline of the nation. It was a lavish grand tribute to Chinese civilization, and “sought to stir a nation’s ancient pride”  (Yardley, 2008). We discussed the idea of it being a state spectacle, reflective of China’s communist status. To those viewing the ceremony on TV it showed unity, and definitely reflected the idea of nation. Although only a small number of the privileged had the opportunity to attend the ceremony, over 1 billion people tuned in to watch the spectacle.

Jim Yardley from the NY Times believes for this reason, the ceremony gave the Communist party its most uninterrupted, unfiltered chance to reach a large global audience. “The party wants to inspire national pride within China, and bolster its own legitimacy in the process, even as leaders want to reassure the world that a rising China poses no danger” (Yardley, 2008). Many Chinese watching the ceremony would have been filled with a sense of national pride as television is inclusive, it does not reject viewers, hence Morley believes it is central to the “cultural thickening” (Morley, pp.106) of the nation state.

The London opening ceremony was in contrast very different. For one it appeared to be less about the nation, and more about London, however it did still display a sense of national pride. Very much reflective of director filmmaker Danny Boyle, it was eclectic and individual. In a short space of time he was cleverly able to put together a history of London encompassing the Industrial revolution, the world wars, as well as a cultural history, looking at music and fashion throughout the ages. This ceremony was more “TV friendly” (Web, 2012) than Beijing, and no doubt this was considered by those involved with the production when putting it all together. Boyle managed to tap into elements of Britishness that we love, from the Queen, to James Bond, and in doing so was able to tell the story of a nation.

While this form of ‘extraordinary’ television, is in some ways unfamiliar, and is viewed at a distance from the audience, ‘everyday’ television, such a breakfast TV offers the opposite. Even more inclusive, it draws the audience in through content and form, and its sense of the ‘everyday’. For many people, their daily routine begins by flicking on breakfast TV while they get ready for work. Morley argues because of this “broadcasting is not simply involved in ordinary life (but at least in part) constitutive of it” (Morley, p.109). The style of these programs, from the way the hosts talk directly to the audience, to their casual and upbeat manner, and their unscripted conversations between segments work together to make the audience feel a part of the experience they are watching. As an audience we are able to relate to these hosts, perhaps there lives are not so different from ours. The way it balances fragmentation and flow, and makes use of its ‘liveness’ are essential in building a relationship with the audience. Knowing you are watching something live makes it more relevant, and has greater authority, and the experience may feel more personal because of it.

On an end note, the consumption of television whether the extraordinary of the everyday variety produces a form of cultural citizenship. Individuals decide for themselves, which aspects of culture shown through TV connect with their identity, and which they relate to as citizens. Once seen as the ‘electronic heart’ of the family, television is a very influential medium.

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