Demographic Vistas

Demographic Vistas: Television in American Culture

David Marc
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: REV - Revised
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Demographic Vistas
    Book Description:

    In Demographic Vistas, David Marc shows how we can take television seriously within the humanist tradition while enjoying it on its own terms. To deal with the barrage of messages from television's chaotic history, Marc adapts tools of theatrical and literary criticism to focus on key personalities and genres in ways that reward serious students and casual viewers alike. This updated edition includes a new foreword by Horace Newcomb and a new introduction by the author that discusses the ways in which the nature of television criticism has changed since the book's original publication in 1984. A new final chapter explores the paradox of the diminishing importance of over-the-air broadcasting during the period of television's greatest expansion, which has been brought about by complex technologies such as cable, videocassette recorders, and online services.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0271-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface to the 1984 Edition
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. Foreword to the Revised Edition
    (pp. xix-xxii)
    Horace Newcomb

    In this edition of Demographic Vistas David Marc directly addresses the fundamental question that underlies the first edition and all his subsequent work: What is television? Here, in a new concluding chapter, the question is framed in the past. Marc argues, and I agree, that what we have generally accepted as a social, cultural category and phenomenon referred to as “television,” what he more appropriately designates as “broadcasting,” is with us no more. But neither the historical perspective nor the more precise terminology can fully answer that first question, the one that seems so simple and obvious. We have never...

  5. Introduction to the Revised Edition
    (pp. xxiii-xxxii)

    I attended college at a school that changes its name quite a bit. It was founded as Harpur College in 1948. When I enrolled in 1968 it was in the process of switching over to the State University of New York at Binghamton. The last solicitation for alumni funds I received had it as Binghamton University. Given the primitive speed of book publishing, it could very well be calling itself something else by the time you are reading this—perhaps the Richard Nixon Institute or George Pataki A & M. In any case, I visited alma mater several years ago on...

  6. 1 Beginning to Begin Again
    (pp. 1-38)

    An unholy marriage of sociology and art—the shotgun is pointed at art—American television is a perplexing montage. The programs are conceived as stimuli for the masses, but it is left to the viewer to establish a text in a personal, even private, way. Whatever is exposed to television is under attack. Ideals are confounded by the depressing spectacle of astonishing technical acumen aimed at gross simplification. Belief is disappointed; the soul is not visible on the screen. Traditional political ideologies have been unable to respond coherently. The Left finds conspiracy snarling behind the pervasive promotion of consumer outlook...

  7. 2 The Situation Comedy of Paul Henning: Modernity and the American Folk Myth in The Beverly Hillbillies
    (pp. 39-64)

    While relatively much critical attention has been given to the “sophisticated” sitcoms of Norman Lear and Grant Tinker, little has been said about what was probably the most popular sitcom—if not the most popular show—in television history, Paul Henning’s Beverly Hillbillies (CBS, 1962–71). Even among those critics who do not treat television itself as a pariah, most have treated Henning as one. No less an explicator of popular American phenomena than Russel Nye wrote of Henning’s comedies, “They deal in neither sex, nor issues, nor problems, but only in laughter.”¹ This of course is not true, nor...

  8. 3 The Comedy of Public Safety
    (pp. 65-98)

    The sitcom offers representation of the interior, the domestic, the banal, and the intimate. The genre comments on American society microscopically, portraying the effects of culture on a family, extended family, vocational group, or other microcosmic social unit. Culture is revealed in the opinions and styles of the various demographic components of this grass-roots unit. Periodic revisions of taste in dress, interior decoration, linguistic construction, personal hygiene, and so on, serve the consumerist obligation of the industry. The sexes, the generations, the races, and occasionally the classes confront each other in long-term dialogues. A ritual quality grows out of the...

  9. 4 Gleason’s Push
    (pp. 99-128)

    The television personality develops in one or more of three general modes: the representational, in which he dons the mask of a frankly fictional character; the presentational, in which, as “himself,” he addresses the audience within the context of theatrical space; and the documentary, in which his “real life”—his exploits, his opinions on matters of public concern, his Lifestyle—becomes the subject of other television programs or presentations in other media. Gleason, like many of the early TV clowns, went the grand route of developing all three. Modern TV sitcom stars such as John Ritter, Robin Williams, and Henry...

  10. 5 Self-Reflexive at Last
    (pp. 129-166)

    Whitman and Poe were the major urban poets of nineteenth-century America. Their visions are diametrically opposite. Whitman saw a new beginning for humankind in the teeming polyglot masses of the new nation; Poe was horrified by its chaotic formlessness. The imaginative agenda of identification that Whitman chants in the lines above may be answered in a broadcast day consisting of Nova, The Wide World of Sports, Georgia Championship Wrestling, and a rerun of Emergency! One imagines an America without television, an America mutating the ideas, customs, styles, religions, genotypes, and leisure habits of the world, yet unable to “normalize” these...

  11. 6 What Was Broadcasting?
    (pp. 167-190)

    Like the national debt, the homeless population, gun ownership, and job insecurity, television grew prodigiously in the 1980s. In terms of quantity, a steadily increasing number of channels served a steadily increasing number of audiences who were putting their sets to a steadily increasing number of uses. In terms of quality, programming got simultaneously much better and much worse than it ever had been, establishing a fresh context for the mediocrity that still dominates it (and every other artistic endeavor thus far attempted). Ironically, during this period of prolific expansion in the form, function, and spectrum of television, broadcasting steadily...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 191-204)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-214)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 215-220)
  15. Main Index
    (pp. 221-232)
  16. Index of Television Series
    (pp. 233-238)
  17. Index of Films Made for Theatrical Release
    (pp. 239-240)