by Jovanna Haddad (592 words)
The essay “Democratizing Television” introduces readers to the idea of participatory culture in television. It is no surprise that a political figure such as Al Gore is behind the idea, as his hopes are directly correlated with the fundamental principle of this country—to create a more democratic relationship with our media while creating community with each other. Whether this is a political feat or not, the efforts behind Al Gore’s ideas are worth noting. The launch of the cable news network Current created a pathway for viewers to not only consume the news, but also help produce the content with the extended ability of selecting the best matters to be aired. The latter idea, Al Gore hoped, had the “potential to diversify civil discourse” (pg 278). Despite his what appear to be earnest efforts, there is an unshakeable inclination to question why. Why is this necessary in television and why do politicians suddenly care about creating community? To our relief most of the reason for media convergence, convergence representing a paradigm shift from medium-specific content toward content that flows through multiple channels, appears to be economic (pg 279). The primal reasons are to exploit the advantages of media conglomeration, create multiple ways of selling content to consumers, and cement some degree of customer loyalty during a time of high media fragmentation. In a practical sense, the movement by corporate leaders and politicians with large wallets to “democratize television” is nothing but a coined phrase to make more money. But are there still potential benefits, or better yet and inevitably unruly trend dictated by the public?
In a study conducted in 1991 by W. Russell Neuman, he examined if people’s engrained habits to how they interact with media would stifle the potential progress in a participatory relationship. His results were conclusive in predicting a culture that was not ready to embrace such progress. Fast-forward to today, post Web 2.0, and the exact opposite is arguable—new technology is deeply explored by local techies, and new information about products is most likely released on consumer-generated blogs rather than official company websites. Despite the dark story of the birth of media convergence, consumers are proud to take their role as producers of content as communication with media is becoming two-way. Marshall Sella from the New York Time’s could not have put it in better words, describing “…a man with one machine (a TV) is doomed to isolation, but a man with two machines (TV and a computer) can belong to a community” (pg 280).
The online format of TV has been largely driven by fan culture and their connection to the TV shows on screen. The textbook observes Fandom as a balance between fascination and frustration, both being vulnerable to the passions of the voices of their following (pg 281). A participatory TV culture helps support just that. In the period of the 60s to the 80s, this was not possible with television, unless your idea of participation included yelling to unresponsive moving images. Broadcast was traditionally a monologue and us consumers were acknowledge as the “grateful viewer”, as Henry Jenkins the author of “Democratizing Television” puts it. Now, even at home participation with TV is likely by way of reality shows such as singing and dancing competitions, and emotive interactions with reality stars. Social media sites are largely conducted for the sake of shares, followings, and generating content that is intended to reach the public, and has become a leading platform in measuring ratings and likeability of TV shows, their plots, and characters.