Monday, October 12, 2009

Evaluating Influence

Iwabuchi's article this week deals with evaluating "Japanization" in the context of global cultural flows, while Deuze's work covers media convergence, especially the phenomenon of the audience as producer of media content. However, with this post, I will be primarily discussing the article on television analysis by Katz and Liebes.

The evolution of research techniques in social science is a topic of great interest to me. Reading about past assumptions held when evaluating the actual effect on audiences of television programs is almost laughable today. How could researchers actually believe that counting acts of violence or analyzing the power structure that controls the media is equivalent to evaluating the message that is getting through to the audience? It seems very common sensical that different members of an audience would receive varying meanings from watching a television show, seeing as how our perspectives on life are informed by a host of unique, individual, and personal experiences.

My first impression after understanding the intentions of this article was, "Seriously?! You're going to evaluate how different audiences in various countries view an absolutely frivolous show like 'Dallas'?" However, I realize now that that is part of the point. I think of Dallas (and other comparable soap operas) as having no relation to the reality of my life, but maybe in other places audiences will relate differently and gather a different meaning from this show.

And this is exactly what the researchers found. Since 'Dallas' at its core was a story about a family, it allowed viewers to examine their own interpersonal relations and values in comparison to those on this TV program. For Dutch viewers, the researcher Ang concluded that 'Dallas' transmitted "the sense of tragedy in life," while the German researcher, Herzog, found that Germans viewed the show as an "escapist fantasy" (Katz and Liebes 377). Viewers from other countries garnered different meanings from watching 'Dallas' as well.

I wonder if present-day soap operas can still be seen "as mobilizing ethnic and national identities and as capable of promoting social and economic change" (Katz and Liebes 373). Do you think 'Passions' really has that kind of effect on people? In all seriousness though, it seems that at least American soap operas are falling on hard times. For example, 'Guiding Light,' the country's longest running soap, originally a 1930s radio drama, was cancelled earlier this year due to financial inviability.

With the recognition that audiences are active viewers, research in the area of content analysis and the study of effect has made great strides. To take this research a step further, I think it would be interesting to look at how exporting television program formats affects viewers internationally, for example the pop idol shows. How is the format for this show tweaked when shown in different countries and how do the different country audiences respond to these shows?

1 comment:

  1. I think you make a great point about the evolving nature of active viewers and their tastes. Perhaps soap operas like Dallas were more of a draw to audiences in the late 20th century because society was undergoing changes in the traditional family structure including women's roles and family first mentalities. Now audiences are being drawn to pop idol and millionaire shows. Does this reflect an increased interest in money and fame as the media pushes American 'pursuit of happiness' values? Or did people simply get tired of the overly dramatized and stretched story line of soap operas? It would be interesting to study the reason for the shift in popularity and its effects on cultures around the world.