Monthly Archives: April 2009

Concluding Thoughts

The end of the semester is here, so it’s time for me to wrap up this project (at least for now). Though liveblogging is a very small component of what is happening today with television and online fan communities, I feel like it’s an important indicator of certain trends in both programming and audience participation. This project has really helped me to understand the state of television in our current culture of convergence, and, silly as it sounds, quelled any fears I may have had about television’s irrelevance or impending disappearance. I think the real gist of what I’ve been writing about in this blog goes back to Henry Jenkins’ statement that I quoted in my first post: “What we are now seeing is the hardware diverging while the content converges” (Jenkins 15). Of course it’s possible that someday we will all have one screen in each home, and that television will be completely programmable without even the option of spontaneous viewing. It’s even more possible that television will become like radio: background noise, occasionally tuned into but usually ignored in favor of more personalized viewing. Currently, though, I’m fascinated by the way that television programming and Internet fan communities are working together and influencing one another. I don’t doubt that we’ll continue to see new program formats and modes of audience participation in years to come.

Another interesting thing I’ve learned throughout this liveblogging investigation is how the Internet will affect the future of the field of audience reception studies. The reason I became interested in liveblogging was because while writing a paper on Mad Men audiences for another class, I discovered that liveblogs are a new way to get honest and spontaneous fan reactions to media. Where scholars used to have to mine archives and diaries for a single mention of a piece of media, now they can scroll through liveblogs for thousands of audience members’ reactions to television shows on their original air dates. Though audience reception scholars have already begun to use Internet forums and listserves in their studies, it’ll be interesting to see the influence liveblogs have. As I noted in a previous post, I see liveblogs (both single-blogger and live thread) as important because they are changing the way audiences and critics respond to television. We are no longer trying to stuff television into the same box as films. Liveblogging acknowledges that television is completely different due to its flow and open-ended nature. We now have a way to address that, and to me it makes the process of reading and writing about television that much more enjoyable.

In conclusion, then, I’m sure I’ll be reading and participating in liveblogs in the future, and I look forward to seeing the format evolve. Perhaps one day I’ll be approved by Jezebel, and then I’ll really get in the game.

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Television, “Flow” and “Liveness”

Last Saturday evening, I attempted, yet again, to participate in a Saturday Night Live live thread offered by Jezebel.com, one of the few outlets for casual, adult fans of television shows to participate in. All I had to do was create a profile, and then I could join the group in discussing everything from Seth Rogen’s hosting abilities to ads airing on the commercial breaks. I was foiled again, however. It turns out that Jezebel requires “auditioning” to be a commenter on their site, which means that until I build up an impressive cache of witticisms, nothing I say will appear on the site. Unfortunately, this means the clever comment I attempted to post regarding Seth Rogen’s new “mall cop” film will not appear on the site until this week’s SNL liveblog is ancient history. Nervous as I was to enter this seemingly close-knit group of Jezebel and SNL devotees, it was even more ostracizing to learn that I was being screened as a potentially antagonistic, boring, or simple-minded commenter with nothing better to do than clog up their threads with my petty ramblings. I have yet to be approved, as there’s something pitiful about posting comments you know won’t show up soon, or possibly ever. This interesting turn of events, however, does relate to my post from two weeks ago on Gawker Media. Jezebel, as one of the Gawker sites, has a snarky-yet-sweet reputation to uphold. Much like Gawker’s “follow my example” Oscars liveblog, Jezebel‘s commenting policy puts restrictions on participants in order to uphold a certain image and credibility. If they open up the live thread to just anyone, they fear they’ll become a site like Perez Hilton, whose commenters are known for their crude, expletive-laden and banal posts.

Despite this liveblogging roadblock, I was still able to follow along with the live thread while watching Saturday Night Live (despite the Beavis and Butthead reruns tempting me from MTV2). Trying to keep up with the comments on the live thread (which were on the whole witty and entertaining), and thinking up my own comments (which I couldn’t help but do though they wouldn’t be published) took a lot of my attention, an aspect of liveblogging I acknowledged a few weeks ago when I tried my hand at it. This led to me to reflect on Raymond Williams’ famous concept of “flow,” and how its definition is being altered in the digital age. In Television, Williams defines flow as a then-new way of thinking about television. Viewing, when controlled by an audience with multiple options, becomes not programming but flow, or the television sequences a viewer takes in in a single sitting. He writes, “It is evident that what is now called ‘an evening’s viewing’ is in some ways planned, by providers and then by viewers, as a whole; that it is in any event planned in discernible sequences which in this sense override particular programme units” (Williams 93). What happens, then, if flow starts to encompass more than what is on TV? With liveblogging, viewers are combining these online dialogue “sequences” with their regular television viewing, and because it’s directly related to the program, it seems to be part of flow. Even networks are picking up on this and scheduling “live chats” with various contestants, actors, creators, etc. for directly after the programs on which they’re featured. We might also consider American Idol’s voting process a part of its flow, meaning that “an evening’s viewing” constitutes not only a television, but a cell phone.

np-00304-c1Henry Jenkins and others have written on the concept of “overflow,” a term derived from Williams that covers the process of one medium’s content (like a television show) spilling over into other media (like a video game or fan forum). However, I would argue that liveblogging and something like American Idol‘s voting process are unique, and both fit into Williams’ definition of flow, as they are not just connected by content, but by simultaneous experience.

In his essay “Television’s Next Generation,” William Uricchio states that the concept of flow has changed because “the agency of the television programmer has been displaced by the RCD-equipped viewer, who in turn has been displaced by metadata programmers and adaptive agent designers” (Uricchio 178). He also foresees that “the liveness and pseduo-liveness that Williams described as a characteristic of the medium will be dropped for the virtuality and omnipresence offered by filters and adaptive agents in combination with digital video recorders” (Uricchio 179). It’s true that DVRs, TIVO and online streaming of television have changed the way we think of flow, how sequences and disruptions are structured, and who has a stake in planned flow (now more people than ever). However, Uricchio’s argument about the liveness of television overlooks the very practices I’ve been discussing. Due to the aggressiveness of the online “spoiling” community, pseudo-liveness has become almost as important to popular television today as pseudo-realness. Reality shows, especially American Idol, thrive on liveness. It’s what makes them relevant and important to their audiences. The incorporation of other media into television flow is a product of this “liveness.” Viewers need to vote directly after an Idol broadcast by texting with their phones. Saturday Night Live viewers rate good and bad sketches on Jezebel‘s live thread while they’re watching them.

Sure, because of DVRs, VCRs, online streaming, syndication, etc., viewers no longer have to turn on the television at a certain time to see a certain show. However, the fast-paced Internet television fan community (as well as the structure of reality shows like Idol) make it desirable for viewers to be there the first time around. The pseudo-liveness that might have begun as simply a “characteristic of the medium” has actually become an important selling point for television, perhaps the key to its relevance. Like radio, it offers spontaneity and a refreshingly limited number of options. As I noted in my last post on liveblogging the real, we want to feel present in our own culture; to be there to respond, document, and remember. Convergence culture supports this desire, which in turn supports television’s place in our lives.

Works Cited

Uricchio, William. “Television’s Next Generation.” Television After TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition. Eds. Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

Williams, Raymond. Television: Technology and Cultural Form. New York: Routledge, 1974.

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Liveblogging the Real

So far on this blog, I’ve discussed liveblogging and television viewing mostly as it relates to narrative television shows and reality shows. There’s another area in which liveblogging is becoming more popular, however, and that’s news and real media events. CNN has led the pack on the news/liveblog pairing by offering open threads during two of their most popular programs, Larry King Live (which is more of an entertainment program) and Anderson Cooper 360. Yesterday’s edition of the latter featured fans first commenting about the show and Cooper himself (“Wow Anderson…what an introduction,” “Anderson’s back! Loved the live broadcasts from London”), then turning to discussing the news of the day. What is interesting (though not surprising) about these news-show liveblogs is that there is not a lot of commentary about the program itself and the way its presenting the news. Like most people watching a news program, they are simply looking for others to discuss the events of the world with as they hear about them. On this particular evening, the main subjects were the Binghamton, NY shootings and Iowa’s court decision upholding same-sex marriage rights. Some sample comments:

Maren in Oregon: [on Binghamton] The circumstances of the killings are all different, but the story of the killers seems always the same: loner, collect or buy serious weapons; silent, anti-social, depressed.

Barbara in Boston: [on Iowa] I think this is a civil rights issue and that rulings like this are progress towards greater civil liberties for all.

More on Binghamton:

Isabel: What traumatic situation for the mother of this lady …

Emma: Unbelievable…….I wonder if they’ll ever find out what set him off.

The comments proceed like this throughout the thread. There is not a lot of argument on this particular evening, but a lot of support: when commenters respond to each other, they tend to make remarks like “Good point!” and then add to or answer another commenter’s question. The tone here is obviously quite different from that of the snarky responses to narrative television. There is the sober recognition that this is real, and there’s no joking around.

One benefit some might see to liveblogs of this nature would be the possibility of a critical close reading in the vein of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. Viewers watching have the chance to analyze and respond to the way the news media spins narratives, reveals its biases, and manipulates the audience. There has been some of this cropping up on the web, mostly related to Fox News, but these are all separate blog: this kind of analysis rarely takes place in the liveblogs offered by the networks themselves.

Liveblogging is also part and parcel of the age in which newsworthy events unfold before us in real time, via the media. In his book The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, Jean Baudrillard writes about how the media build up to certain events, like wars, and subsequent media “coverage” of them is no longer war at all, but becomes pure illusion. He writes, “We are no longer in a logic of the passage from virtual to actual but in a hyperrealist logic of the deterrence of the real by the virtual” (Baudrillard 27). He goes on to state that it is precisely the “real time” nature of media coverage of war that caused this shift: ” ‘real time’ information loses itself in a completely unreal space, finally furnishing the images of pure, useless, instantaneous television where its primordial function interrupts, namely that of filling a vacuum, blocking up the screen hole through which escapes the substance of events” (Baudrillard 31). He discusses the Gulf War coverage and its predilection for extensive focus on planning, strategy, speculation, and buildup, and notes Saddam Hussein (and others’) awareness of the performative and narrative aspects of this television war.

The feature of this type of coverage that is most relevant here, however, is the cavalcade of “experts” and “specialists” trotted out to analyze each situation as it unfolds before our eyes. This is a feature that has become ubiquitous on cable (and network) television news, and the news event liveblog has, in many ways, become an extension of it. The liveblog allows us not only to register our reactions to certain events, but to take part in what we think might just be an important historical event. We want to saturate ourselves in this event, feel a part of it, predict it, and perhaps (especially in the case of 9/11) help others solve or make sense of it. Baudrillard writes, “The war, along with the fake and presumptive warriors, generals, experts, and television presenters we see speculating about it all through the day, watches itself in a mirror: am I pretty enough, am I operational enough, am I spectacular enough, am I sophisticated enough to make an entry onto the historical stage?” (Baudrillard 31-32)

At this point, media coverage of September 11th is the most interesting evidence we have of the way real time media changes the way we view the world. Though there were no liveblogs (that I could locate) of the event, regular people participated in the coverage by photographing, videotaping, and later recounting their versions of events to various news outlets. Television coverage of the event (available via youtube) demonstrates exactly what makes real time media participation so irresistable: the “narrative” is still coming together, and we have the power to shape it. Many conspiracy theories have come from the fact that there were so many conflicting eye witness accounts thrown around in the media immediately following the attacks. Awestruck bystanders reported seeing military planes, exploding bombs, and many other things that were later discounted, but they remained in the minds of those of us watching. The real time coverage in this case seemed to be the opposite of the Gulf War coverage as characterized by Baudrillard: there was no buildup, just event and aftermath, and an atmosphere of unpredictability and panic exuded from our TV sets. It was only in the coverage following the initial hysteria that the narrative began to come together, leading to the intensely manipulated media coverage of the “war on terror” and the Iraq War to follow.

It is this type of spontaneity, then, that I think today’s livebloggers wish to capture when they chronicle news events. We want to capture a historical event before it becomes history, but most of the time, as in the case of Obama’s inaguration, the events and public reaction to them have been predetermined. We hope, through liveblogging, to capture an honest moment of history-in-the-making, like the Zapruder film or NBC’s live shot of tower two being struck.

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