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TitleThe Small Screen: How Television Equips Us to Live in the Information Age
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Table of Contents
                            The Small Screen : How Television Equips Us to Live in the Information Age
		1 Television and Social Change
			The Times They Are a-Changin’
			Television as Public Discourse
		2 Life in the Information Age
			The Information Explosion
			Society through the Lens of Technocapitalism
			Social Anxieties in the Information Age
		3 Hyperconscious Television
			Embracing ‘the Future’: The Attitude of Yes
			The Simpsons as Exemplar
			Symbolic Equipments in Hyperconscious TV
		4 Nostalgia Television
			Celebrating ‘the Past’: The Attitude of No
			Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman as Exemplar
			Symbolic Equipments in Nostalgia TV
		5 Television and the Future
			(Re)Viewing the Small Screen
			Life and Television in the Twenty-First Century
			The Next Great Paradigm Shift?
Document Text Contents
Page 1

The Small Screen
How Television Equips Us to Live
in the Information Age

Brian L. Ott

Page 108

shift from the Industrial Age to the Information Age was a playful,

welcoming one. As noted in chapter 1, modes of discourse func-

tion symbolically to assist individuals in confronting, managing, and

resolving the actual and perceived difficulties of their sociohistorical

context. The remainder of this chapter explores how hyperconscious

television equips individuals to address the specific anxieties brought

on by the information explosion and thereby adapt to life in the

Information Age. This discussion is roughly divided into two parts,

ways of being and ways of knowing. Public discourse, whether medi-

ated or nonmediated, furnishes both ontological and epistemological

resources. With regard to ontology, public discourse, and television in

particular, both offer models of identity – not of who to be, but of

how to be – and provide specific cultural resources for enactment

(Ott 2003a: 58). Public discourse also works on an epistemological

level to shape the ways one processes information. The mind is trained,

so to speak, to operate in an identifiable fashion.

Few concepts are as complex and contentious as that of identity. Part

of the difficulty lies in the fact that the Western understanding of ‘‘the

self’’ has been in the making for thousands of years. In traditional

premodern societies, the idea of the self was a relatively unquestioned

and therefore unproblematic matter. One simply was who one was, an

individuated embodiment of an immortal soul. The premoderns, ex-

plains Walter Truett Anderson (1997), ‘‘knew with . . . certainty who

and what they were, because every interaction through the day’s

activities or through a lifetime recognized and reaffirmed their

names, family connections, and social roles’’ (35). But this all began

to change as society transitioned into the modern era. The French

philosopher René Descartes, who lived during turbulent times charac-

terized by constant religious and political conflict, was skeptical about

whether beliefs about anything were beyond question. As he contem-

plated the things that it was possible to question, Descartes concluded

that the only thing beyond doubt is the existence of a rational, self-

aware, individual subject. The Cartesian subject, as it is now known,

was grounded in the premise, ‘‘I think, therefore I am,’’ and was the

center of the knowable world. The German philosopher Immanual

Kant later refined the Cartesian view of the subject, noting that it

involved the ‘‘search’’ for a substantial, innate essence. But both

Descartes and Kant viewed the self as rational, essential, and funda-

mentally unchanging.







Page 109

A somewhat more mutable understanding of the self in modernity

is evident in the writings of the Danish philosopher and theologian

Søren Kierkegaard and the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. For

Kierkegaard and Sartre, the self is an existential project for each person

in which one forges an identity from available social roles and materials,

endlessly combining and recombining resources in an effort to develop

a uniquely individual self. Unlike the rationalist view of identity as

innate and inherent, writes Douglas Kellner (1995), ‘‘The existential

self is always fragile and requires commitment, resolve, and action to

sustain’’ (232). The principal difference, therefore, between the ration-

alist and the existentialist concept of the self is that the former assumes

the truth of a unitary self that needs to be discovered and the latter aims

to develop a unitary self by overcoming inner conflict (Anderson 1997:

19, 23–4). The rise of the information technologies has problematized

both of these (modernist) conceptions of the self, however. By con-

stantly exposing us to and saturating us with conflicting messages and

ideologies, the mass media have dramatically undermined any grounds

upon which to base a unitary self, whether discovered or developed.

One consequence is the fragmentation of the subject.

Hyperconscious television provides resources for addressing this

matter by proffering an alternative model of the self – one that views

fragmentation not as an unwelcome threat, but as an opportunity for

an expanded and adventurous form of self-expression. Psychologist

Kenneth Gergen (2000) terms this conception of the self ‘‘multiphre-

nia,’’ noting that it involves ‘‘the acquisition of multiple and disparate

potentials for being,’’ the ‘‘splitting of the individual into a multiplicity

of investments’’ (69, 73–4). On a formal level, the very character of

hyperconscious television itself might be described as multiphrenic

given its eclectic mixing of cultural codes and categories. Programs

such as Moonlighting and Ally McBeal have split personalities, juxta-

posing dramatic and musical entertainment elements with the situation

comedy, while shows like The Simpsons and Twin Peaks interweave

elements of high and popular culture. Above all, eclectic forms value

hybridity and simultaneity. They accomplish this, at least in part, by

elevating image over narrative. An image is a surface collage of signs,

whereas a narrative is a developing sequence of signs. As such, images

favor simultaneity over causality; they allow for fragmented expression.

Through the appropriation and mixing of existing images, styles, and

looks, one can be – or more accurately, one can perform – many selves








Page 215

voter apathy and information

overload, 48

VR.5, 60–1

Walker, James R., 101, 146–7

Walker, Texas Ranger, 108–9, 111,

117, 123, 140, 145

‘‘war on terror’’ and information, 163

web browsers, 36

Weiner, Ed, 111

Wells, John, 64

West Wing, The, 166

Williams, Frederick, 10

Williams, Raymond, ix

Without a Trace, 166–7

Wonder Years, The, 114–15, 118,


Wood, Denis, 121

Wood, Ellen Meiksins, 28

world economy in Industrial Age, 45

World Wide Web, 36, 143, 160

writerly texts, 171n

Writers Guild of America awards, 59

Wurman, Richard Saul, 29, 30, 31,


X-Files, The, 21, 60–1

X-treme sports, 22

‘‘yes’’ attitude, 57, 58, 150, 164

YK2 bug, 162–3, 164

Young Riders, The, 117

Zoglin, Richard, 26n, 38, 48, 55, 168



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