Raymond Williams, “Television”

1974

In this text, still a staple of televisual studies, Williams investigates the cause-effect relationship between television and the social changes it has allegedly wrought on our world. He considers whether the technology itself is accidental, or whether its uses and manipulations are unique to it as a medium [the internet’s TV outgrowth would seem to support this]. Both views hand the agency to TV itself – technological determinism. This is opposed to another class of opinion, less determinist – that TV is an “element or medium in a process of change that is in any case occurring or about to occur” 6. Technologies are symptoms, more than agents, of change here: symptomatic technology.

Williams proposes a third view – more intentional than the chanciness of technological determinism and more directly feeding social needs and purposes than the symptomatic reading. Whereas in fascism, broadcasting would be used for “direct political and social control” [arguably Communist too, Williams!], in capitalism it focuses on economics 18. Television both fills a purpose of capitalism and is taken advantage of for purposes of capitalism.

In the most famous chapter of the book, Williams presents TV programming as “sequence or flow” 86. [Suture again?] The intervals between programming, once filled by some signifier that the signal was still active, have been filled in by commercial advertising 90.

“What is being offered is not, in older terms, a programme of discrete units with particular insertions, but a planned flow, in which the true series is not the published sequence of programme items but this sequence transformed by the inclusion of another kind of sequence, so that these sequences together compose the real flow, the real ‘broadcasting'” 91.

Williams examines the flow in detail and finds links between the kinds of programmes and commercials between them and the potential connections a viewer would make: “this is the flow of meanings and values of a specific culture” 120 [faceting].

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