Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Televisual, "The Affluencer", and The Live

First of all, I find striking similarities between the article "The Affluencer" by Susan Dominus from the NY Times and the topics being discussed in my Media Studies: Ideas class. After watching "The Persuaders" from Frontline on PBS for his class last week, we engaged in an in depth discussion about advertising; I posted on the discussion board that in the advent of TiVo and DVRs, the proliferation of product integration that occurs on realities programs is especially noticeable on Bravo reality shows such as "Project Runway" who rely on their sponsors for funding yet somehow seamlessly integrate the products into the content.

There is a quote from the Times that discusses this aforementioned seamless integration: "On 'Project Runway,' Tim Gunn invokes the Bluefly Accessories Wall with a reverence and regularity that's more ritual than rote," emphasizing the point I made in my MS:I post that “I don't really cringe every time I hear Heidi or Tim say these things, because it's almost like it's a recurring character, some sort of repetition that's almost soothing to the ear.” I don’t mind hearing these things because I love the show that much. But let’s leave behind advertising for a minute and focus on televisuality. Most of what I will be referring to comes from Channel 8 (“The Real”) of Paolo Carpignano’s website.

The term “affluencer” was developed by the general manager of Bravo Media to refer to the channel’s “premium demographic”: usually educated adults under the age of 50 who make a significant amount of money (the article cites that “about a quarter of [Bravo viewers] make more than $100,000 a year”). And if one studies the characters on most of Bravo’s original programming (“Real Housewives of...”, “Project Runway”, “Flipping Out”, “Million Dollar Listing”, “Top Chef”) we see individuals who are hard-working, culturally-savvy and slightly highbrow with whom the audience of the programs directly identifies. This directly refers to Carpignano’s ideas surrounding the mimetic nature of television, namely that these programs represent the real world through the art of the television show.

Also interesting: Carpignano argues that there is “a sense of "nowness," of being there, of being a relay of events that increases ‘the sense of realisticness, the sense that the camera is merely recording what happened’”, which is essentially the whole draw of reality television. In actuality, these programs are edited within an inch of their reality. There is so much that goes unseen. And this is an attempt to “[flatter] the viewers’ sense of their own good taste” (Dominus), a value that Bravo Media prides itself on upholding: the majority of these shows are not people throwing chairs at each other, people complaining about how someone left the bathroom in disarray. Bravo competitive reality programming caters to the sense of reality that is affluence, good taste, and artful, the types of lives that its viewers (usually) live.


Furthering the discussion of the televisual, I think that we can no longer say that we watch television unless we are watching it in real time or when it is a live broadcast. I still watch some television shows that are not readily available on the internet for free in real time on television because I don't have a DVR or TiVo. This would relate to Carpignano's concept of "The Live" on Channel 6 of his website. Carpignano claims that "live after all is the main attribute of transmission", and therefore the main attribute that makes television television. I would argue that instead, we watch "television programs" that can really be viewed on any screen, despite the size, style or type of the screen. These are not live transmissions because they are stored on sites to be played and replayed whenever we, the audience, chooses to commit the "play" button into action. The transmission of live television can only be through the dominance of TV stations and their executives and heads of programming over the transmission schedule, ie they will decide for the mass audiences what will be played and when. I think that by making "watching television" or "watching a television show" something that the viewer chooses to do on her/his own schedule takes away some power from those who transmit, and ultimately does redefine what watching television is. In "the age of the DVR", audience members are no longer completely at the whim of programmers; audience members can now take an active role in watching television.

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