The Public Interest

28 Nov

Spigel-Dawson’s article (Television and Digital Media) mentions the rise of niche shows and networks based on various demographic profiles: “Lifetime is the ‘woman’s network’; Bravo is the ‘gay network’; BET is the ‘black network” while other networks […] adhere to lifestyle formations and specialised [britsic] tastes” (278). At this point, the hypercompartmentalization has broken into individual programs, so much so that individual networks specialize in niche programming (or do they???* *more on that later). Here are some examples, for fun:

From TLC (The Learning Channel) 

From TruTV

This all reminded me of the most absurd example I’ve come across: a Spike TV show called MANswers. It’s a pun on “answers” you see, answering hypothetical questions that men might ask each other (e.g. What animal can give you an erection for hours? Who’s the richest bitch in America? What’s the biggest handgun you can buy? How would big boobs bounce on the Moon? Can you freeze your farts and smell them later? Where is the drunkest place in the Universe? What’s more nutritious: cat or dog? How do you survive a killer bee attack? What’s the deadliest weapon a prisoner can hide up his ass? Which method of smoking weed can get a dude the highest? Do midget hookers charge half-price? How can you tell if she’s really a he? Where have dudes make some secret sex tapes without breaking the law? How can you exercise without exercising? What’s in your ball sack?). In Spike TV we see men, who have already dominated television’s programming for all of Television Time, being treated as a niche audience. This of course is no more representative of American men as Lifetime or Oxygen is to women, BET to African Americans, Bravo and Logo to the GLBT community, MTV and Fuse to teenagers, or Disney to children. But, as Spigel-Dawson points out, it doesn’t really matter. “Rather than attempting to provide programmes that are in ‘the public interest’, these devices instead tell the public what they are ‘interested in’, and then market that knowledge as a consumer service” (282). When the model for watching television is picking from a collection of recorded material on a hard drive, there is less at stake when scheduling programming, especially when a network isn’t confident about new material. What emerges is a slew of series put virtually into immediate syndication through the cataloging of DVR, VOD, and other acronyms. And though the nature of most shows falling to rapid cancellation isn’t new (I have no means of comparing, though, perhaps there’s a natural increase even when accounting for the explosion in networks), this phenomenon opens up exploratory and ironic habits of viewership.

The easiest example is Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, which I, like many, began watching ironically (and which also matched President Clinton’s DNC speech in ratings). Filled with all the sentiments most other Concerned Viewers voiced, I was hesitant to admit that though I could not commit to complete sincerity, part of me enjoyed the show in a completely earnest way. Fortunately, I had the option of watching the show and the DNC speech after the fact, so could avoid that decision. The show is not alone in its obscurity, as evidenced by the current programming of TLC and TruTV (clearly valuing absurdity over the niche representation), nor is it alone in its partial viewership of irony-mongers mixed with guilty-pleasurers. To what extent are studio executives and programmers aware of this irony? The editing and social media integration of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo suggests an impressive degree of self-awareness, at least on the producers’ part, but what about when the ironic viewership (cf. Liz and Dick and Twitter) constitutes a significant part of the audience? What does this attitude—already evident in advertising’s co-option of irony—say about the way Americans treat their own digestion of media?

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