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journal of
CULTURAL studies

Copyright © 2001 SAGE Publications

London, Thousand Oaks,
CA and New Delhi
Volume 4(4): 371–384
[1367-8779(200112)4:4; 371–384; 020131]

Television and cultural studies

Unfinished business

● Graeme Turner
University of Queensland, Australia

ABSTRACT ● This introductory article argues that the current state of

debate on television within cultural studies is marked by considerable areas of

theoretical and political uncertainty. The spread of deregulatory and privatizing
public policies in relation to television, and the disarticulation of television from
the idea of the national community and from the role of the citizen, have posed
new problems for theorizing the relation between television and its audiences. In
this article I survey a number of key areas of debate: the relation between
television, the nation and the state; television and the citizen/consumer,
television content and performance, and the likely future(s) of television. ●

KEYWORDS ● citizen ● consumer ● cultural studies ● media

performance ● nation ● television

This special issue on Television and Cultural Studies is the product of a

conference hosted by the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies at the
University of Queensland, Australia, in November 2000. The title of the
conference, ‘Television: Past, Present And Futures’, acknowledged the fact
that while there is now a rich academic tradition of research into and analy-
sis of television, there is also considerable uncertainty about the likely
future(s) of the medium. Indeed, it is ironic that just as television studies
have achieved academic credibility, the object of study is poised, some would
suggest, on the brink of obsolescence. Or, as Toby Miller (2000) has put it,
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more succinctly, it may be a case of ‘Hullo Television Studies, Bye-Bye

Television?’. Nevertheless, the level of interest in the conference from both
academic and industry representatives certainly suggested that television is
far from a declining or irrelevant medium.
The list of topics explored in this conference referenced debates not only
from television studies but also from cultural studies: television and history,
television and the nation, television and the citizen, television and globaliz-
ation, television and new media, television and the future. The critical analy-
sis of television has always been enclosed within a set of debates about the
medium and the culture: its object, according to one of the earlier formu-
lations, is to ‘know what television means, for its producers, its audiences,
its culture’(Newcomb, 1975/1987: ix). Horace Newcomb wrote this in 1975,
a few years before Fiske and Hartley’s Reading Television (1978) taught a
generation of media students how to understand television as culture. The
identification between the construction of popular culture and the reading of
television was later effectively formalized in the title of Fiske’s Television
Culture (1987).1 The development of textual analysis and ideological critique
within cultural studies during the 1980s increasingly occurred through
examples drawn from television, building up the methodological repertoire
of cultural studies while also assembling the canon of resources for future
television studies. While they have developed in different ways in their
various locations, the histories of the two fields of cultural studies and tele-
vision studies are closely interrelated, both then and now, and in what follows
I do not make a systematic distinction between them.
The small selection of articles taken from the conference and reproduced
in this issue, six from a total of more than 100, constitute a very narrow
slice of the range of topics discussed over the three days. So, in this intro-
duction, I want to broaden the context by reviewing a series of debates
where cultural studies of television are facing a degree of theoretical and
practical uncertainty. In the mapping exercise that follows, the issues in play
tend to be quite clear. It is readily apparent that significant shifts are in
process: in the structures of production and consumption, in the politics
underwriting regulatory regimes, and in the discussion of the politics of con-
temporary television content and performance. It is less clear, at the level of
critical and analytic practice, what we should think – or, more contentiously,
do – about them.
Neither cultural studies nor television studies, I have argued elsewhere
(Turner, 1999), are quite as helpful in this endeavour as they may have been
in the past. I know that such an observation implies a specific version of
both cultural studies and television studies and ideally I should now elabor-
ate and defend these specific versions. However, I would argue that the
trends I want to highlight are more or less visible whatever construction of
television or cultural studies you might want to defend. As previously men-
tioned, I have detailed this argument elsewhere, so I will not labour it here.
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The simple suggestion I wish to make at the outset is that, at the present
conjuncture, we confront more than the usual repertoire of genuine uncer-
tainties about the future of television and about the kinds of interventions
that should be made by academics interested in taking this future seriously.
What emerged from many papers during the ‘Television: Past, Present And
Futures’ conference was a surprisingly common set of unresolved theoreti-
cal and practical issues about television as a technological form, about the
present cultural function of television, and about the future of the medium.
Let me continue, then, by reviewing some of the broad areas into which
these issues fall.

Television, the nation and the state

Within most contemporary political economies of the media industries, the

focus is on globalization: the media’s enclosure within a wholly commercial,
deregulated, multinational environment (Herman and McChesney, 1997).
Consequently, the relation between television and the nation-state is seen to
be of diminishing importance. As television signals now routinely cross
national borders and as national borders themselves evanesce and fade,
national regulatory systems surrender their jurisdictions and local markets
become transnational markets (or, as Coca-Cola would describe them,
multi-local markets). The declining audience share enjoyed by free-to-air
broadcasters in North America and Europe and the proliferation of pro-
gramming choices offered through subscription services fragment the tele-
vision audience by breaking it down into taste-based niche markets. Within
such a context, the possibility that television might continue to function as
the location for the construction of a national community seems increas-
ingly unlikely. Nonetheless, within certain markets – among them Australia,
New Zealand and (I would argue) the UK – the national audience remains
a legitimate object of analysis for cultural studies of television. In Canada –
where the voice of national broadcasting can barely be heard over the
volume of US programming – it is entirely reasonable to ask how some level
of cultural sovereignty might be reclaimed for Canadian television. There
remains scope for considerable political and theoretical debate, then, on the
place of ‘the national’ and the role of the state within contemporary tele-
vision. While all the various parties to the debate present their views with
the certainty that comes from seeing one’s own region or national space as
normative, the views themselves vary significantly as they present highly
diverse readings of the (actual and desired) relationship between television
and the nation-state.
Where they exist, the publicly-funded broadcasting institutions are among
the cornerstones of the relation between television, state and nation. The
actual relationships constructed between the public broadcasters and the
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state are, of course, extremely varied and in some cases, it has to be remem-
bered, these institutions are frankly repressive, aimed at serving exclusive
political ends. Ideally, of course, the relation between the public broadcaster
and the state is managed through an arm’s-length regulatory system aimed
at protecting the public interest. Frequently, this objective is pursued
through a principled rejection of any commercialization of the public broad-
caster’s activities. There is a clear opposition set up between the interests
and objectives served by the public sector and those served by the private
or commercial sector.
In practice, if not in principle, most would agree this opposition is break-
ing down now. Very few public broadcasters operate without any commer-
cial support, as national governments have increasingly offloaded
responsibility for the support of public broadcasting to the private sector. In
some cases, this has taken the form of complete privatization – as effectively
occurred during the 1990s in the New Zealand industry – with significant
effects on the public broadcaster’s capacity to perform a role substantially
different from that played by the commercial industry. The consequence, in
such a case, is the disappearance of the rationale for having a public broad-
casting service at all. There are competing views on this, as not everybody
would regard government maintenance of a public broadcasting service as
self-evidently desirable. Typically, some would characterize the trend towards
the privatization of public broadcasting as a desirable process of economic
liberalization, freeing up an important cultural institution from the control
of the state, and instituting a more direct relationship between the broad-
caster and its audience. Others – and this would be my position – would see
it as surrendering the public interest to the interests of capital.2
The process does, however, reflect a trend that is generally noticeable
across western cultures: a decline in the political will to regulate cultural
production on behalf of the public or national interest. Not only is the
specific point of regulation questioned – why regulate, and on whose behalf,
for example, are the questions asked – but the appropriateness of regulation
as a means of achieving socially or culturally desirable outcomes is ques-
tioned too. Governments almost routinely prefer the operation of the
market to regulation as a means of responding to the public interest. While
such positions are often held in principle – that is, their proponents cat-
egorically prefer the use of the market rather than government in most
matters – there are also more pragmatic considerations. A widely-held view
is that the nation-state no longer has either the authority or the capacity to
install and maintain regulatory systems over media access and content. Such
a view is hard to contest in Europe or North America, for example, where
the capacity to limit what is broadcast into the national air space has long
gone. It is less persuasive in Australia or New Zealand where national air
space largely remains – however temporarily, and if only for broadcasting –
in the control of the state.
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There is another dimension to this. Withdrawal from regulation in the

face of the increasingly transnational character of media industries also
involves the abnegation of another set of responsibilities. In the past, govern-
ment oversight of media performance has been underpinned by the notion
that media power must not be allowed free play without the constraint of
some form of social obligation. This is not necessarily any longer a widely-
held notion. At the same time as the democratic controls implicit in national
regulatory systems are diminishing, the ethical orientation which empha-
sizes the social responsibilities of media organizations has also declined. In
such an environment, there is little reason why either the nation or the
citizen should expect their interests to be recognized or defended by the
media. As a result, there are many who would have no sympathy with
nationalism as an ideal, but who might still regret the decline in the capa-
city of national governments to mandate a level of social obligation for their
media industries.
Of course, like all the grand narratives of postmodernity that have flour-
ished since we dispensed with the idea of ‘The Grand Narrative’, there are
exceptions. Government has not withdrawn itself from media regulation
entirely. Certainly, many democratic governments continue to exert direct
and explicit influence upon broadcasting in general and television in par-
ticular, if only when it suits them. In Australia, government intervention into
the programming of the Australian Broadasting Corporation (ABC) has
reached the point where Senator Richard Alson, Minister of Communi-
cations, has issued public critiques of the organization’s news values during
debates over its level of funding. In the UK, the public fracas over the place-
ment of ITN’s late night bulletin took the regulator and the industry to court
(Tumber, 2001). In the most surprising development yet, and the subject of
Geoff Lealand’s article in this issue, the New Zealand government is about
to embark on a process of reregulation, as it re-establishes TVNZ as a char-
tered public broadcaster after operating for some years as a state-owned
commercial network.
However, the general point remains. David Morley’s Home Territories
(2000) describes the construction of the symbolic entities, ‘the home’ and
‘the nation’, as largely the product of media and communication, a point
consonant with most cultural histories of public broadcasting (Scannell,
1996). John Hartley’s work in the late 1990s (1996, 1999) describes the
popular commercial media, and television in particular, as the equivalent of
the agora for today’s popular publics. However, we are being told increas-
ingly that the precise way in which such a function as this might be per-
formed in specific national contexts in the future is by no means as clear as
it appeared to be, even in 1996, when Hartley’s Popular Reality was pub-
lished. Certainly, the relatively taken-for-granted elision between a nation’s
television and the idea of a national community – once an unproblematic
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identification if only because it tended to be exnominated in early cultural

studies of television in the UK and the US – is no longer possible.
On the one hand, and certainly this would be the view from the UK, this
is a good thing as it fractures a conservative and complacent hegemony that
repressed alternative or minority positions in the pursuit of a national con-
sensus. But there are other perspectives to this argument. Take, for example,
the case of Canada, where national identities, however they are composed,
struggle for visibility in the television schedules. What does one do, as a
citizen of a sovereign country that constitutes itself in such a muted manner
through television? And how does that sit with the fact that the issue of
sovereignty, in all its instantiations, is a crucial political question for
Canadians? While many of us might be sceptical about the value of national-
ism as a principle for political action, Canadian audiences persistently
experience the erasure of cultural specificities that they consider to matter.
This is a geopolitical context in which a national television regulatory
system has very limited possibilities, but in which the representation of
national difference is fundamentally important for cultural and political
reasons. So, what do you do if you want Canadian television to do more
for the Canadian community than it does at present? That is a question for
television and cultural studies theory, as well as for the pragmatics of cul-
tural politics in Canada itself.

Television, the citizen and the consumer

Once you disconnect television from the discursive context of the nation-
state, then television’s implication in the construction of citizenship starts to
look a little more problematic. Although traditional theories of broadcast-
ing emphasized the importance of television, more than most media, in the
cultural construction of the citizen, that was a product of an era when free-
to-air was the only system for the delivery of television programming to a
mass audience. As systems of delivery have proliferated and diversified, the
assumption that the national citizen shares a common television diet with a
significant proportion of the rest of their society is less tenable. Rather than
citizenship being the outcome of a chain of production, distribution and
consumption that involved relatively few possible variations, contemporary
consumers/citizens in a multichannel environment have an enormous array
of possibilities before them. As a result, theories of the relation between tele-
vision and the citizen now emphasize the highly contingent manner in which
television plays its part in the construction of identity. John Hartley, in Uses
of Television (1999), talks of ‘DIY citizenship’ to describe the relations of
consumption for television. Such a formulation regards the individual con-
sumer as the site where the identity of the citizen is constructed rather than,
as was the case when Reading Television was published, the television text.
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This is a substantial shift and its specific character is caught by seeing it,
as so many have done, as a shift from describing the individual member of
the television audience as a citizen to describing them as a consumer (see,
for example, Chaney, 1994). Given the proliferation of consumer choice in
this cultural field, and notwithstanding the fact that the differences between
choices may seem minimal, the structural similarity between the consumer’s
relation to a market and the citizen’s role in a mass democracy has encour-
aged an elision of the two terms.3 Political and consumer choices start to
look very similar in a world where identity is actively claimed by the DIY
citizen through a diverse popular media rather than unilaterally assigned
through the sense-making mechanisms of consensualizing media texts.
So when Hartley (1999) talks of ‘democratainment’, he writes into this
description of the ‘uses of television’ in Western societies a particular poli-
tics, not just a mode of consumption. The neologism is designed to respond
to the proliferation of minority access to television commonly seen to mark
the explosion of infotainment, lifestyle and talk show programming in the
North American market (Shattuc, 1997). However, it has its limits. A point
that has been made to me in another context by Elizabeth Jacka (personal
communication) is that it is one thing to see the expansion of the possibilities
of television as offering access to a new range of voices, providing an
unprecedented variety of demotic content. It is another thing entirely to
ascribe a democratic politics to this demotic explosion. Nevertheless, the
blurring of the distinction between the citizen and the consumer does hold
potential for the ‘liberation’ of the popular from establishment or elite
agendas, if you will, and that is why it remains the subject of optimistic
accounts in cultural studies and television studies.
Once there is an implicit parallel between the free market and democratic
structures, the notion of regulation starts to look tautological. Citizens’
control can give way to consumer choice precisely because they are endowed
with a structural equivalence. In most contexts in which this is discussed
now, and certainly in the context of public debates on media regulation,
there seems to be greater political confidence in the stability of market forces
than in the effectiveness of regulatory mechanisms. Certainly, the notion of
‘choice’ itself has been widely deployed by governments, industries and citi-
zens’ groups seeking access and equity, as a principle to be pursued with
some tenacity (although not necessarily with the same political objectives in
mind). Choice becomes a key principle in discussions of the uses of television
for the citizen/consumer. Some of these discussions, however, turn the tables
by using analyses of the practices of consumption as a means of under-
standing how the production of citizenship might nevertheless occur. Gay
Hawkins’ article in this issue adopts Nikolas Rose’s notion of ‘the freely
choosing citizen’ to argue that media consumption must be implicated in a
‘politics of becoming’. This enables her to present an optimistic, but highly
nuanced, account of the possibilities of television for the construction of the
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‘ethical’ citizen. So, the citizen has not been forgotten as the object of theory;
very often it remains, however, a category which is hooked up to the
working of the market, if not to the interests served by the market.
A limitation to all of this, of course, is the fact that what constitutes the
consumption of television is itself not such a simple question. Will Brooker’s
essay in this issue examines the possibilities of converging sites of con-
sumption around the text of the TV series Dawson’s Creek, in order to map
the connections made between the television text, the website, the fashion
merchandise, the movie spin-offs and so forth. Clearly, for some of the fan
activity he describes, the television text is only the departure point for a com-
plicated journey of consumption that ultimately has as much to do with the
already-constructed identities of the fan as with those specifically con-
structed by the programme. Furthermore, the specificity of the medium is
blurred by the convergence of technologies. The merging of video games and
television, the delivery of television via the home PC, the amount of tele-
vision-related ancillary material available for consumption through the web
– all of these have made it more difficult to describe the behaviours of certain
highly media-literate groups as primarily the consumption of television.
And, as Lynn Spigel’s article reveals, the material object of television, the set
itself, may not be as discrete as we think it is, being implicated in a narra-
tive of domesticity and progress that infers meaning onto its mere presence,
let alone the material it carries. This opens up another dimension of tele-
vision and cultural history: the role of television in constructing domestic
and suburban space.

Television content and performance

Among the consequences of the overwhelming concentration on techno-

logical and policy debates that has marked recent discussions of television,
has been a growing silence about the content of television. To an increasing
degree, discussions of what the media actually plays, how the media actu-
ally performs, have been collapsed into discussions of systems of delivery,
and television is no exception.4 Content was where cultural studies of tele-
vision started – with ‘reading television’ for its ideological burden, for its
manufacture of consent and, later, for its specific pleasures and transgres-
sive potential. However, in more recent years, content has been dealt with
through notions of performance. Television programming has been dis-
cussed in terms of its relation to an articulated set of ethical, aesthetic or
political principles, especially regarding television news and current affairs.
However, in a field that has largely left ideology critique behind and has
become preoccupied with the technological and policy debates that have
become necessary in response to major shifts in the structure of the media
industries, content has become an increasingly empty category. Elsewhere,
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I have addressed the introduction of cable TV in Australia (Turner, 1997),

where the textual content of the new services has been almost totally ignored
in favour of discussion of the commercial potential of the service providers,
the regulatory system required, and the likely effect on the existing free-to-
air networks. My sense is that this pattern is replicated quite widely in other
national contexts.
Where content is dealt with, of course, it is immensely useful. Discussions
of the tabloid talk show (Lumby, 1997; Shattuc, 1997), for example, have
taught us an enormous amount about the changing function of television
and has highlighted once again the need to think carefully about the poli-
tics of media criticism when dealing with specific textual forms or formats.
The current fashion for reality TV, and in particular the international mar-
keting of the Big Brother format, has occupied media pundits in most
western countries, but most of the analysis has gone little further than
‘huffing and puffing’ about voyeurism and prurience. Jane Roscoe’s article
in this issue looks in detail at the Australian version of Big Brother in order
to better understand the format’s appeal, and its adaptation to different con-
texts of reception. In so doing she takes us well past automatically deplor-
ing another lapse in popular taste. The necessity for such an analysis should
be obvious. This is a format that has achieved dominant ratings around the
globe. Big Brother has turned itself into a hybrid programme event; it has
expertly exploited the structures of publicity and celebrity within contem-
porary popular culture. And it is watched avidly by precisely the demo-
graphic (14–25 year olds) currently least interested in television – but
significantly the demographic most interested, I would suggest, in the con-
struction of identity.
Where there is a clear need for much more work on television content,
though, is in the comparative dimension. Travelling from Australia – where
free-to-air still rules, and where the national television audience still exists
– to the multichannel environment of North America –where the gradual
whittling away of the idea of a national audience seems to be an inevitabil-
ity – always reminds me that there is no single thing called ‘television’, in
terms of programming content. There is Australian television, though, and
American television, and so forth. While it is certainly true that American
programming is ubiquitous, there are also enormous variations in the
choices available in various national markets around the world. These
differences still matter a great deal but in recent years we have failed to give
them their due. Perhaps we have become so distracted by the momentum of
globalization that we have failed to appreciate how unevenly it has oper-
An exception to these arguments, and where there has indeed been a great
deal of focus on content and performance, is in relation to television
journalism. The increasing distance between a journalism based on fourth
estate principles and a journalism struggling to mould its genres into
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commercially-successful entertainment has produced a vigorous, and often

bitter, debate. On one side of this debate, there is what Langer (1998) calls
the ‘lament’ for the loss of quality journalism as a consequence of contem-
porary, heightened commercial pressures to make news entertaining
(Franklin, 1998). On the other side is the more pragmatic historical view
that journalism has always had to straddle the division between information
and entertainment (Lumby, 1997), and that perhaps the current forms, while
‘messier’ and more diverse, are more representative of what the public
wishes to know than those forms idealized by the purists (Holland, 2001).
There is no doubt that this sector of the industry has witnessed significant
change. The international decline of current affairs programming and its
audiences has been paralleled by a decline in news audiences and what many
see as the ‘dumbing down’ of news presentation. This, in turn, occurs in
conjunction with the development of new hybrid formats that link news and
information programming with game shows such as Have I Got News For
You, talk shows such as The Panel or Oprah, and ‘reality’ television such
as Cops. Many of these new formats, like Big Brother, pitch to precisely the
audience most disaffected from traditional news bulletins – young people.
Criticism of contemporary journalism, however, is rarely disinterested.
Much of the discussion seems to be motivated by particular taste, class,
party political, professional or otherwise socially-constructed sets of prefer-
ences offering themselves as the only acceptable modes for defining the
‘quality’ of television performance.
‘Quality’ is proving to be a thorn in the side as well. For many years, cul-
tural studies-inflected accounts of television have quarantined the notion of
‘quality’ – set it aside from consideration in order to maintain the princi-
pled break with earlier, elite traditions of popular culture analysis. Some
now argue that to set aside such a significant factor in understanding the
meanings and pleasures of television – the operation of notions of quality,
no matter how contingent or informal they might be – can only be a tem-
porary strategy. Sooner or later, it is argued from within both television and
cultural studies (Brunsdon, 1997; Frow, 1995), this nettle has to be grasped.
In this issue, two articles explore the operation of the idea of ‘quality’ from
different perspectives. Geoff Lealand outlines the role played by definitions
of quality within the new charter for the reregulated public broadcaster,
TVNZ, and points out the difficulties attendant upon its virtual emptiness
as a term in this context. In his article, Jason Jacobs sets out to find ways
to refill the term. Arguing that there is a need to develop the connection
between quality, judgement and value through a formal analysis of the tele-
vision programme rather than the single television text, Jacobs addresses the
debate through discussion of the American ‘quality’ drama series ER and
Chicago Hope.
While Lealand’s essay tells of their revival within policy discourse in New
Zealand, the establishment of ‘quality’ standards is no longer a key issue
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within most policy domains. Commercialization, self-regulation and deregu-

lation have reduced the incidence of most forms of content regulation. By
and large, the trend is towards the abandonment of criteria that might be
appropriate to a content- or performance-based system of control, in favour
of the criteria one might use to examine a service-based system (Cunning-
ham and Flew, 2001). In the latter, the overwhelming investment is in the
satisfaction of the individual customer, a market-oriented approach that is
antithetical to the standards still in play, for example, in the British context.5
Cultural studies may have something of a vested interest in not wanting to
deal with the issue of quality, and the new trend in regulatory systems does
too. However, at the most practical political level, one still wants to ask: do
the specifics of what is on TV matter? If it does (and I think in many cases
it does), what should we be doing in television and cultural studies to
address such a concern?

The future

Lynn Spigel’s article discusses television as one component within an inte-

grated media and information system that now helps to shape the domestic
space in prosperous Western countries. The boundaries between television
and computing, between television and telephony, even between television
and the electrical system in the ‘smart house’ of the future, are making it
increasingly difficult to maintain a sense of television as a discrete tech-
nology. At the same time, even in those areas where it is still possible to do
this – broadcast and subscription TV – it is clear that the operational
environment is changing significantly. As noted earlier, the decline of public
broadcasting and the possible decline in significance of free-to-air broad-
casting as a whole suggest a very different role for television in the con-
struction of a public culture in the future. While the provision of television
has expanded dramatically, and while the variety of the programme formats
that television provides has expanded too, the commercial interests they
serve have contracted. Large, highly diversified, multinational conglomer-
ates now control most of the western media; the range of interests served
by their commercial success is dominated by a handful of companies world-
wide. This is a situation where the future is largely in the capture of inter-
ests one can name, and the influence of our own communities, in general,
over this future is extremely limited.
We may be confronting a situation where television will need to reinvent
itself: when the medium is no longer the primary location for the construc-
tion of community identity, and as TV is able to market itself profitably to
ever more specific constituencies. Or, alternatively, it may be that the public-
sphere function performed by television proves to be fundamental, a neces-
sary mechanism for the construction of culture and identity, and one that
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will decline only so far and no further, suggesting opportunities for

redevelopment and reclamation.


The point of embarking on this survey was to provide some background to

the concerns emerging from the ‘Television: Past, Present And Futures’ con-
ference, concerns suggesting that the study of television confronted a
number of relatively new difficulties or ambiguities. What emerges is a
number of oppositions that are not easy to resolve from within cultural
studies and that remain unfinished business for those of us who work in this
field. Among the patterns which underpin this survey are positions which
pitch social responsibility against commercial responsibility; public utility
against private consumption; and ethics against entertainment. Of further
concern are the contradictions embedded in the contemporary structure of
the global commercial industry; where enfranchising potential implicit in the
diversification of television content runs contrary to global concentration of
ownership and control. All of these, in turn, reflect the difficulties that arise
as we accommodate ourselves to the privatization of broadcast media
without fully surrendering the notion that the media are – must be – in some
way responsible to the community. How does one recognize the shift to com-
mercial entertainment, without the conservative panic motivating Langer’s
‘lament’, and still maintain a sense that the community can control or influ-
ence the content and character of the media they consume? While it is rela-
tively easy to map the shifts I have been describing, it is not at all easy to
find the point of balance from which one might answer that question. Until
it is found, uncertainties about critical and analytic practice which underlie
contemporary theoretical developments in television and cultural studies are
bound to remain. It is hoped that the articles in this special issue, ‘Television
and Cultural Studies’, will help move us some way towards resolving these
fundamental debates.


1 It is a link made repeatedly since; examples include Tom O’Regan’s Australian

Television Culture (1993).
2 An overview of this debate is provided by Peter Golding, ‘New Techologies
and Old Problems: Evaluating and Regulating Media Performance in the
“Information Age” ’, in Brants et al. (1998). Also in this collection, in ‘Diver-
sity Revisited: Towards a Critical Rational Model of Media Diversity’ Jan van
Cullenberg argues that governments should merely regulate media access, not
media content.
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Turner ● Unfinished business 383

3 David Chaney puts it like this:

Put very baldly, the idea is that there are formal parallels between the char-
acter of national markets and mass national political publics. The practice
of citizenship involves the same form of relationship between the individual
and collective opinions as that between the individual consumer and pat-
terns of taste and fashion. (1994: 104)
4 Alan McKee (2000) subtitles his book Australian Television ‘a genealogy of
great moments’, to indicate his project of returning to content through
research into the popular memory of favourite television programmes.
5 I have in mind here not only the ITN news referred to earlier, but also warn-
ings to Channel 5 over the ‘downmarket’ quality of its programming after a
naked game show was broadcast in 2000.


Brants, K., J. Hermes and L. van Zoonen (eds) (1998) The Media in Question:
Popular Cultures And Public Interests. London: Sage.
Brunsdon, C. (1997) Screen Tastes: Soap Opera to Satellite Dishes. London:
Chaney, D. (1994) The Cultural Turn: Scene-Setting Essays On Contemporary
Cultural History. London: Routledge.
Cunningham S. and T. Flew (2001) ‘Policy’, in S. Cunningham and G. Turner
(eds) The Media and Communications in Australia. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
Fiske, J. (1987) Television Culture. London: Routledge.
Fiske, J. and I. Hartley (1978) Reading Television. London: Methuen.
Franklin, B. (1998) Newszak and News Media. London: Edward Arnold.
Frow, J. (1995) Cultural Studies and Cultural Value. Oxford: Oxford University
Golding, P. (1998) ‘New Technologies and Old Problems: Evaluating and Regu-
lating Media Performance in the “Information Age” ’, in K. Brants, J. Hermes
and L. van Zoonen (eds) The Media in Question: Popular Cultures And
Public Interests, pp. 7–17. London: Sage.
Hartley, J. (1996) Popular Reality: Journalism, Modernity, Popular Culture.
London: Arnold.
Hartley, J. (1999) Uses of Television. London: Routledge.
Herman, E.S. and R.W. McChesney (1997) The Global Media: The New Mis-
sionaries Of Corporate Capitalism. London and Washington DC: Cassell.
Holland, P. (2001) ‘Authority and Authenticity: Redefining Television Current
Affairs’, in Michael Bromley (ed.) No News is Bad News: Radio, Television
and the Public, pp. 80–95. London: Longman.
Langer, J. (1998) Tabloid Television: Popular Journalism and the ‘Other News’.
London: Routledge.
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384 I N T E R N AT I O N A L journal of C U LT U R A L studies 4(4)

Lumby, C. (1997) Bad Girls: Media, Sex And Feminism In The 90s. Sydney:
Allen and Unwin.
McKee, A. (2001) Australian Television: A Genealogy Of Great Moments. Mel-
bourne: Oxford University Press.
Miller, T. (2000) ‘Hullo Television Studies, Bye-Bye Television?’, Television and
New Media 1(1): 3–8.
Morley, D. (2000) Home Territories: Media, Mobility, and Identity. London and
New York: Routledge.
Newcomb, H. (ed.) (1975/1987) Television: The Critical View, 4th edn. New
York: Oxford University Press.
O’Regan, T. (1993) Australian Television Culture. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
Scannell, P. (1996) ‘Public Service Broadcasting and Modern Life’, Media,
Culture & Society, 11(2): 138–60.
Shattuc, J.M. (1997) The Talking Cure: TV Talk Shows and Women. New York:
Tumber, H. (2001) ‘10pm And All That: The Battle Over UK TV News’, in M.
Bromley (ed.) No News is Bad News: Radio, Television and the Public, pp.
96–108. London: Longman.
Turner, G. (1997) ‘First Contact: Coming to Terms with the Cable Guy’, UTS
Review, 3(2) (November): 109–21.
Turner, G. (1999) ‘Tabloidisation, Journalism and the Possibility of Critique’,
International Journal of Cultural Studies, 2(1): 59–76.

● GRAEME TURNER is Professor of Cultural Studies and Director of

the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of
Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. His most recent publications are Fame
Games: The Production Of Celebrity In Australia (Cambridge University
Press, 2000), co-written with Frances Bonner and P. David Marshall, and
The Film Cultures Reader (Routledge, 2000). Address: Centre for Critical
and Cultural Studies, Social Sciences and Humanities Library, University
of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia. [email:] ●