Showcase Blog #2: Geographies

“Until around 1980, three commercial networks enjoyed a monopoly in the US television market. However, changes due to new technologies, business lobbying and government outlook have led to a very crowded television marketplace, with up to 850 different stations on air.” – Albert Moran, from his book ‘New Flows in Global TV

It’s only just hit me now, which is ridiculous because this course is called Television Cultures, but TV really is a culture. (My brain kicks in during the last week of semester, that would be right!) It’s a national culture that we partake in to watch the latest news, and view live events, particularly sport. But it’s also more personal than that: we have the shows we watch and talk to our friends, colleagues or classmates about. Every Friday when the new episodes of Glee come out, a friend who I haven’t seen since high school and rarely talk to otherwise and I ‘live text’ each other as we synchronise watching the show. When I asked my best friend about what I should talk to a college friend of his who is in one of my classes, he said: Just talk about ANY TV show!

So in this way, we bond in a special manner with our country when watching, say the AFL grand final, or the entire world with the Olympics (despite a lot of coverage being skewed for our local audience). But we also connect with international shows in an effort to connect with our friends; we transcend from the extensive public space, to our own private space.

As Giselinde Kuipers explains in the article, ‘Cultural Globalization as the Emergence of a Transnational Cultural Field‘, “television is simultaneously very national and very international. This makes TV an interesting field to analyze the process by which national cultural fields “open up” to transnational cultural exchange.

One show that branches from the international to my personal world – one where I don’t

Ellen Degeneres

Ellen Degeneres

talk about this show to anyone unless I happen to be at my parents’ house and mum is watching while she does the ironing – is my favourite daytime talk show: Ellen, of course!

Ellen is often passed off as just an everyday talk show host that dances a lot, but she can always make me smile. She has a real knack for bringing out the best in people, and frankly I adore her!

But as an American show, often I can feel left out. Ellen occasionally visits her home town of New Orleans (Or “Nuu Awwlinz”) and takes the camera crew along, but many of the ‘Southern’ jokes, accents and aspects of life go straight over my head.

An episode of Ellen starring Matt Leblanc ended in a game where each had to guess what accent the other was imitating. One accent by Leblanc was ‘Valleygirl’, a word I’d never before come across as a descriptor for that typical teenage girl-ness: “Oh, my gawd!”

In his book ‘New Flows in Global TV‘, Moran provides the example of Channel 9 as a case study of formats relating to the Australian television production sector. Moran explains it is worth noting that Australia has had a mix of public and private service since television began, which is now supplemented by cable and community TV services. “There has been a tradition of adapting overseas programs for local television – hence the public service broadcasts the ABC borrowed heavily from the BBC while independent producers when to the United States for formats. … Nowadays, the main genres of format imports are game shows, reality programs and makeovers, and the predictable national sources are the United Kingdom, the United States and The Netherlands.”

While not all jokes can be translated to different cultures, whether from America to Australia to The Netherlands, in general the sentiment can be understood. Ellen is an unmistakeable example of a television show ‘borrowed’ from the United States by Channel 9. Watching this program as an Australian, I can appreciate many of the gags, but perhaps differently to the American, Canadian, New Zealander, British, etc, etc people watching – it is indeed “a world where all cultures are both (like) ‘us’ and (not like) ‘us’” (Ang and Stratton, 1996) and this synthesis into enjoyment for many cultures is something I think Ellen captures very well.

Aside from Aussies being smart enough to access the lols, Ellen does connect with Australians on some level quite specifically: she married ‘our’ Portia Derossi, and because of this she will sometimes sprinkle the show with jokes on Portia’s behalf, or facts she might have learnt that seem funny/ridiculous/interesting to her. So the cultural jokes and information work both ways! Ellen’s Australia as Country of the Week episode works to both invite Australians to watch or connect with those Aussies already watching, and make fun of them, for example with the boomerang coffee cup in the clip below.

To me it seems that relate-ability is the key for television (or anything, really) to cross over from one culture to the next. It seems Koichi Iwabuchi would agree. As Iwabuchi explains in his book Koichi Iwabuchi – ‘Discrepant Intimacy’:

“An early twenties [Taiwanese] informant told me that the life style and love affairs in an American drama such as Beverley Hills 90210 are something she enjoys watching, but she found Japanese love stories more realistic and easier to relate to. A 17-year-old high school student also told me that ‘Japanese dramas better reflect our reality. Yeah, Beverley Hills 90210 is too exciting (to be realistic). Boy always meets girl. But it is neither our reality nor dream’.”

Kuipers also explains in her article ‘Cultural globalization as the emergence of a transnational cultural field’ that while Dutch and Italian audiences find American programs to set the standards for “good” television, those in France and Poland find these programs less attractive as they are less used to American conventions and visual language. “Here, buyers can be pickier …  For instance, they liked German and British programs for their cultural closeness and potential for identification. The realistic, slow German shows are considered good for older audiences. Programs from the United Kingdom, and from American independents, are perceived as less “slick” and more experimental than American mainstream TV, making them attractive to more “edgy”—often public or youth-oriented—channels. The “sharper” and “dryer” British comedy is often preferred to American humor.”

So in regards to television transcending the borders, it seems pretty clear that the ability to connect is paramount. If I weren’t able to connect with or relate to Ellen, despite her being American, famous, middle-aged and so on, I simply wouldn’t watch.

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Showcase Blog #1: Transmedia Trends

“‘Over the long-long-long-term, generationally long,’” explained the head of Lionsgate, the studio responsible for such prestige dramas as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, “‘it’s very likely that the genre—which I’ll call short-form, truly short-form of five minutes—may be the way in which people consume a lot of entertainment media, putting movies aside.”
– From Max Dawson’s article ‘Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency’

“Transmedia isn’t just a new buzzword that belongs to academics or high-priced media consultants. It’s a form of, and an approach to, storytelling that boasts a range of potential curricular applications that applies to literacy and the content areas.”
– From Peter Gutierrez’s article ‘Every Platform Tells A Story

According to Henry Jenkins in his book ‘Convergence Culture‘, transmedia is a technique of telling stories across multiple platforms and formats, with each element making distinctive contributions to a fan’s understanding of the story world. One relatively recent example of this, although not television, is J.K. Rowling’s website Pottermore. While fans of the books have access to the films, and vice versa, this extensive website allows Harry Potter aficionados to explore Rowling’s magical world in profuse detail, from the uses of objects that were merely background items, to the backgrounds, and futures beyond the books, of various characters that may have simply been mentioned in passing.

I think we’ve all been privy to some kind of transmedia of one of our favourite TV shows. ‘The Office’ spin-off series ‘The Accountants’ for example, or even content on the website of said television programs. Simon Staffan’s blog gives a pretty good idea of some examples: HBO’s True Blood series, with a web portal providing information about the series, the characters, the music and the merchandise, and also directs you to the video blog hosted by one of the side characters of the show, the baby vampire Jessica; The Dark Knight transmedia project Why So Serious?; even Angry Birds reportedly branching out into a tv-series.

Indeed, transmedia (when done well!) extends the narrative, enriches the experience for the audience, creates more immersive narrative spaces and encourages participation from the audience (Paraphrased from Matt Load’s lecture slides transmedia_trends_week_4). Certainly, the aforementioned examples of transmedia do this: we can gain a further insight into the behind-the-scenes goings-on of our favourite accountants, and we can contribute to the conversation surrounding baby Jessica.

Max Dawson explains in his article ‘Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency’: “The first experiments with exhibiting films, videos, and television programs on the web occurred in the late 1990s, at a time when the limited capacities of computer hardware and restrictions on Internet bandwidth required would-be exhibitors to keep the sizes of digital video files to an absolute minimum. Shorter videos meant smaller files, which in turn meant faster load times, better image and sound quality, and (potentially) more pleasurable experiences for viewers.”

Even moving into a technological time where extended footage can be made readily available, this “more pleasurable experience for viewers” may be the reason why shorts have remained short. Late at night, when I know I should be sleeping but just don’t wanna, ‘reason’ wouldn’t allow myself to consent to watching another whole length movie. “Just watch one more YouTube video Zoe,” my ‘rational’ brain will say, only to blur into a YouTube vortex taking as much time, if not more, than had I just watched the full movie. This sense of time, with shorts being made into, as the name suggests, short chunks, gives the viewer if nothing else, a sense of not ‘wasting time’ watching TV. It’s only 4 minutes out of their day, and can (potentially) create as many laughs, tears or thought provoking ideas as a 42 minute full episode.

“A four minute webisode is not a waste of time, but rather a marvel of efficiency.” – Dawson

But these digital shorts are not without their problems. As Dawson describes: “The dispute over The Accountants stemmed from NBC’s equivocation on the question of whether the webisodes were web promos for The Office or an original series in their own right.” So how do we accept webisodes? As original content, just a different platform for the same product, or as advertising? In an age of my beloved Gruen Transfer, I think as consumers we are all pretty aware of the fact that advertising is everywhere. But is that all it is? And how do we think writers should be paid? It’s not completely necessary for webisodes and digital shorts, the show would still exist without it, and many happily do. But they do add a bonus to our experience of the show. When watching The Office, we can now also see our favourite accountants in the background of a scene who we maybe wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. The Accountants belong in The Office world, but the webisodes can be enjoyed by the audience even if they haven’t seen The Office, or don’t particularly follow the series. Plot points aren’t given away, and prior knowledge is rarely, if ever, needed to enjoy the oddball comedy.

The major accomplishment of a short like The Accountants or The Rookie: to blend promotion and content in a way that television itself seldom can.” – Dawson.

Undeniably, as Diane Robina explains in her Comcast ‘What’s a Webisode Worth?‘: “From a brand and viewership perspective … once you get them there, you can figure out how to make money.”

Audience participation and user-generated content are huge buzz-words in PR and marketing at the moment, and transmedia also works to facilitate this. The Accountants website offers video, photos, episode guides, games, a shop, and perhaps most importantly a social section. Fans are able to join the conversation (possibly the most overused term at the moment, forgive me), Like The Office on Facebook, Follow The Office on Twitter, and post on Message Boards, as well as visit and comment on a number of blogs: SchruteSpace, There’s No Accounting for Taste, Halpert Baby Blog andCreed Thoughts.

Another favourite TV show of mine to get involved with is Ellen. Because the show is broadcast during the day, I’ll often catch up on her YouTube channel and watch the highlights and various segments. In doing this, I found out The Ellen Show posts web-only content, such as extended interviews and the goings-on during the commercial breaks. This content is often interactive: I am able to click the links through to what I want to see, for example Jeannie, one of Ellen’s writers, having different reactions to scenarios, like a make-your-own-adventure story book.

The Ellen Show
The Ellen Show

“[It is] flexibility that allows pop culture creators (think Disney’s “High School Musical” franchise) to tell cohesive, if occasionally sprawling, stories across multiple media. But whether students engage with transmedia in classrooms and libraries or at home (as creators or audience)–certain transliterate questions like these come into play: Where does the story start? Where and how is it continued? Does it need to start in a single place? Or is it possible to retell an opening “chapter” from a different character’s perspective, or go back and add a prequel? How do I know which medium comes next as I “read” the story–or does the story need to be told in a linear sequence? Can readers dip into it at different points of their own choosing? Can you expand on backstories, or tangential histories? What about adding incidents that fill in gaps in the existing narrative?” – Peter Gutierrez

What are your favourite shows and do you participate in other aspects of the show like I have mentioned above? Leave your comments below 🙂

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Reality TV: Origins and Contexts

“Reality TV can encompass anything from teen-pregnancy shows to cooking competitions to shows about addiction to documentary serials to travel and home-design series – everything from Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days to ABC’s 101 Ways to Leave a Game Show. Arguably, the most widely agreed on definition of “reality TV” is “non-fiction television of which I personally disapprove.” ”                                                                                         – James Poniewozik

“If there is one thing that reality TV fans generally agree on, it’s that they should be ashamed of themselves for watching it.”           – James Poniewozik

 

Reality TV is defined by certain features typical to its genre: the spontaneous, ‘unscripted’ nature of the shows; the impression of authenticity; as well as the general idea of a game, whether in a team as in Survivor or based on the looks of an individual in Top Model.

James Poniewozik posits, in his chapter of The Ethics of Reality TV, the most effective reality TV is really satire “boiled down to one extreme gesture. It takes a commonplace piety and skewers it: that team spirit is the key to winning (Survivor), that everyone has a special talent (American Idol), that success goes to the deserving (Real Housewives).”

Zizi Papacharissi explains in the article An Exploratory Study of Reality Appeal: Uses and Gratifications of Reality TV Shows that “reality TV places the audience member on the opposite side of the entertainment arena, providing all viewers with the possibility of becoming potential entertainers.”

Reality TV is also known for its adaptability. A plethora of reality shows have transgressed the borders: the ‘Idol’ franchises, Big Brother, MasterChef, The Bachelor, Jersey Shore/The Shire/The GC, etc etc etc.

Aaron Barnhart, in his article entitled How reality TV took over prime time, articulates thats “Reality TV not only validates people’s lives, as some say, but is credited with legitimizing a variety of behaviors and lifestyles, for better and worse…

“The profusion of gay characters on reality shows is credited with easing public attitudes toward gay marriage. Obsessive-compulsive disorders are destigmatized by shows like “Hoarders” and “The OCD Project.” Susan Boyle proved you don’t have to look like an opera diva to sing like one. Shows like “Little People, Big World” and “19 Kids & Counting” celebrate families of all shapes and sizes.

“But reality TV also introduced Americans to the bridezilla, the Guido, the Kardashians and, yes, the “real housewife.””

Reality TV covers a multitude of sub-genres or formats, anything from infotainment, ‘cinema verite’, game shows, talent shows, life experiment shows… the list truly does go on!

Poniewozik describes in his article What’s Right With Reality TV that the immense inclusion of reality TV in everyday life illustrates an even bigger culture shift: “Big as reality TV is, it’s also just a facet of a larger shift in popular culture: changing attitudes toward privacy and self-expression. If you grew up with reality TV and the Internet, your default setting is publicity, not privacy. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, recently argued that sharing has become the “social norm.“”

“Thus comes what you might call the realitization of reality: the evolution of once private, or at least obscure, acts into performance. The diary becomes the blog. The home-movie collection becomes the YouTube channel. The résumé becomes the public search-result page.”

Poniewozik makes the point that “one thing reality TV has trained people to do is to be savvy about its editing. That’s how people watch reality TV: you can doubt it, interrogate it, talk back to it, believe it, or not”. This sentiment is certainly true: we know that what we see “isn’t really what goes on in the house” as many a ill-perceived housemate will hurry to tell us. We think that maybe those toddlers in tiaras aren’t quite as tantrum-y as producers would have us believe.

“In 1992, reality TV was a novelty. In 2000, it was a fad. In 2010, it’s a way of life.”

– Poniewozik

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The ‘Dispersal’ of Quality TV

This week I’m going to attempt a textual analysis of a particular scene from Mad Men.

I’ve chosen my favourite scene from the first season: the last scene of episode six, ‘Babylon’. You can view this short clip below:

To put it in context, this episode introduces the audience more clearly to (my favourite) characters Joan Holloway and Roger Sterling, and is also the episode in which Peggy is first noticed for her “Basket of Kisses”.

The episode focuses on the parallels between appearance and reality, such as the difference between Roger’s and Don’s unfaithfulness. Roger seems to have the best of both worlds, a fun fling with Joan, and the relationship with his wife for the sake of appearance. Roger revels in this relationship, while it doesn’t seem as though Don is enjoying himself in the same way.

At Sterling Cooper, there is also the idea of turning Israel into The Middle East’s ‘Rome’, not an easy task because, as Don notes, to Americans “Israel is a quasi-communist state where women have guns and it’s full of Jewish people…well, they’re not all Jewish, let’s not forget there’s also Arabs.”

The theme of appearance versus reality is epitomised in the scene with the one-way mirror, separating the, how shall I say it, crude, men from the women workers. It is in this scene where Peggy is the stand-out: barely moving, thinking (wait, what? That’s like a dog on a piano!) about what is going on around her.

The name of the episode is obviously important to the meaning as well. According to Wikipedia, “In the Rastafarian faith, the term “Babylon” is used for any governmental system which is either oppressive or unjust. In Jamaica, Rastafarians also use “Babylon” to refer to the police, often seen as a source of oppression because they arrest members for the use of marijuana (which is sacramental for Rastafarians). Therefore, “By the rivers of Babylon” refers to living in a repressive society and the longing for freedom, just like the Israelites in captivity. Rastafarians also identify themselves as belonging to the Twelve Tribes of Israel.”

The music scoring the final scene also plays on this theme, with the apt folk song “Rivers of Babylon“. Again, from Wikipedia:

The song is based on the Biblical hymn Psalm 137:1-4, a hymn expressing the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC:[1]

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion… They carried us away in captivity requiring of us a song… Now how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? ””

The montage of the scene begins with an ominous shot of Don framed by Midge’s arm, reminiscent of the famous leg shot from ‘The Graduate’.

Dustin Hoffman framed by Mrs Robinson's leg

Dustin Hoffman framed by Mrs Robinson’s leg

The closeup on Don’s face in this shot focuses the viewer’s attention on him, and what emotions are hiding behind that loaded look: disdain at being out with Midge instead of at home with her, or that he should be with his wife? Confusion? Irritation? The shot lingers long enough for us to question Don’s situation, but is perhaps too early in the series for the viewer to make any concrete assumptions about Don’s character.

The shots of the duo playing at the Gaslight add some more authenticity to the show. While the music, at least to me, feels slightly out of place in the 60s, the band members are eerily reminiscent of Bob Dylan and his band early in his career. In saying that, Matt Weiner and his team have clearly worked meticulously to create narrative realism and suspension of disbelief – from this scene alone simply take the fashion and hairstyles of all the men and women!

Bob Dylan with his band

Bob Dylan with his band

The shot continues to fade through to various characters, with quite a melancholy feel. The characters are doing bland tasks that are easily open to interpretation. Rachel slowly smooths down some ties as the camera pans around her, and we question what she is thinking about, probably her feelings for Don. The ties are appropriate for this instance as Don is indeed a business man.

This shot fades to Betty putting lipstick on her daughter, who is dressed in Betty’s wedding dress. The symbolism here is almost overpowering, as Betty longs for a different, better, time, a notion echoed by Don himself in the episode “The Wheel”, in which Don plays through memorable moments with Betty and the children on the Kodak Carousel.

Repeated closeups on Don’s face as the music replays the line, “we lay down and wept, and wept,” add to the ominous tone of scene. The montage seems very final even as we are halfway through it, the audience is aware the ending is coming and feel inclined to know what happens next week – this depressing ending can’t be all there is for their favourite characters!

The haunting final shot of Roger and Joan in front of the hotel furthers this idea. Joan walks out on to the street, and we are aware of the tilt in the sidewalk, a symbol of the disconnect and discord she is feeling about her relationship, and perhaps other relationships she may have. Roger appears, standing further up the hill, an indication of gender roles and highlighting the space between the two. Ultimately, we see that Joan’s power at the office and in the bedroom means little if she can’t be seen with Roger in public. And while the liaison may provide Roger with relief from a miserable marriage, the inherent nature of the relationship means that relief will forever be superficial and short-lived.

___

Bonus content time!

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Reinventing Genre

Big Love

Big Love

God only knows what I would be without Big Love.

HBO is known for ‘quality tv’, a category that Big Love clings to despite being a tv series that relies on melodramatic conventions typified by daytime soap operas. This mixing of genres comments on TV’s birth in the daytime that is influencing the narrative complexity of today’s quality typically primetime programs.

In his article ‘More thoughts on soap operas and television seriality’ Jason Mittell explains that the evolution of TV from its humble beginnings has now been expanded further:

“All of these shows [Buffy, Angel, Six Feet Under, Alias and 24] seemed invested in expanding the vocabulary of prime time television, both incorporating serial form and by embracing more overt narrative experimentation: temporal manipulation, moments of “retelling” the same scene from a different perspective, “reboot” scenarios that change the course of the series quite significantly, and an overt acknowledgement of narrative mechanics (like 24’s “real time” structure and title, or Six Feet Under’s “death of the week” norm).”

Mittell also points out differences he sees between soap opera and primetime drama, such as “the sheer commitment it takes to get into a soap, needing both a community of viewers to share it with and a lot of time to dedicate to its consumption – the barriers to entry are quite high.” However, I find this idea could equally apply to primetime drama. Although the volume of daytime soaps may be higher, five shows a week all year round instead of 22 a season, I think Mittell may be underestimating the effort it takes to get in to a series that is already five seasons long with an essentially “complex” plot that needs to be focused on, as opposed to the relaxed and perhaps distracted way of viewing soaps that Mittell mentions.

Another idea Mittell brings up is that soap operas are becoming denigrated because they do not lend themselves to the ‘drop-in’ viewer. I find this the complete opposite! I can easily watch one episode of Days of Our Lives every three months and pretty much know who has been doing what (and who) due to the large amount of repetition and explanation through dialogue. Alternatively, I try to watch the first episode of season three of The Wire in class (a show that as Michael Kackman reiterates Terry Gross of NPR as a program with “the ultimate mark of distinction for it was to detach fully from its medium of origin, and [be] placed in its ‘true’ aesthetic context – that of cinema“) and I am left completely in the dark.

Big Love is built on the soap opera tradition of the love triangle, transposed to different, and to me more complex and interesting, context, one where moral judgement is difficult to put in the clear-cut notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. The ‘serial drama format’, as Mittell describes it, allows the action to play out in a way that challenges the audience, and it is not until a few – or many, for some people (me) – episodes in that opinions can be distinctly made about characters and events.

A key convention of the complex narrative that I’ve found is the complex character: a conflicted, often arrogant, individual who has the ability to be both good and bad, loved and hated or both at various moments of the series. Bill instantly relates to these typical ideas. However, this idea harks back into literature, a notable example that springs to mind being the conundrum that is Hamlet.

Big Love is ultimately a complex ‘quality’ drama which concerns itself with ideas of love, family values, religion in everyday life, marriage as an institution and power, in a context that the targeted audience is expected to know little to nothing about. A winning combination in my book, despite being one that has been played about before.

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Narrative complexity, genre and the tv industry

In his article ‘Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television’, Jason Mittell explains the contradicting genre of television that has been emerging over the last two decades. While “conventional episodic and serial forms have typified most American television since its inception”, narrative complexity has surfaced as a new genre of television storytelling.

Mittell puts forward that these narratively complex shows don’t outnumber more conventional sitcoms and dramas on current television, but that maybe they are worth looking at because they have been part of an era of narrative experimentation and innovation with television storytelling over the last two decades.

Indeed, they highlight the challenging of the norms of what television can do, just as “1970s Hollywood is remembered far more for the innovative work of Altman, Scorsese, and Coppola than for the more commonplace (and often more popular) conventional disaster films, romances, and comedy films that filled theatres.

Mittell points out “complexity and value are not mutually guaranteed”. This idea is apparent in any number of cancelled TV shows, and even in the fact that although we may like ‘quality television’, sometimes (most of the time?) it’s way more fun, and even easier, to veg out in front of The Dick Van Dyke Show (although I don’t know what that is… Does that make anyone feel old?) and Everybody Loves Raymond than to the “narratively complex but conceptually muddled and logically maddening 24”.

One thing that springs to mind about complex narrative enjoyment is the idea of delayed gratification. In the case with HBO’s quite long episodes (a full 60 minutes instead of 42), sometimes it takes until the last 5 minutes of an episode, or even until the last episode of the season, for everything to come together, make sense, and make you full of joy that you stuck it out. This idea of delayed gratification is explained further by Joachim de Posada in the following TED talks:

Mittell brings up the idea of “rewatchability” – something I think is key to complex narrative, but not necessarily limited to. Mittell explains that certain TV shows that “were never granted time to establish a core audience … have emerged on DVD, as their dedicated fandom’s embrace the collectability of television in a new form, a trend that the media industries are eager to capitalize upon by creating programs with maximum ‘rewatchability’”. Even in television shows that are conventionally episodic, though with a season- or series-long narrative arc, have cottoned on (cottoned on, who says that? I apologise) to this idea. How I Met Your Mother’s iconic ‘Countdown’ episode with shots of numbers, you guessed it, counting down throughout the episode until the bombshell that Marshal’s dad has died drops, emphasizes this rewatchability. On first watch, I noticed these numbers sporadically for them being at times not very seamless, but the idea of counting down didn’t occur to me. Upon reading about the episode sometime later, the countdown was brought up, and found myself re-watching the episode for more clues.

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Matters of Taste

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to ”The Hobbit” first. ”Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.
– Ginia Bellafante

She forgot to mention puppies too, for women.

It’s coincidental (or is it?) that there’s a Korean TV show called ‘Personal Taste‘. It kind of blends this and last weeks’ topics to a kind of perfection I usually only see on TV. (See what I did there?)

Personal taste is a funny/interesting thing. We each have our own interests: this morning, for example, I procrastinated on doing this blog for a good two hours watching alternating episodes of Daria and Sailor Moon. (Does this say something about longing for childhood? No? Good.) But our own tastes are usually what brings us together as well, as friends, a club you might be in, a culture. In general, we can work out which TV shows will work with which demographic. But not always.

Ginia Bellafante has decided in her New York Times review for Game of Thrones that GoT is “boy fiction”. As a high-heeled feminist, this doesn’t sit quite right with me. In fact, I tend to agree with the Huffington Post response to Bellafante’s article:

When we categorize books as “boy fiction” and “girl fiction” it’s just another way to promote gender stereotyping. It is predicated on the assumption that people will only read books that reflect their personal experiences, so therefore women will only deign to read about dating, shopping, and kitchen intrigues. This is patronizing to women and undermines one of the core purposes of literature, which is to take us on voyages beyond the scope of our personal experience so that we expand in our understanding and capacity for empathy. And I think most women get this; I think most women are willing to read novels with male protagonists in worlds apart from their own. To imply otherwise is an offense to the gender.

We don’t only watch shows that interest us. If we don’t experiment, how on earth will we even know what we like? Since beginning this course and hearing about all the “quality TV shows”, I’ve watched a ridiculous amount of shows I’ve never watched before and never thought I would be interested in. I’m now a complete Breaking Bad fanatic, I watch The Sopranos when I’m feeling a bit too Mafia-ish and miss the ducks in my swimming pool, I adore Liz Lemon, and Buffy, and I can’t wait to find out who the killer is on Twin Peaks. And NONE of these shows would I have ever googled if it weren’t for this course.

In saying all that, however, I don’t like Game of Thrones.

I don’t like the show, according to Bellafante because I’m a girl. This reasoning actually makes me sick! I don’t like it because I find it boring. I have never liked TV shows set in the none-time-specific past. I find it too hard to relate to, I find my suspension of disbelief is constantly being broken. And to totally girl out on everyone, I don’t like the fashion! Watching GoT I am honestly thinking 75% of the time: PUT A BRA ON DAENERYS! It

Daenerys sans bra - as per usual

drives me crazy. But guess what? I can turn the TV off! Just like the girls who don’t like Sex and the City can flick channels (or website tabs) to GoT. Or they can alternate episodes like I was doing this morning! Female empowerment go!

Even though I don’t like GoT in and of itself, there are aspects I appreciate and connect with on some level. Having read some of (one of) the books, the chapters I most liked reading were Arya’s. The girls do hold their own in the later episodes, something I enjoy seeing in any show. And then there’s the essential suck-you-in-at-the-very-last-moment-so-you-NEED-to-see-the-next-episode trick.

As posted on the GeekFemme blog:

“There are a lot of kick-ass women and girls. Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Catelyn Stark, Arya Stark – they all survive hardships and fight in the best ways they know how. They fight for power, their families, and for their lives.

I want to see the Wall and the White Walkers. I want to watch Cersei Lannister and Ned Stark exchange words like they are weapons. I want to see Arya learn how to dance. You get the picture, right? I’m not saying, “Wow, I can’t wait for that Dothraki orgy scene.” Of course, I can only speak to my feelings. Other women could be tuning in just for the “illicitness” but this woman would watch even if Jason Momoa kept his clothes on.”

Hey girl - Unbelievably GoT is still appealing even when Jason Momoa has a shirt on!

Hey girl – Unbelievably GoT is still appealing even when Jason Momoa has a shirt on!

What would it matter if females were tuning in just the sex scenes anyway? I’ve known many a smart woman to read 50 Shades for no other reason. We are the post-Sex and the City generation, after all.

Myles McNutt dissected the early reviews of GoT in his Cultural Learning Blog, focusing in one section on the appeal of the show to men:

“When the article was tweeted (and then retweeted by the official Game of Thrones account), the point [that the show appeals to men] was even more succinct (and alliterative!): “Beheadings, barbarians, bastards & boobs. Why We F***ing Love Game of Thrones.””

So yes, it does indeed appear to anyone who has watched the show that GoT does appeal to a number of demographics, something I think it does well despite not appealing to me personally.  Who really cares if boys and girls take different stances on what appeals to them? We can all see how the show appeals to men, so why should anyone stop them from making a alliterative list of things they like about it? It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it in our own way, too.

And anyway, wasn’t one of the very first scenes and GIRL beating a BOY at archery?! Don’t tell me that doesn’t appeal to women!

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