Archive for November, 2013

Production Culture Part 2

November 19, 2013

John Thornton Caldwell’s Production Culture is bifurcated into below the line and above the line production. The second half of the text deals with above the line production culture elements and analysis. Caldwell’s above the line analysis, beginning with Chapter 5, pursues concepts of production and aesthetic as a struggle between creative and managerial elements of production. This latter section attempts to examine how managerial structures impact production.

Chapter five, Industrial Auteur (Author) Theory discusses the messy business of intellectual property and idea ownership. Caldwell’s research finds that creative find restrictions in the company ownership of creative products. Caldwell illuminates the opponents as “creative” verses “suits”. Caldwell delineates contributors that might be considered creatives in a media project discussing directors, writers, actors, but is critical of the idea of a producer as a creative. Caldwell cites Bordwell discussing how the manufacturing ideology of classic Hollywood defined the structure of film; not directors or even genre. Caldwell focuses on the production of film stating that the “controller-as-author” is the paramount structure dictating ownership of intellectual property (pg. 199). Streamlined money-saving production, not the art, of the film dictates much of the process. Caldwell offers that credits become currency as a way of validating contributions or solidifying necessary resources. Caldwell examines idea ownership and productivity from many angles and attempts to determine of a collaborative work environment is indeed more creative than a lone genius. However, later in the text Caldwell discovers that writers defend the collaborate approach as providing consistency to a production. As many production writers write as comedians which are solitary writing exercises; and in light of much research that demonstrates that corporate idea ownership discourages innovation, what are the implications for future development of production? How does this industry, steeped in self-preservation and fearful of homogeneity break away?

Providing the example of television, Caldwell discusses the reflective nature of production. In order to fill air time, television often appears to be airing substandard material. However, many invested in the industry assert that TV merely reflects society, that TV gives people what they want. Caldwell argues that this is an obfuscation. Team writing in “digital sweatshops” appear to contradict the classic view of TV production made popular culture by The Dick Van Dyke Show (p. 214). Examining the seemingly innate dominant male patriarchy in television production, Caldwell provides examples of sexism and ageism in the system. No advancement can be made in the industry unless a professional has served as an intern or assistant. “Anxious assistants and office workers kept off balance…create a disaggregated situation with which labor solidarities will never be formidable enough to force company executives to deal or to negotiate” leaving the assistants and interns on precarious ground indeed (pg. 225). If production of media rests with a dominant cultural element and increasingly collaborative work is the norm, how are these boundaries broken? How would a show such as Little Mosque on the Prairie come to be produced in a regime such as this?

Chapter six solidifies a concept only alluded to in Chapter five and that is that a screenplay is a business plan; a pitch where the merit of the concept is secondary to the full marketable package of script produced in a variety of forms complimented by soundtracks, video games, websites, smart phone applications, theme park potential, and licensed merchandise. This industrial identity is carefully masked by the creative glamour and the flash and awe generated by the streamlined factory. However, this is a relatively new model of manufacture as television and film moved into a “postnetwork” age where internet interactivity and technology toppled the dominant paid advertising monetization model as increasingly audiences skipped the advertisements (pg. 252). It was apparent that networks and producers needed to strongly brand material in order to sustain the system. Systems such as pilots and syndication needed to explore new ways to ensure financial stability and viability.

Chapter seven examines the solution to the “postnetwork” age. The industry responded with an integrated marketing approach with seven elements to achieve market penetration and stave off inevitable market decline. “Cross promotion, multimedia repurposed, merchandising, new technology development, domestic co-production, international co-production and new labor arrangements” became the mechanism by which new product was created, marketed, and distributed. The newly integrated hybrid marketing approach, further incorporating audience participation and interactivity seriously blurred the lines between production and consumption. Ease of access to online communities and fandom formats proved too tempting to avoid as producers began to comment as fans on their work to push promotion. If executives are posting on fan sites as audience alongside genuine fan contributions, how does this impact the circuit approach to media production and consumption?

However, a revolution may be in the next wave as below the line employees and above the line creative begin to examine the fairness of common practices. Digital technology, the pursuit of audience, as well as the business model approach has stripped the aesthetic production culture bare exposing controversial rifts in the factory. Digital technology has become a disruptive and destructive influence, conflating the highly echeloned production world. These conflated roles are examined by Caldwell in his conclusion. “Three other tendencies – distributed cognition, producers-as-audiences, consumerism-as-production do the opposite of regeneration and legitimation, since they blur lines between producer and consumer” (pg. 333).

Genre and Television

November 6, 2013

Jason Mittell’s Genre and Television is a collection of case studies that tries to understand a question plaguing media studies, in particular television scholars about genre theory. The question of genre and generic studies is a topic heavily contested because in the field of television it is difficult to narrowly define a genre with a core example or multiple examples. This is a problem distinct to television and not so much film or literature studies. This is because television programs have the unique ability to blend or even reshape genres in ways that were not previously conceivable.

Mittell explores these issues of genre through cop shows, quiz shows, and Saturday morning cartoons. There is a commonality that can be found in all of the examples he uses. Mittell believes that each program at their core has aspects that qualify them to be termed a specific genre. However, there are programs that can claim to be of one genre and use conventions that are tightly tied to another genre. This creates a hybrid program that showcases elements of both genres and yet cannot claim to be distinct of one genre.

Mittell uses Stuart Hall’s Encoding/Decoding and Foucault’s discursive formations as the basis for his case work. His rationale for his methodological framework helps explain that television programs cannot work in isolation, but in the context of their time and cultural ramifications. In other words, the audience as a whole may have preconceived notions of how a television show is going to operate. Programs that contrast this notion can do one of three things: fail miserably, create controversy, or become a television phenomenon. Encoding/Decoding comes quickly into play here as a program that is embraced by the audience garners attention from other networks and numerous concept clones come to the surface. A prime example that Mittell uses is The Simpsons. The show created controversy because it was a hybrid of sitcom and animation. It highlighted working class issues, a practice that was not the norm when the show first aired. It was criticized for luring children in with animation because cartoons were still considered children’s entertainment. It was critically acclaimed for highlighting family issues in a new way and laid the groundwork for future animated programs like Family Guy and American Dad. All of these aspects confronted audience expectations and changed the way that audiences perceive the cartoon genre.