Television And Space Journal Entry Reading Response Help briefly describe the relationship between television and the re/production of space. Remember to u

Television And Space Journal Entry Reading Response Help briefly describe the relationship between television and the re/production of space. Remember to use examples. Format: three paragraphs( three readings) and a concluding paragraph that synthesizes the three into a clear statememnt about the relationship of TV to the production of space. and compare between these three readings. University of Minnesota Press
Chapter Title: Installing the Television Set: Popular Discourses on Television and Domestic
Space, 1948—1955
Chapter Author(s): Lynn Spigel
Book Title: Private Screenings
Book Subtitle: Television and the Female Consumer
Book Editor(s): Lynn Spigel, Denise Mann
Published by: University of Minnesota Press. (1992)
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttg4w.4
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Better Homes and Gardens 31 (October 1953), p.8
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Installing the Television Set: Popular Discourses
on Television and Domestic Space, 1948—1955
Lynn Spigel
Between the years 1948 and 1955 more than half of all American homes
installed a television set and the basic mechanisms of the network oligopoly
were set in motion. Historical studies have concentrated upon the latter
half of this problem. That is to say, the history of television has been
conceived primarily as a history of the economic, regulatory, and political
struggles which gave rise to the network industry.1 But television histories
have only marginally attended to the social and domestic context into
which television inserted itself. At most, television histories typically explain the coming of television into the home through a set of economic
determinations, including manufacturer and network business strategies
and the postwar climate of consumption. But these economic determinations cannot fully comprehend the process by which television came to
be a domestic object and entertainment form.
In this paper I look at the coming of television in the context of a history
of representation. The years which witnessed television’s arrival in domestic space were marked by a vast production of discourses which spoke to
the relationship between television, the home and the family. The industry
and its advertising campaign, popular magazines, books on interior decor,
films, newspapers, and television programming itself spoke in seemingly
endless ways about television’s place in the home. By looking at these
representations and the media institutions from which they were distributed, we can see how the idea of television and its installation in the home
was circulated to the public. Furthermore, we can see that even while the
industry and its advertising campaign were attempting to promote the
purchase and installation of the television set, popular discourses were
replete with ambivalence and hesitation.2 Utopian statements which idealized the new medium as an ultimate expression of technological and social
progress were met by equally dystopian discourses which warned of television’s devastating effects on family relationships and the efficient functioning of the household. Indeed, television was not simply promoted;
rather, it was something which had to be questioned and deliberated upon.3
3
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4 Lynn Spigel
For example, how would television affect romantic relations of the couple?
Would it blend with interior decor? Would it cause eyestrain, cancer, or
even as one orthodontist suggested in a 1953 issue of TV Guide, would
television lead to “malocclusion —an abnormal arrangement of the teeth
likely to be caused by Junior’s cradling his jaw in his hand as he watches
television?”4
This essay brings together a variety of popular discourses on television
and domestic space which were distributed from a number of institutions —
including popular books and magazines, especially middle-class women’s
home magazines, magazine advertisements for television which idealized
a middle-class lifestyle, and early television narratives, especially family
situation comedies which took the middle-class domestic interior as their
principal setting.5 In examining these discourses in connection with one
another, I want to establish the ways in which representations disseminated
by different media institutions converge or intersect around questions of
television’s place in the home. I want to look at the meanings attached to
the new object and the modes of use or reception which the media advised.
Although these discourses most certainly do not reflect directly the public’s
response to television in the postwar period, they do begin to reveal the
intertextual context through which people (and here especially middleclass women) might have made sense of television and its place in everyday
life.
The following pages deal with a specific theme central to these discourses
on television and the home—namely, the theatricalization and specularization of domestic space. These representations depicted the home as a
theater, and they gave instructions for ways to arrange the home as a space
of exhibition. In addition, these discourses deliberated upon ways in which
to organize the gaze in the home equipped with television. They suggested
ways to maximize visual pleasure in television—both as a household object
(as part of the aesthetics of interior decor) and as an entertainment form.
Just as importantly, they dramatized television’s displeasurable effects and
sought ways to manage the new medium. Finally, these discourses help
to illuminate the representational conventions established in early television programming because they reveal a set of expectations about what
constituted pleasurable or displeasurable narrative modes for home entertainment. Here I address these problems in the following way: First, I
focus on the domestic reception context and look at the discursive refiguring of the home as a theater. Next I examine some of the representational
strategies used in domestic sit-coms—in particular their theatricality. And
finally, I move back to the reception context and look at the organization
of the gaze in the home—especially in the light of television’s highly disruptive effect on visual pleasure in domestic space.
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Installing the Television Set 5
There are two mechanical contrivances. . . . the talking motion picture and the
electric vision apparatus with telephone. Either one will enable millions of people
to see and hear the same performance simultaneously, by the ‘seeing telephone’
and the telephone, or successively from kinetoscopic and photographic records
of it . . . . these inventions will become cheap enough to be, like the country
telephone, in every home, so that one can go to the theater without leaving the
sitting room. From this fact we may call both devices the home theater.
S.C. Gilfillan, “The Future Home Theater,”
in The Independent, 1912s
Although the idea of home television had been suggested in the popular
press by early media prophets like S.C. Gilfillan and also widely discussed
in industry trade journals since the 1920s, the actual installation of a
television set was still a completely new concept for most Americans in
the 1940s. As late as 1939, the year when the New York World’s Fair
celebrated the technological future with its “World of Tomorrow” (including RCA’s debutante ball for TV which took place in its radio tubeshaped building), Gallup polls revealed that only 13% of the public would
consider purchasing a television set for their homes.7 Even so, postwar
Americans installed TVs at a speed far surpassing any previous home
entertainment medium. In order to understand the phenomenal growth
of television, historians have recently begun to consider the social conditions which made the coming of television possible. As both Douglas
Gomery and Mary Beth Haralovich have argued, among the most important of these conditions was the construction of a new suburbia in the
1950s.8
The suburban housing boom entailed a massive migration from the city
into remote farm lands reconstituted by mass-produced housing which
offered, primarily to the young adults of the middle class, a new stake in
the ideology of privacy and property rights. A severe housing crisis, caused
by a decline in residential construction during the Depression that lasted
through World War II, was fueled by an increasing demand for housing
as marriage and birth rates rose to new heights. Often unable to secure
housing in the densely populated urban areas, the middle-class homeless
looked to the new pre-fabricated housing built by corporate speculators
like Levitt and Sons. With the help of the Federal Housing Association
and veteran mortgage loans, these young couples, for the first time in
history, found it cheaper to own their own homes than to rent an apartment
in the city. One of the prevailing historical descriptions of the ideology
which accompanied this move to suburbia emphasizes a generalized sense
of isolationism in the postwar years, both at the level of cold war xenophobia and in terms of domestic everyday experiences. From this point
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6
Lynn Spigel
of view, the home functioned as a kind of fall-out shelter from the anxieties
and uncertainties of public life. According to this argument, the fifties
witnessed a nostalgic return to the Victorian cult of domesticity which
was predicated upon the clear division between public and private spheres.9
The problem with this kind of explanation is that it reifies the very
ideology of privacy which it attempts to explain — in other words, it begins
by assuming that the home was indeed a retreat and that people understood
their domestic lives and social lives to be clear cut and distinct entities. I
would argue that the private and public dimensions were experienced in
a less distinct fashion. The ideology of privacy was not experienced simply
as a retreat from the public sphere; instead it also gave people a sense of
belonging to the community. By purchasing their detached suburban
homes, the young couples of the middle class were given a new, and
flattering, definition of themselves; in newspapers, magazines, advertisements and on the airwaves, these young couples came to be the cultural
representatives of the “good life.” Furthermore, the rapid growth of familybased community organizations like the PTA suggests that these neo-suburbanites did not barricade their doors, nor did they simply “drop out.”
Instead, they secured a position of meaning in the public sphere through
their new found social identities as private landowners. In paradoxical
terms, then, privacy was something which could be enjoyed only in the
company of others. When describing the landscape of the mass-produced
suburbs, a 1953 issue of Harpers magazine succinctly suggested the new
form of social cohesion which allowed people to be alone and together
at the same time. The magazine described “monotonous” tract houses
“where nothing rises above two stories, and the horizon is an endless
picket fence of telephone poles and television aerials.”10 There was an odd
sense of connection and disconnection in this new suburbia, an infinite
series of separate, but identical homes, strung together like Christmas tree
lights on a tract with one central switch. And that central switch was the
growing communications complex through which people could keep their
distance from the world but at the same time imagine that their domestic
spheres were connected to a wider social fabric.
The domestic architecture of the period was itself a discourse on this
complex relationship between public and private space. Women’s home
magazines, manuals on interior decor, and books on housing design all
idealized the flowing, continuous spaces of California ranch-style architecture which followed the functionalist design principles of “easy living”
by eliminating walls in the central living spaces of the home.11 Continuous
spaces allowed residents to exert a minimum of energy by reducing the
need to move from room to room. Beyond the “form follows function”
aesthetic, however, this emphasis on continuous space suggested a profound preoccupation with space itself. These rambling domestic interiors
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Installing the Television Set 7
appeared not so much as private sanctions which excluded the outside
world, but rather as infinite expanses which incorporated that world. The
home magazines spoke constantly of the illusion of spaciousness, advising
readers on ways to make the home appear as if it included the public
domain. Landscape paintings and wallpaper depicting scenes of nature or
a foreign city welcomed far-off spaces into the home.12 Particularly emphasized were large picture windows or a wall of sliding glass doors which,
as Better Homes and Gardens suggested in 1953, “magnifies [the] room’s
effect.”13
Given its ability to bring “another world” into the home, it is not
surprising that television was often figured as the ultimate expression of
progress in Utopian statements concerning man’s ability to conquer and
to domesticate space. In 1946, Thomas H. Hutchinson, an early experimenter in television programming, published a popular book designed to
introduce television to the general public, Here is Television, Your Window
on the World. In his opening pages, Hutchinson wrote, “Today we stand
poised on the threshold of a future for television that no one can begin
to comprehend fully. . . . We do know, however, that the outside world
can be brought into the home and thus one of mankind’s long-standing
ambitions has been achieved.”14 And in Radio, Television and Society, a
general readership book of 1950, Charles Siepmann explained that, “television provides a maximum extension of the perceived environment with
a minimum of effort. Television is a form of ‘going places’ without even
the expenditure of movement, to say nothing of money. It is bringing the
world to people’s doorsteps.”15 Indeed, as this statement suggests, television meshed perfectly with the aesthetics of modern suburban architecture. It brought to the home a grand illusion of space while also fulfilling
the “easy living,” minimal motion principles of functionalist housing design.
In fact, I would argue that the ideological harmony between Utopian
dreams for housing design and for technological solutions to distance
created a joint leverage for television’s rapid growth in the postwar period.
Both of these Utopias had been on the agenda well before television’s
arrival in the fifties. As Leo Marx has suggested with reference to nineteenth-century literary Utopias, the dream of eradicating distances was a
central trope of America’s early discourse on technology. Particularly in
the post—Civil War years, it was machines of transport (especially the train)
which became the rhetorical figure through which this dream was realized
in popular discourse and literature.16 By the end of the nineteenth century,
communication technology had supplanted transportation. It was now the
telegraph, telephone, radio —and later, television—which promised to conquer space.
In the years following World War II, this technological Utopia was joined
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8 Lynn Spigel
by a complementary housing Utopia which was for the first time mass
produced. Although the 1950s witnessed the most extreme preoccupation
with the merging of indoor and outdoor space, this ideal had been part
of the model for interior design in the first suburban houses of the latter
nineteenth century. In their widely read book of 1869, The American
‘Woman’s Home, Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe suggested,
for example, that the thrifty Victorian housewife might fashion a “rustic
[picture] frame made of branches . . . and garnish the corners with . . . a
cluster of acorns,” or else copy their illustration of a large window “ornamented with a variety of these rural economical adornings.”17 For the
Beecher sisters the merging of indoor and outdoor worlds was a response
to the Victorian cult of domesticity—its separation between private/female
and public/male domains. Also concerned with bringing nature into the
home, the architects of the late 1870s began to build bay windows or else
smaller windows that were grouped together in order to form a composite
view for the residents.18 Here, the natural world was associated with the
“true woman” who was to make her home a kind of nature retreat that
would counteract the signs of modernity—smokestacks, tenement buildings, crowded streets—found in the urban work centers. As the sharp
gender divisions between private and public worlds became increasingly
unstable at the end of the nineteenth century, the merging of outside and
inside space became more important for domestic architecture, and its
meaning was somewhat altered. By the early decades of the twentieth
century, the nature ideal still would have been understood in terms of its
association with femininity, but it also began to have the more modern
meaning of an erasure between separate spheres of public and private life.
The bungalow cottages built across the country began to merge inside and
outside worlds with their window views and expansive porches.
The most exaggerated effort to erase spatial barriers took place in the
modernist architecture movements which emerged in the 1920s in Europe.
Architectural modernism, or the “International Style” as it was also called,
quickly took root on American soil, and architects working from a variety
of traditions developed many of the principles of modernist design, not
least of all the erasure between public and private domains. Homes ranging
from Richard Neutra’s classical modernist Lovell House of 1929 (a machine-like futuristic structure) to Richard Keek’s almost-all-glass Crystal
Palace of 1934 to Cliff May’s rambling ranch-style homes of the 1940s,
foregrounded the merging of indoors and outdoors with window walls,
continuous living areas, and/or patio areas that appeared to extend into
interior space.
Although these “homes of tomorrow” were clearly upper-class dreamhouses—too expensive or too “unhomey” for most Americans—the public
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Installing the Television Set 9
was at least to some degree familiar with architectural modernism because
it was widely publicized through fairs, museum exhibitions, department
stores, home magazines, and the movies.19 In the years following World
War II the spatial aesthetics established by modernists appeared in a watered down, mass-produced version when the Levittowns across the country offered their consumers large picture windows or glass walls and continuous dining-living areas, imitating the principle of merging spaces found
in the architectural ideal. That this mass-market realization of Utopian
dreams for housing was to find its companion in television, modernity’s
ultimate “space-merging” technology, …
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