Williams on TV/Neuman critique
Regarding Neuman’s critique of Williams’s data gathering, I must admit that Williams’s empirical research lacks rigor. However, I do not believe Williams needs any “TV” data to support his major “TV” points, like flow/distribution, since they go little beyond what is empirically obvious to anyone who has spent more than fifteen minutes viewing TV.
Rather, the wider importance of Williams’s analysis of TV derives from his situating of the first TV generation in a specific set of socio-historical circumstances. Williams gives us some tentative answers to how TV and its flow became valuable to a society by emphasizing that TV is more than either its technology or its shows: “In all these ways, and in their essential combination, this is the flow of meanings and values of a specific culture” (120). Beyond TV, this is a classic Marxist/organizational critique of how all technologies work in society: “What has to be seen . . . is the radically different position in which technology, including communication technology, and specifically television, is at once an intention and an effect of a particular social order” (131-132). There is no one force that determines TV’s value in the “expanded, mobile and complex society” that Williams analyzes, but he does cover quite a few, including the “specific military, administrative and commercial intentions . . . [and] scientific intentions” (13 and 133). The evolution of TV technology, like the intermingling of TV and internet with YouTube, will likewise depend on specific socio-historical factors. Needless to say, Williams provides neither a complete depiction of the interanimation of these determining forces, nor an exhaustive list of them, in a 150 page book, but the importance of his book lies in its impetus to look beyond the then standard critiques of TV.
Hence Williams moves away from the critique of specific content, or discrete shows (his own function as a former TV critic), to a critique of the social function of all of the shows/trailers/ads as a social force or ideology that incorporates more factors, like intent, commerce, politics, families, militaries etc, than do deterministic models, like that of McLuhan. Thus, in terms of Neuman’s overall critique that Williams’s study lacks sophistication and focus, this seems especially bogus to me, since one of Williams’s main purposes is to explode the “focus” of TV research by widening the field of study to incorporate a complete socio-historical conjuncture. Williams may not deliver the complete goods here, but as a founding father of Cultural Studies, his followers have more than taken up the slack by providing more detailed socio-historical critiques of TV’s value over the past few decades. Right now, for instance, SPCM’s own James Hay is working on a big Reality TV project.