Television as a Social Experience

“Through an ethnographic approach to television-viewing, television is seen as more than a means of entertainment, but rather, an interpersonal informant which indirectly and directly governs interactions amongst viewers and the shows themselves.”
Lull clearly states his intentions of exploring how people engage use television to engage with one another as well as television itself. However, before he begins, he feels the need to detail the history of ethnographic studies, particularly studies of its effect on its audience. He discusses some of the research methods that he incorporates, such as video and audio-recording the viewing habits of each family. Most importantly, he defines the role of each member of the ethnographic study. One particular example Lull uses was the observer. “They ate with the families, performed household chores with them, played with the children, and took part in group entertainment, particularly television viewing” (201). The determination of roles was a crucial aspect of Lull’s examination. This detailed examination of those who have come before him as well as the practical aspects, such as methods of research, application of the information, and the hypothesis, help to create a detailed account of the research process before Lull delves into his actual results.
The actual breakdown of the research findings took up a better part of the article. Early on Lull describes the categories outlined by McQuail, Blumler, and Brown. The breakdown is as follows: diversion, personal relationships, personal identity, and surveillance. Lull utilizes these classifications in his own study, although he organizes it differently. Although he discusses two ways of approaching these particularly types of ethnographic studies (structural and relational), his discussion of its structural use, such as its use as a reward for a job well done, is fairly limited.
The relational breakdown is an exhaustive one. Lull first explores television’ importance as a way of creating a dialogue between two persons that might otherwise not be able to communicate. He then goes on to discuss television’s ability to create an interpersonal relationship, primarily between the family. On one hand, he recognizes how it brings people together in a shared viewing experience, but it also creates an atmosphere where the family is united in action, but is still able to avoid confrontation. One particular method he discusses in this section is the idea of wish fulfillment or maintaining a connection to a cultivated identity, such as Lull’s example of a medical secretary who lived out her former profession through a love of medical shows.
From here, Lull begins to explore the use of television as a determination of one’s self-worth or social standing. Television as a tool of learning is by no means a new idea, as Lull points out, but as a medium that provides role models and the means by which audience members can make sense of themselves, it is groundbreaking. The piece provides the example of television’s ability to stand in for an absent parental figure as a way of instilling social values that may otherwise go untaught. Finally, he explores how we use television to prove our own worth. One example was a housewife’s constant criticism the American pronunciation of French words in the news. This re-asserts her own value, but it is also used in interpersonal relationships, such as the use of news to settle an argument. He provides the example of an argument between a man and his family in regards to the capture of Patty Hearst. In order to verify their claims, they relied on TV. Through his research and a number of examples, Lull incontrovertibly proves television’s importance and influence in governing interpersonal relationships.

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