Some of you may have seen the announcement of an issue of Open Philosophy (2022; 5:1) which is devoted to a ‘Topical issue: Ethics and Politics of TV Series’ or, as the editorial explains, ‘Taking TV Series Seriously’. The editorial, which is somewhat breath-taking, can be found here. It is striking that, with a couple of exceptions, the bibliographies of the editorial and the articles that follow contain virtually no material on television fiction nor on television as a medium.
I should say that I have never studied philosophy nor have I engaged with the Film-Philosophy approach which has had an impact in Film Studies. The evidence from the editorial of this issue on what philosophy might have to say about (recent) TV Series confirms my long-held view that interdisciplinary (and transnational) work requires humility and patience which are not qualities which are much valued in universities these days.
But this did make me wonder what research which already exists in Television Studies might help these philosophers who have noticed that TV series are examples of popular culture which
provide common reference points, which populate ordinary conversations and political debates. They become shared representations of moral reasoning and feelings. They arouse ethical reflection in their viewers – in the spirit of philosophy.
Is it worthwhile for us to argue that research coming out of Television Studies has, since the beginning, demonstrated that ‘Studying TV shows means paying attention to popular culture as moral [ie ethical, political and educational] resource’? Or to point out that in choosing a certain kind of TV series they run the risk of underestimating the capacious and unruly popular medium they have turned their attention to?
It was in this spirit that I drew up a very short list of bibliographic resources which might demonstrate how Television Studies scholars have been working on these issues for many years. This list inevitably bears the marks of my own interests in British TV and I decided also to exclude CST examples, given the home of this blog. The list is not intended to be remotely representative of all the work which might demonstrate how television serves as a resource for its audiences. But it might be a start.
- Stuart Hall ‘Television as a Medium and Its Relation to Culture’, 1975 in an unpublished paper, reprinted in Writings on Media History of the Present, Charlotte Brunsdon (ed), Duke UP, 2021. Hall’s encoding/decoding essay features in a couple of bibliographies in the Open Philosophy issue so this is a reminder that he wrote more than one article and, more importantly, of his insistence that aesthetics, technology and politics are socially shaped and intricately bound up.
- Richard Dyer, Light Entertainment, 1973, BFI Television Monograph No 2. One of the most despised TV genres is analysed to show how entertainment’s ‘aesthetics of escape’ creates a utopian world in which feelings of energy, sincerity and joy are valued and experienced. Published so early in the discipline’s history, Dyer’s work acted as a warning against thoughtless dismissal of any of television’s popular forms.
- Charlotte Brunsdon ‘”Crossroads” Notes on Soap Opera’, 1981, Screen, 22:4. Here because one of its key insights, all those years ago, was that the soap operas, in very particular ways, asked their audiences to reflect on moral questions about characters and actions. A year later, Dorothy Hobson in “Crossroads”: Drama of a Soap Opera, Methuen, carefully showed how research into production and audiences could provide valuable insights into such activity.
- Helen Piper ‘”How long since you were last alive?” Fitz and Tennison ten years on’, 2009, Screen, 50:2. Nuanced, thoughtful, reflective, this is an article about two British TV series which concludes with a comment about the relationship between different critical methods: ‘Perhaps, after all, it is up to the critic to imagine and articulate the dimensions of complex emotions, including possibilities not experienced by her/himself, so that scholars of audiences might have new questions to ask and prevailing wisdoms to challenge’.
- Lez Cooke, Style in British Television Drama, 2013, Palgrave. A book which takes the matter of television aesthetics head on, using British examples from 1954 onwards, and engaging in detailed visual analysis. It links back to Raymond Williams’ work on television drama and serves as a useful reminder of the importance of examining the organisation of space and place in the many rooms of television fiction.
- Kristyn Gorton ‘Enlightened melodrama: excess, care and resistance in contemporary television’, 2019, Screen, Volume 60, Issue 4. An example of the work on television drama currently being developed with regard to television and the ethics of care. Here a discussion of Enlightened (HBO, 2011-13) draws on an understanding of melodrama to show how and why the performance of care can actually lead to action.
There is nothing definitive about this list and I can already see that Screen is massively over-represented considering that its emphasis is largely on cinema! But it is intended to show that canon(s) can be useful if we want to establish a dialogue with other disciplines and to demonstrate that our work is there to be built on across a range of disciplines
The editorial in Open Philosophy concludes with the comment that ‘All contributions brought together in this issue aim to grasp the political, societal, cultural, and aesthetic significances of TV series’. In the light of this wide aim, it would be great to have some more suggestions about what further reading might be added to their reading lists.
Christine Geraghty is Honorary Professorial Fellow at University of Glasgow. Her publications on television include a contribution to the 1981 BFI monograph on Coronation Street; Women and Soap Opera (Polity, 1991) and My Beautiful Laundrette (IB Tauris, 2004). Her BFI TV Classic on Bleak House was published in 2012 and she has continued to make a major contribution to Adaptation Studies. Most recently, she has published an essay on BAME casting in the 2010s in the journal, Adaptation and she is currently working on Small Axe in relation to its status as film and television. She is Book Reviews editor for Critical Studies in Television.