The core of The Corner is described on page 99 and references Gary McCullough’s father’s lost dreams. Those lost dreams are couched in terms of the counter American myth that his children and grandchildren live out in The Corner. Simon and Burns editorialize that W.M. McCullough “had never really understood the forces arrayed against him. But then, none of that can be claimed as part of our national premise, our enduring myth that says America is the land of opportunity, the last best hope for all races and religions, and that any man who stays true to himself and works hard here can and will succeed” (99). I would posit that as a black man living in America, W.M. was well and fully aware of the outside forces working against him. The mere fact of the color of his skin kept him and his family living in a pre-defined geographic area; kept him working at certain jobs at certain levels of pay; kept his children, even the bright and engaging Gary, in various states of psychological vulnerabilities.
The availability and penetration of drugs into the “inner cities” following the civil rights era further devastated urban community populations and their marginal legitimate economies. It also prompted everyone who could manage to flee the stamp of living in the drug-infested ghetto. However, it is more than poor economic conditions that keep people stuck in certain areas and psychological mind sets. Simon and Burns represent The Corner “culture and addiction” as “powerful forces – equal to or greater than all the legal barriers and social programming arrayed against them” (541). This statement seems to imply that The Corner was created by the community with a particular purpose in mind, rather than an acknowledgement that the very presence and availability of heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine in their neighborhood was proof of the greater forces contributing to the community’s destruction and applying no resources for its reform and uplift. My inner voice tells me that there is something inherently misleading about such books like The Corner that perpetuate a characterization of the African American urban dweller that makes the black community blameworthy for the conditions under which it exists. I watched every episode of The Corner when it aired on HBO and thought that it showed an extremely bleak situation that could only be addressed by a bulldozer. Now I watch the national landscape as the “inner cities” are being reclaimed and renamed through gentrification.
In the “author’s note,” Simon and Burns acknowledge that “the odds do not change because someone pops up with a notepad and the occasional kindness” (541). History has proven that books can change and/or influence social conditions – Charles Dickens on child labor, Harriet Beecher Stowe on slavery, Upton Sinclair on the meat packing industry, Rachel Carson on the corporate environment toxicity, Michael Pollan on agribusiness – and draw attention to various social problems that cry out for social justice and reform. While The Corner is billed as “stand around and watch journalism,” it is journalism that seems to lead to nowhere. The issues and the people involved are confined to a small geographic and cultural milieu and subject to the “outside forces” that neither care for or about them. The point of view of the authors and their interests is apparent in the statement that “it remained for us to sort wheat from chaff” from the various similar and conflicting reports they received on the same incident or event that occurred on Fayette and Monroe (539). The Corner seems one more act of social, cultural and economic exploitation of an assigned underclass.
When HBO first became available, the company experienced difficulties in its billing structure and it took several months after signing up for service for an invoice to arrive. The promised feature film line up was HBO’s first viewer drawing card and it worked. It’s expansion to documentary as well as feature films, self-produced shows, major sporting events make it a rich viewing experience. Free of commercial infringement, excepting its own reflexive promotional messages, HBO as an alternative to network TV wins hand down. I agree with ddriscoll that HBO is TV is HBO and interrogators of TV can’t forget that. The Sopranos, derived from the Godfather and Goodfellas movies and borrows from several other older filmic sources, provided strong storytelling and character development over the seasons. Six Feet Under, in my view, was not as strong a show and after a while I lost interest in the characters. However, I catch a Soprano rerun whenever I can. One of the reasons I resist the DVR is that I want TV to remain TV. I want my viewing subject to its schedule so that I am forced to make choices about what I do with my time. If I didn’t have HBO and the other several cable stations, my weekly TV viewing time would be about 80% shorter.
I digress to the many nights of half hour westerns that I was forced to watch with my Dad. His favorite comment near the end of one of these oaters, “They’d better hurry up, they’ve got only two minutes left to catch the crook (bad guy, murderer, rustlers, etc.)” That comment still lives in me when I watch TV – I’m well aware of the clock and can pretty well gauge what actions will have to occur in the time left in my favorite shows. The discussion of the temporal structure of television seems to be the most significant framework in which narrative must operate. Whatever story is being told, whatever messages are being conveyed are subject to the tyranny of time. As we witnessed in the Homicide episodes, they got shorter as they went along to make way for commercial messages. Time rules the broadcast schedules and placement is everything, e.g., the moving around on the network schedule of Homicide to try to find its niche audience. If I don’t want to spend an hour watching an entire episode of Iron Chef, I’ll turn it on during the last 15 minutes so that I can see the presentation of dishes and the winner. Time regulates our lives — school, work, entertainment — and time regulates the ubiquitous panaroma of television viewing both within the particular show and its place on the weekly/daily air time slot.
For this short paper, I’d like to look at Episode 3, The Night of the Living Dead. In this episode, the human elements focus on several male/female relationships and also issues that especially concern women. The episode is situated in a tense and sultry atmosphere where emotions ride high partly because of the heat. The male/female interplay occurs between Munch and Felicia; Loretta Kenyatta (N’Bushe Wright), the young cleaning woman and Bayliss; Felton and his wife; and, Crosetti and his ex-wife and daughter. Det. Sgt. Howard is concerned about her sister’s breast cancer and blames it on Congress for providing adequate resources for the treatment and cure of prostate cancer and not breast cancer. Kenyatta must keep her baby in a cage to protect it from rats while she works because she cannot afford childcare and appears to be without a support system from family or friends. The feeding of Kenyatta’s baby with a surgical glove that resembles cow teats ties the issue of breast cancer to the issue of having access to resources to care for a child. The social and gender implications here are myriad. My paper will analyze the scene with Crosetti and his partner Det. Lewis in which Crosetti relates the difficulty he is having coming to grips with his daughter’s sexuality. While the scene is just over one minute long, it communicates fully Crosetti’s feelings about his desire for and lack of control over his daughter’s sexuality. It also equates this control with property and the fact that Crosetti is paying for a house in which he no longer lives in. That his final solution to his problem is “justifiable homicide” on his wife is more than paradoxical. What I intend to show through this short scene will reflect the ways in which our culture attempts to exert controls over women’s bodies and reproduction. While the scene is neither long, nor action-packed, it does deliver and reinforce a hegemonic/patriarchal message that bears discussion.
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Thompson posits that “Perhaps someday film and television will be largely indistinguishable, converging into a single ‘moving-image’ medium” (1). The discussion on the narrative exchange from film to television and from television to film seems to be a more recent iteration of the argument of using narratives across media, especially when one considers that early television is a direct derivative of radio and vaudeville. I got the sense that Thompson seemed not to want to take either film or television too seriously as artistic endeavors. However, she wants to set aside all the “supposed evils associated with television” (4) even as she asks why television as aesthetic and as entertainment have not been much studied (3). I venture that television has become and is viewed as more than entertainment; and that whatever “artistic strategies of programs” (5) may be discernible by the critic constitute a layer of the façade of television. Taking into account the mysterious workings of producing television shows as read in Caldwell last week, it would seem at least inconsistent and incongruous to try to assign aesthetic qualities to a medium that depends on stealing, group writing, mentoring and mystification to produce narrative and visual content for profit.
I am not certain that I understand why Thompson spent so much space on the discussion of Raymond Williams’ concept of flow. Thompson does not agree with Williams that commercials are part of the flow of the scheduled programs and are intended by the networks to be viewed as one work. However, she does agree with Gitlin that “demographics and flow are intimately related in programming” (12). Earlier she states that she does “not intend to look at the social impact of these programs” (3), yet she asks in relation to flow, how would viewers “tell the advertisements from the programs’ narratives, how would they know they are supposed to buy something?” (12) In my view, this puts the discussion into the realm of social impact. Watching Mad Men last night reminded me of the flow between the show and the commercial, e.g., a bit of history about Canada Dry being the first beverage in a can and then a Canada Dry commercial; then another bit of history about the marketing of Clorox.
As an avid watcher of old movies, including silent films, and contemporary films, I think that Thompson’s discussion of film to TV and TV to film seems a rather obvious media strategy. Now that television has over a fifty-year history, the utilization of the same or similar narratives across media seems benign except when viewed in the space of social and cultural concerns as they relate to media studies.
Certain narrative techniques that Thompson attributes to television production can be found in a creative writing course. The concept of the dangling cause, main and sub-plots, the deadline – called a “RAT” or race against time – are part and parcel of writing techniques. In television news, camerapersons and editors employ “A” and “B” roll to communicate their news stories.
I’m not sure I have a full and clear understanding of what Thompson means when she uses the word “aesthetics.” Compared to what we’ve read in class so far, I found Thompson’s work a little unclear and elementary. Perhaps reading the entire work would change my mind.