True Detective and Hyper Attention

HBO’s lastest master, True Detective, just announced their leads for a second series. This anthology piece is definitely one of the best shows TV has to offer its audience of the early twenty-first century. It has so much going for it.

True Detective plays with conventional structure of a Police Detective narrative to keep the audience constantly engaged. Gone are the days of the typical Good Cop, Bad Cop role, and the traditional Whodunit … Modern audiences constantly seek new plot structures and reveals to entertain them. We’ve been taught to look for the slimeball who appears early on offering advice to the detectives only to later reveal that they themselves are the revenge filled killer. Whilst audiences will still find satisfaction and enjoyment in the routine predictable nature of these texts (NCIS has been going how long now…?), the media literate audience will continue to look for deeper meaning within texts, fuelling the rise in popularity of Complex Form Narrative on TV.

These new shows, this new 6-8episode format of complex narrative allows for a more cinematic production combined with the character development that we have come to expect from TV. Meckeller and Valelly suggest that this new long-form on the small screen gives rise to an new, more “indulgent, private [viewing] experience”, which builds strong fan cultures. True Detective is a great example of this.

New distribution methods have made consuming TV simple, no longer needing to wait months for releases shows like True Detective capitalize on this. They are complex; designed to be watched multiple times, and more then one episode at a time. The serial-binge culture nature of the show is facilitated by the auteur-like writer/producer relationship resulting in the creation of rich, immersive story worlds. Produced with one sole director it has a clear vision and style that HBO are so good at developing.

The Police Detective genre has its own formula, True Detective is notable because it refutes the traditional model; instead choosing to reinvent the formula in a post-modern way. They do this by defying genre expectations, jumping through time and rejecting the need for closure at the end of episodes. The plot is set-up more like a long drawn out film which, as James Franco highlights,  allows the show to “handle more plot development without imploding and still have character development”. The BBC Wales production Utopia is another great example of this. Sitting at around 6-8 episodes, these shows are not too long or too short. They have achieved a near perfect balance that keeps todays audience deeply engaged.

True Detective employs prolepsis (or flash forwards) consistently throughout the first episode. These constant jumps in time mean that the audience must be paying full attention to the text to fully appreciate  and understand the narrative that is being formed and the characters relationship with one another. This method of story reveal (similar to the backwards reveal used in Memento) correlates directly with Katherine Hayles’ arguments surrounding Hyper and Deep Attention Modes. Hayles suggests that in the technology driven age we have trouble focusing on one thing at a time, constantly multitasking, or turning to our phones for engagement; flicking through webpages, comments, videos etc.

Networked and programmable media are part of a rapidly developing mediascape transforming how citizens of developed countries do business, conduct their social lives, communicate with each other, and perhaps most significantly, how they think.

True Detective uses this to it’s advantage – the prolepsis means that audiences need to put down their phones and pay attention to the text. Costume, makeup and manner of characters behaviour becomes extremely important because we are given few explicit time markers throughout the first episode. True Detective really uses the visual to its best extent, you cannot look away for fear you will miss some significant detail. You cannot stop watching because instead of searching for closure the episode ending deliberately opens up more questions leaving you questioning the importance of what you just watched in regard to the bigger picture.

Longform complex narrative offers the media savvy audience exactly what it wants. From the first episode of True Detective one is hooked from the beginning, but then left with their mouth open at the end, wondering what happened for the relationships to end the way they are and how these two seemingly opposite characters could have ever worked together to solve something as significant as a murder.

“…obvi, we’re the [new age] ladies”; Girls and Sex and the City

I find it hard to talk specifics about Girls because it really hits home in terms of character and content. I am, to put it as Shoshanna would, “the ladies”. I am 100% the targeted audience for HBO’s comedy-drama that follows the lives of four twenty-somethings as they attempt to find their place in downtown New York.

Even before watching the show for the first time (earlier this year) I knew I would like it. Described to me by one of my best friends as “Sex and the City but for people like us“. And it is. I see a great deal of myself in Hannah; her values, her outlook, her dreams – it hits so close to home it’s scary.

This is no coincidence. The creation of Girls has been highly curated. Well thought out and planned to the most minute detail, as is the style of QTV, it contains multiple intertextual references. It draws heavily from it’s highly successful predecessor, Sex and the City (SATC), that ran throughout the nineties and noughties. Girls is SATC reinvented, for a new generation, with new issues to face and new desires to chase.

The Pilot episode of Girls does not fail to recognise this, and the way in which it does succeeds in paying hommage to to SATC, as depicted in the clip below. Intertextual references are used frequently throughout Girls. They create a framework for a broader understanding of the text and how it functions in relation to other prominent media texts. Author/Director/Actress/All-Around-Inspirational Lena Dunham has very cleverly created a text that taps into it’s target audience and their understanding and knowledge of broader media texts.

This extract is a great example because it references SATC whilst also suggesting that although a knowledge of SATC is not inherent to understanding Girls, it is key to contextualising it and thus comprehending the text in the broader media landscape (the way HBO intends QTV to be received).

This scene is key to understanding the way Quality TV works with audiences knowledge to build detail into the narrative and character arcs. The SATC film poster features prominantly on Shoshanna’s wall, however when it is directly referred to in the dialogue no shot, no close-up, of the poster is shown on screen. This assumes that the audience already have an understanding of SATC; what it is and what it looks like. It assumes the audience to be intelligent, well read (in terms of TV) and able to draw on separate texts to build on the viewing experience. Once Shoshanna brings up the poster, and continues by describing how she perceives herself in terms of the traits of the SATC girls, it sticks at the forefront of the viewers mind as a framework to base further judgements of character on (whilst Hannah is no Carrie, they do still have a great deal in common; both aspiring writers wanting to succeed in New York. Continually mystified by the city, they are out to enjoy life with their best friends).

Jessa’s non-existant knowledge of the show (and the fact that she does not have a Facebook account) is a shock to Shoshanna and becomes a joke to the audience. She is made to look and feel out of place here because she is not in touch with popular culture and technology, something that the audience of Girls would take as a necessity for living in the twenty-first century.

A great deal of what Girls sets up is built around a knowledge of SATC. Both as a development on the framework and episodic structure and as a contrast to everything that SATC is about. Girls is everything that SATC is, but at the same time it is everything that SATC is not.

The structure and characters of SATC work to strengthen our understanding of Girls by directly contrasting it through image, values and characters and at other times playing on what SATC built in terms of structure and themes. Both centre around 4 women trying to find their way in New York City. As Lewis (in Kaklamanidou & Tally) writes, “Sex and the City’s representations of independent women who have been sexually free but romantically disenchanted provide a frame through which Girls could be understood” (2014, p176). Much of the shows structure, and wider appeal, is drawn from the way the women in SATC are so very different to the women of Girls. Whilst Carrie was more concerned with her next pair of shoes, Hannah is worried about paying rent. Girls manages to paint a very realistic picture of the time and does not attempt to romanticise the lead women. As in SATC, they are still obviously flawed; egotistical and self-absorbed the majority of the drama is brought about by their own actions, as in SATC.


HBO’s Girls: Questions of Genre, Politics and Millennial Angst, Kaklamanidou & Tally

Blurred Lines: True Blood

It’s not porn. It’s HBO. 

Post-broadcast television is a new breed: a genre bending, stereotype breaking, discourse creating television show like True Blood. Designed to be binge watched and hyped up it blurs the lines between the way an audience should interact with a high budget production.

Each HBO program has it’s own style, and set of production elements. But they are all so well produced and highly engaging. It is hard to define exactly what characterizes the ‘binge factor’, but I think that has a large part in making it so addictive in nature.

TV audiences have come a long way since the Trekkie. Transmedia texts and the availability of broadcast programs has both encouraged and allowed audiences to develop closer relations with texts and fandom takes on a new meaning. Being a fan is no longer holds the same level of degradation it once did because the texts are not seen as culturally low-brow. And engagement is important, because these texts offer more then just entertainment, they offer a comment on the issues facing society; creating a discourse.

True Blood is a perfect example. It is not one single genre, it contains elements of horror, drama, romance and fantasy. Set in Southern USA it has a very distinctive feel – one that may turn some viewers away. It does very well at setting up contrasting worlds where vampires live amongst humans. These worlds are at the same time very similar, and different to what we know of society today.

It’s got plenty of the cheesy romance aspects, but the show is very self-aware as playing into the vampire genre and use of popular culture. Just as you’re being sucked in by the slow-track-in shot on to get you gushing for the lead vampire Bill, or the moment the male and female leads lock eyes, the lead character, Sookie (Anna Paquin), pulls out some witty remark about just how gross it is to suck blood out of the handsome vampire (something any twi-hard would jump out of their skin to do).

But True Blood is about more then vampires, it uses the pop-culture phenomenon of vampires to exploit issues around race and cult religion. There are elements of the drama and the unfolding of the narrative that create that fandom aspect and draw the viewer in. But True Blood is not designed for the teen girl who got hooked on Twilight, rather for her mother who wanted to know what all the fuss was about and got a little sucked in too. It’s audience is interested in pop culture and aware of what is popular in society today but they are also concerned with larger political, social and economic issues.

Vampires, and monsters in general have been used across texts as metaphors to enable discourse around issues facing modern societies. Taking place in fantastical worlds things tend to be a little more over-the-top, allowing for issues to be raised in texts that may otherwise be not talked about amongst the audience. The guise of the vampire enables social matters to be explored on screen for people to watch in the comfort of their own home where they can decide their level of engagement.

Vampires tend to be symbolic for death and sex. In True Blood these symbols are prevalent however, the vampire more specifically symbolises the issues of integration that different races have had in Southern America. The vampires represent the African Americans who have been and are unfairly treated. The white supremacist outlook is clearly portrayed by the Humans, especially the Church who are against Vampire integration.

The world created within the TV series is somewhat dystopic yet comments on the political, environmental, social and religious aspects of our human world. In the final moments of the episode Sookie stays with Godric on the roof when he sacrifices himself. This moment represents a union between the two groups, and can be seen as a union between races – they are together, helping each other through difficult times, unified.

THE BRIDGE: CULTURAL PROXIMITY AND LINGUISTIC DIFFERENCE

International productions offer a window into other nation’s cultural values and ideals. Programs produced by foreign cultures will contain elements that the viewer is both familiar and unfamiliar with. How we respond to these shape our viewing experience and also play a large part in creating and developing our understanding of foreign environments and cultures.

Globalisation, facilitated by technology has led in one sense to a level of homogeny within texts, but at the same time it has provided access and distribution of a wide range of texts from all over the world.

Bron/Brohen or The Bridge is a Swedish/Danish produced crime-drama television series. It follows a drama structure similar to the American crime-drama we are so familiar with in the Western World, however there are many noticeable differences in the way the story is told and the production elements employed. Unlike the American crime-drama, The Bridge is its own genre. A scandinoire, it revolves around political tensions with characters that are neither purely good or bad. The development of this dark genre can be seen equally as a as a development of a single genre from a culture that harbours suspicion towards government and figures in powerful positions due to past events and a way of appropriating a popular Western genre for the Scandinavian audience. 

Glocalisation is the concept that a product is more likely to succeed if tailored to the local community. Roberston (2012) suggests that “…contemporary locality is largely produced in something like global terms, but that certainly does not mean that all forms of locality are thus substantively homogenised…”. It is clear that American culture has infiltrated many socities via the media and it’s powerful influence has in turn led to homogeneity in the content on our screens. This is derived largely from our desire as an audience to be connected to texts. The Bridge is not directly a product of glocalisation as it does not seek to replicate all the features of American crime-dramas for a Scandinavian audience. It does however incorporate certain elements that the Western audience find familiar.

The Bridge has that polished, ‘fashionable’ look incorporating muted colours, a shallow depth of field that is similar to current popular American films and TV such as I Origins, Elementary and Hannibal. Though this look will date, it is one familiar aspect of the text that elevates it across many cultures, creating appeal to a wider audience through the style of production.

 Linguistic dissimilarity (and the fact that conversations occur in Danish and Swedish) being a key difference, La Pastina & Straubhaar (2005) highlight what may seem an obvious point, that “…audiences will tend to choose to watch television programs that are closest, most proximate or most directly relevant to them in cultural and linguistic terms”. This is largely true and linguistic proximity does play a huge role in what content we choose to engage with, and the content that is available for us to engage with. In conversation with some friends who are not media students, but are avid consumers of TV, many of them agreed that they find shows in foreign languages too hard to follow simply because the act of having to read the subtitles and process the information is something that they are not used to. Furthermore, often simply the unfamiliarity with foreign names can make the viewer feel isolated from the experience.

Having studied French for sixteen years and recently travelling Europe I suppose that my interest and passion for foreign texts, particularly European films, is largely based on my familiarity with the language and culture. Over Christmas I spent two weeks with a Swedish family and visited multiple cities and the countryside. Whilst I was there I watched The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and fascinated with the dark mystery, upon my return I went on to read all the texts so my interest in The Bridge is enhanced because I can identify with the landscape.  

I enjoy foreign texts and the level of engagement they demand from the audience in terms of linguistic and cultural understanding. I find America’s need to adapt series for the American audience an intriguing concept. The Bridge has been adapted for both the French/UK audience as The Tunnel and the US audience as The Bridge (US). Their appraisal has not been anywhere near as widespread as the Swedish/Danish original version.

 


 

Multiple proximities between television genres and audiences: The schism between telenovelas’ global distribution and local consumption, Pastina, Antonio C. La ; Straubhaar, Joseph D., Gazette, June, 2005, Vol.67(3), p.271-288, via class handout on August 22 2014

Globalisation or Glocalisation, Roberston, R., Journal of International Communication, 2012, Vol.18(2), p.191-208, accessed August 25 2014

POST BROADCAST LIVE TELEVISION; SELF CONSCIOUS AND FULL OF INTERRUPTIONS

Live television serves multiple purposes from the banal to the extraordinary, it is there to showcase, to add spin to events, to showcase and create spectacle, but it’s primary goal is about bringing people together. Live breakfast TV, for example Sunrise, succeeds in doing this through a specific set of production elements employed. It constantly addresses the audience directly and as a live production is often clunky and choppy in its delivery but it is also very much aware of itself and seeks to make this explicit with the audience. It is these features that characterise live “ordinary” television (breakfast television), and their effect that I intend to analyse.  

Live “ordinary” television, like breakfast television, exists to provide entertainment and information to the audience. It functions also as a way of joining public and private life, existing as a public sphere for the national community. It does this by blending the public and private sphere; bringing information concerning the wider public to you in the intimate space of your home.

Broadcast nationally on free-to-air TV 5 days a week (with Weekend Sunrise at 7am on Saturday and Sunday), it is fair to say that Sunrise Australia works hard to promote, and at the same time create a sense of national identity and values. A mix of feature news stories, entertainment, home-living and infomercial type segments Sunrise looks to provide every Australian home with something of interest in their morning routine.

As a conventional breakfast TV program, Sunrise focuses largely on presenting news and current affairs to the viewer in a way that is not overly serious; something that you can wake up and get ready whilst having the TV on perhaps in the background. It seeks to become a part of your daily routine, the personalities look to be friends with you, to take part in your morning ritual inside the personal space of the home with the viewer. I will be analysing the clip screened in the lecture from Sunrise on Friday July 30th 2010.

The opening segment follows many of the standard conventions of post-broadcast live television; predominantly, it is self-aware that it is a television show and is more than willing to share this awareness with the audience at any given moment. The first shot of the studio is a wide shot from a camera crane, it shows a large amount of the studio, including other cameras and crew – a distinct reference to the act of watching tv and making tv. Furthermore the program contains multiple time markers, from the time displayed at the bottom right of the screen along with rolling news headlines and weather updates, to the announcement of the date by the presenters at the beginning of the show. These markers create a sense of immediacy and amplify the to-the-minute nature of the program.

Live television can often feel clunky, and taken out of context this segment of Sunrise definitely does. The unscripted casual banter back and forth between presenters often gives rise to a choppy, unnatural pattern of shot changes that are not rhythmic. At times, the speaker is not even shown which feels even more disruptive and unnatural. However the tone and overall mood of the program is not largely affected by this as it relies partly on the casual remarks and rapport building between presenters to in turn build rapport with the audience.

Sunrise seeks very much to include it’s audience, a common feature of post-broadcast television, it does this multiple ways. A characteristic of live television, it addresses the audience directly, greeting them at the beginning of the show and involving them through direct interrogatives throughout the broadcast. Allowed into the home, and into the intimate space of morning ritual, this is an important feature of how the show seeks to be understood by the audience. By constantly directly referring to them “…don’t you think?” or even“…we’ll be right back, don’t go anywhere” a sense of inclusion is created, and a something more than a one-way relationship begins to be built. The dress of the presenters, and overall look of the show is more relaxed, more casual then the nightly news program, or any live daytime TV. With this Sunrise seeks to level the field between the presenters and the viewer, to create something immediate and personal for the viewer. The hierarchical structure common to news programs is not so present here, the lesser featured presenters often chatting with the main presenters before and/or after their segments. The dress and hairstyles does not promote the power dynamic that sits with the nightly news anchor, instead the presenters are dressed in a more relaxed outfit, something you can feel comfortable with in your pre-caffeinated morning state.

Live Television is all about being in the moment, and rolling with whatever happens. Of course, it can all go horribly wrong (see link), but that in itself is entertaining for the audience. We don’t watch Sunrise for the spectacle of success or failure as we would with live event television, however when things do go wrong it is quickly to picked up on and the way the presenters handle it in the moment in turn builds rapport with the audience. 

POST BROADCAST TELEVISION, TRANSMEDIA AND THE PHENOMENON THAT IS TWIN PEAKS

Twin Peaks holds an important place in the study of television, in the field of genre, the understanding of audiences and of post broadcast television. Both the episode screened, and the entity that is Twin Peaks support the key characteristics of Post Broadcast TV.

Emerging in the late 1980‘s alongside the post modernist theory regarding active audiences and polysemic texts, Post Broadcast Television assumes audiences to be complex, consumers who understand a text in relation to other texts. A post broadcast television show will therefore draws on knowledge of other texts and their conventions in order to build its narrative.

Twin Peaks is more then just a television series. It exists as a multi-platform, transmedia text with the story world existing across two television series, a film (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me), and a book. Twin Peaks becomes a world, a fictitious place where multiple stories exist. Each text can and does stand alone, however they are all interlinked and together they make up an entire story. Transmedia texts have garnered popularity with the rise of technology and the development of post broadcast television, the more complex narrative arcs allowing for deeper engagement with the characters and the story world.

Post Broadcast Television’s primary focus being entertainment rather then education, Twin Peaks follows the model of content America is so well known for producing. The text is polysemic: made for multiple audiences, and multiple meanings can be discerned from it. Until the creation and broadcast of Twin Peaks, public broadcasters, especially ABC (USA), has viewed audiences as separate groups. Segmented by gender, age and geographical location. The widespread popularity of the first season lead to a new understanding of audiences “…as an amalgamation of different sub-cultural groups rather than a homogenous mass, or even as an amalgamation of family units” (Nelson, 1996) As a result, texts produced became more sophisticated, the understanding of who and how texts could be accessed changed and niche audiences developed, as did the concept of post broadcast television.

Different to a great deal of American serial TV, Twin Peaks holds it’s audience in high esteem, assuming them to be intelligent beings who don’t need plot points spelt out or traditional production elements that emphasize drama (quick cuts, fast zooms) to hold their attention and keep them engaged. Instead it plays with sound and pace to create a surreal and unfamiliar experience for the viewer (such as in Cooper’s dreams). This unconventional style for serial tv led to great intrigue from the wider audience. It’s hybrid, complex nature place it in the category of post broadcast television.

Similar to Lynch’s other works, the television series is of a hybrid genre. It is not purely crime, nor drama, nor soap-opera. It is a mix of all of them and often pokes fun at each of these styles by over-exaggerating them or playing with the audiences notions of standard genre conventions. It contains many of the elements of a traditional soap-opera, but refutes this in multiple instances. For example, the inclusion of scenes from the fake soap-opera Invitation To Love, broadcast on the television sets of the citizens of Twin Peaks often shadows future events, or parallels the lives of the characters featured. The fleeting glimpses we are allowed into the program feature over-exaggerated the corny dialogue, soft lighting and close-ups of emotional expressions that we have come to associate as standard conventions of the soap-opera genre. The act of including a soap-opera within the world of Twin Peaks is making fun of that genre and a way in which Lynch can shoot down any ideas that Twin Peaks is intended to be a soap-opera.

Another example of playing with standard conventions occurs in the Pilot episode; Pete Martell is on the phone to Sheriff Harry Truman, explaining that he has just discovered Laura’s dead body. The scene is set up in a conventional fashion (cutting between the two on the phone) and we all want to know who, however, the Sheriff deliberately frustrates the audience by asking Pete, “Where?” and the scene ends. This sort of build-up and change in direction is common throughout the television series. Part of the entertainment factor of post broadcast television is knowing the conventions and experiencing them being played with.

These examples also support the idea that Twin Peaks was created for the new type of audience that emerged alongside post broadcast television. A sophisticated, intelligent audience, that consume television and other popular culture on a regular basis. These avid consumers understand the conventions of genre television allowing Lynch and Frost to play with the standard ‘rules’ to create a hybrid production.

Twin Peaks consistently plays with the interruptible nature of post-broadcast television. It is also very aware of itself as a production. It makes little attempt to provide the viewers with narrative closure. These factors add to the entertainment value for an audience who understand the conventions of genre television and are interested in experiencing this being played with to provide new content.

 


 

From ‘Twin Peaks,’ USA, to lesser peaks, UK: building the postmodern TV audience.(Sport, Globalization and the Media), Nelson, Robin, Media, Culture & Society, Oct, 1996, Vol.18(4), p.677, accessed August 24 2014