June 6, 2007
Thinking Outside the Box and Understanding the History of Television Studies

As I was skimming through the latest issue of The Journal of Popular Culture which I received in the mail not that long ago, I found a note about a somewhat old book volume that might nevertheless be quite interesting to peruse. It's called Thinking Outside the Box: A Contemporary Television Genre Reader, featuring work from the likes of C3's Jason Mittell, although the reviewer mistakenly attributed his work to some bloke named Jason Mittrell. It's nice to know I'm not the only person who has their name regularly botched; remember back to an article in The Louisville Courier-Journal last summer on the changing branding practices of Kentucky Fried Chicken that attributed my quotes to C3's "Sam Bond."

The reviewer--Michigan State University's John F. Bratzell--points to Mittell's piece about understanding television genres alongside a review from Horace Newcomb as to "the early growth of cultural studies and subsequently the study of television." This is bookended by an epilogue from Brian G. Rose looking at the history of television analysis. The book is edited by Rose and Gary R. Edgerton.

In between, there is a wide variety of work, including an essay that particularly intrigued me by Ellen Seiter and a doctoral student working with her at USC, Mary Jeanne Wilson, entitled "Soap Opera Survival Tactics," looking at how soap operas have adapted over the years. Considering my work looking on soaps in the current media environment, it's nice to know some kindred spirits. Mary Jeanne and I have corresponded on several occasions (as I have with Ellen), and both are quite keen on the past and present of soaps and television.

For television studies scholars like me who haven't been acquainted with some of the folks whose work is presented in the middle of this book, it seems well worth a read. And perhaps more substantially, for the folks who follow this blog and might be interested in knowing more about the development and history of television studies, I would recommend taking a look toward Thinking Outside the Box. While I haven't read Horace's piece at the book's beginning, I know that there are few scholars better poised to explain the history of cultural studies and particularly how it relates to the study of television. On the other end, I'm quite intrigued by what Bratzel calls a "histiography" of television analysis from Rose.

If any of the C3 readers out there have read the volume, I'd like to know if you echo Bratzel's recommendations. I think it would be nice to have some key texts for folks who might be interested in television studies from outside the academy to be able to learn about the institutional and academic history of the study of television so as to better understand how and why the academy studies television in the ways it does today.

Since the recent conversations regarding MiT5 and particularly surrounding issues of studying fandom focus on the institutions of academia and the various ways in which traditions, tenure-tracks, stereotypes, geography, university hierarchies, and a wide variety of other issues affect fan studies, it is nice to apply that interest in understanding the history of television studies as well. This book provides some of that alongside what sound like some strong contemporary examples of television analysis.

The Program in Comparative Media Studies here at MIT is particularly dedicated to the study of television, and since C3 in particular has a strong interest in the TV industry, and I think it is particularly good to read about projects such as these which seek to better understand the process of studying television (especially since it incorporates one of C3's own in the process!)