TV Repair: New Media "Solutions" to Old Media Problems

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Television's history has at numerous points been punctuated by pronouncements that technological innovations will improve its programming, empower its audiences, and heal the injuries it has inflicted on American society. This enduring faith in the inevitability and imminence of television's technological salvation is the subject of this dissertation. "TV Repair" offers a series of case studies of the promotion and reception of four new media technologies, each of which was at the moment of its introduction touted by members of various constituencies as a technological fix for television's problems, as well as for the problems television's critics have accused it of causing. At each of these moments of innovation, I explore the questions, fantasies, fears, and power struggles provoked by television's convergence with new media, as well as the social, cultural, and economic contexts within which these mergers take place. Taken together, these case studies broaden our understanding of television's technological history, and contribute to an ongoing dialogue about television's place within studies of "new media." In many contexts, television acts as a convenient shorthand for "old media," connoting the passivity, centralization, and rigidity that new media promise to deliver us from. "TV Repair" invites a reconsideration of this easy equivalency, calling attention to the ways that television itself "becomes new" through convergence. In this dissertation, I argue that "becoming new" is a matter of social redefinition, carried out in advertisements, sales brochures, instruction manuals, media reports, and everyday talk. These acts of social redefinition exploit television's latent instability to reopen debates about what television is and might become. At these moments, television once again seems to possess a glimmer of the potential typically identified with new media. In addition to offering a cultural history of the idea that new media will repair television, then, this dissertation is also about how television reclaims a sense of "novelty" during these instances. It is, in other words, a history of television as a new medium

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  • 10/08/2018
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