Give Our Regards To the Atomsmashers
Television as Digital Media
by James Bennett and Niki Strange, Editors
Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2011
400 pp., illus. 38 b/w. Trade, $19.55
Reviewed by John F. Barber
The Creative Media & Digital Culture Program
Washington State University Vancouver
Once upon a time television was analog. We watched programming at prescribed times, en masse, tuning to defined, commercially driven channels, seeking the packaged content, created, we thought, by a talented few. As a mass medium, television helped define and organize everyday life into a social collective experience.
Now television is d-d-d-digital content for the media stream, bits to be remixed at will . . . "just one moment please" . . . and whim by anyone channeling the Max Headroom métier across a broad range of non-site-specific platforms: mobile telephones, game consoles, iPods, iPads, and online video services like YouTube and Hulu. As a hybrid technological form, television now invites participation anytime, anywhere, as producers generate personal content, as individuals pursue special entertainment/information interests, or as communities share television moments, often live.
Television as Digital Media, a collection of essays edited by James Bennett and Niki Strange, examines this evolving and shifting digital landscape. Essays by television and new media scholars from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, speak to a hybrid confluence of production practices, industry strategies, aesthetic markers, audience practices, historical antecedents, and resulting contemporary digital culture. The end result is to help shape a new paradigm for connecting television and digital media by addressing the questions "what is television, and what is it for?"
Television as Digital Media is arranged in four parts: history, production, aesthetics, and audiences with essays in each part examining that particular focus. The first part examines the switchover of television from analog to digital around the world thus providing an historical context for changes to the traditional producer-text-audience relations.
Essays in the second part of the book examine economic and production strategies associated with digital television, seeking to close some of the gaps between the way(s) producers and academics talk about and understand television.
In part three, the focus shifts to the aesthetics of convergence in digital television. By asking what these aesthetics are, and how we might approach them, the essays in this section suggest directions for approaching the aesthetics of digital television as a converging and fragmenting media form.
The book's final part provides examples of user-generated content and digital audience practices, attempting to move beyond the simple dichotomy of user generated content as good, and its co-option by media conglomerates as bad. Instead, essays in this part speak to the complex and often contradictory roles of producers and audiences in the digital television arena and how producing content often produces audiences which, in turn, produce content, which produces yet other, different audiences, and so on.
The essays collected in Television as Digital Media speak to a broad range of producer and audience interests: political economy public service broadcasting, iPlayer to YouTube, ideology to cultural practices, podcast to digital short(s). Rather than a definitive definition of digital television, these essays suggest the limits of digital television are increasingly unclear, being that they are always already evolving under a wide range of experiences and technologies.