Peripeteia Asks if We Are in a New Golden Age of Television

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Tuesday, April 14, Peripeteia hosted the Prelude Series discussion, “Are We in a New Golden Age of Television?” The discussion featured Professor Sunka Simon from the German Studies and Film and Media Studies Department, Professor William Gardener from the Japanese Department and Professor Christopher Fraga from the Anthropology Department.

Peripeteia, said co-founder Owen Weitzman ‘17, “is a festival with the aim of encouraging students, faculty, staff and community members to, in the words of Ms. Frizzle, take chances, make mistakes, and get messy by teaching their own mini-course. The purpose of Peripeteia is to create a platform where all voices can be heard, and to combat departmental isolation. […] Peripeteia embraces knowledge for the sake of knowledge, as well as the belief that diversity of knowledge is the ultimate goal of the liberal arts.”

The discussion began with each professor introducing their relationship with television. Gardener began the discussion with a focus on Japanese Television.

“I don’t think that we’re in a golden age of Japanese TV,” said Gardener. “If you look at Japanese TV today, I feel like a lot of the formats, a lot of the faces, there’s not much innovation, there’s not much cultural excitement there.”

Gardener continued, comparing Japanese and American television. “It seems to me like American TV has really started to resemble Japanese TV,” said Gardener.

Gardener then spoke about television as a staple of an American home and the distracted viewing that viewers have while interacting with it. He spoke about the television that comes out of this: television that you can watch in “digestible chunks” and that don’t require too much focus. He reflected on the new trend of sharing “little chunks” of television on social media platforms.

Following Gardener, Professor Simon reflected on the variety of shows she is currently watching, as a result of her teaching a TV and New Media Course.

Simon reflected on the topic of a golden age of television, noting that we are in a time where “wherever you want to go, whatever you want to watch, it is somewhere to be found.”

Simon then ran through a number of points focusing on the globalization of television, the dubbed television she watched growing up, and episodic segmentation as the new way we view content.

Game of Thrones is a good example,” said Simon. “Just at the moment where we finally get to a moment where we think, ‘well I might like to switch the channel,’ it does it for you, and it switches characters.”

Simon also reflected on the idea of television as a “literary reinvention,” and the role of television in transforming the local: the ability of television to familiarize the viewer with entire world.

Fraga approached the theme of the golden age of television from an anthropological point of view.

“I don’t know if any of you have seen the show Freaks and Geeks, but if you haven’t, you absolutely should,” said Fraga. “There’s a scene in it that makes me seize up in a kind of panic. It is a scene where Martin Star’s character, the nerdiest of the nerds, the geekiest of the geeks, gets home from his day […] and he comes home from his day of being brutally punished in high school and he sits down in front of the television, serves himself a dessert cake and a glass of milk […] and for the thirty minutes he is watching the television he has forgotten his woes. When I watch that scene I get short circuited because it is way too close to home. That’s who is speaking right now. Martin Star, this guy who is spewing chocolate and milk out of his mouth laughing at the television.”

Fraga noted the different questions raised by the idea of a golden age of television, including what we define as “television” and who the “we” are. He also lauded the show The Wire, focusing on a four second scene that demonstrates the tremendous power that television has.

Following the statements from the professors, the discussion opened up to audience members to ask questions. The questions ranged from a discussion of anime to an investigation of the relationship between cooking shows, commercials for food, and television.

Ultimately, the panel did not reach a conclusion about whether or not we are in a new golden age of television. “I don’t know if it’s a golden age of television,” said Gardener. “But I do think it is the golden age of cat videos.”

Featured image courtesy of www.cinefriends.com.

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