Friday, February 26, 2016

Shifts in Literature in a Televised Era

          In Steve Anderson's essay "History, TV, and Popular Memory," he provides a distinct and impacting look at how history and television are a means to affect, shape, or control popular memory. Throughout his essay, he provides a multitude of popular theorists' quotes that emphasize the importance of memory and how cultural shifts affect ones' own memory as well as the memory of the collective (the "popular memory" in this case). He begins by noting, "People consume and process written, filmed, or televised histories within a web of individual and cultural forces that influence their reception and the uses to which they are put" (2). 

          While he may be talking about "histories" as a matter of factual evidence (noting specific historical events that were nationally and internationally televised), this is also applicable to the genres and cultural influences that film and television have developed and shifted over time. The home television started appearing between the 1920s and 1930s, but it wasn't until the late 1940s and early 1950s that televisions began to become a mainstay in American homes (let alone in other countries). Television shows that appeared were very limited (as many smaller TV networks shut down during the war, leaving radio to remain the mainstream form of news and entertainment). Some of the most popular shows, such as The Lone Ranger, began as a radio show (in the 1930s) that developed into a television series. Others, such as Hopalong Cassidy, were a series of books or short stories written much earlier that were simultaneously broadcast on television and radio. On similar lines, radio personalities and comedians developed on television, shows like Howdy Doody and the Ed Sullivan Show. These shows already had a longstanding fan backing that allowed their popularity to surge. 

          In the 1950s, similar shows developed (Westerns, in particular, such as Gunsmoke and Maverick). Most importantly, as Anderson points out, were shows like I Love Lucy that showed "women's lives in the 1950s" or shows like Leave It To Beaver and The Honeymooners. These shows are commonly known as "slice of life" television shows, a term that stems from Jean Jullien in the middle of the 19th century (originally referring to plays). These "slice of life" shows are shows that were designed to resonate with the "average American," depictions of the day in the average life of said people.

           The 1980s developed many shows that weren't "slice of life" but more unique in that they focused heavily on different lives of professionals in their work. M*A*S*H (began in the 1970s however, but pushed the popular trend), Cheers, Magnum P.I., Night Court, Taxi, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, L. A. Law all follow this trend (among others, specifically law enforcement, military, and shows based on the justice system; these shows often depict 'thrills' of danger and adventure, not unlike the Westerns from the 1940s to 1950s). Slowly (really not that slowly) throughout the 1980s to the 2000s, television has become a booming industry that subsequently becomes the basis for shaping popular memory. With hundreds of channels and thousands upon thousands of shows appear year after year, with shows being serialized for even longer. The Simpsons is one example, appearing on dozens of channels owned by just as many networks throughout the world, and it's a show that is continuing to run. It's also a show that is a primary example of a show that affects culture and popular memory across the world and across divides such as race and class. The Simpsons first aired at the end of 1989 and has since become the longest running animated television series, won multiple Emmy awards, and has had nearly 700 "guest stars" in 26 years, including some that influenced the show itself; in a 1995 episode, Lisa becomes a vegetarian and has been one from a promise executive producer David Mirkin made to Paul McCartney, the guest star for the episode ("Twenty Years Ago").

          Anderson goes on to state "Memories, which survive among individuals and communities, are frequently set in opposition to historical discourse, which is propagated from the top down via cultural and governmental institutions" and, quoting Michel Foucault, "Since memory is actually a very important factor in struggle, if one control’s people’s memory, one controls their dynamism." This brings two major historical events/points to mind. First is the fact of the Armenian Genocide that happened from 1915 to 1917 by the Ottoman government (lying at present-day Turkey). Although it is a historic fact that it happened, and acknowledged as such by people on both sides of the event as well as other countries, there are still people on either side that deter from the facts. I have met at least one person from Armenia who absolutely hates people from Turkey. She was absolutely prejudiced toward an entire country and their citizens for an event that occurred nearly 100 years earlier. On the other hand, however, I have met at least one person from Turkey who has acknowledged that many Turkish people still defend to this day the events that happened at the time (although it was, in fact, a genocide, killing almost exclusively the Armenian people).
Another such example of this top-down memory and control of memory is that of the country of North Korea. It is no doubt for anyone in the civilized and developed world that North Korea is very much a totalitarian dictatorship, brainwashing many of their citizens to the point that even though they are starving and dying, they still believe in their government's rule and ideals. This is due to immense amounts of propaganda for over 50 years by the government in which the North Korean government (the DPRK) blames the Western world (primarily the United States) for their lack of food and resources. They go so far as to refuse any literature from outside their country from being imported and published inside their country, set up many fake luxuries (such as hotels, marketplaces, etc.) that are not only left empty but also unfinished and in decrepit conditions (also blamed on the Western world). But many North Korean peoples either believe wholeheartedly that their government is correct or they are so afraid of what will happen if they speak up that they pretend that they believe it.

          Following, Anderson quotes Sturken (about photographs), "“Memory does not remain static through time – memories are reshaped and reconfigured, they fade and are rescripted. While an image may fix an event, the meaning of that image is constantly subject to contextual shifts" (4). This is directly appropriate to literature. As time moves on, the context of a novel shifts. Even though it was written 10, 20, 50, or 100s of years ago, the context shifts based on previous historical facts and cultural biases or even shifts in current historical and cultural context. One such example is the novel 1984 by George Orwell. Published in 1949, the novel is a dystopia that focuses on a totalitarian and authoritarian government in what would have been Great Britain, complete with brainwashing, mass surveillance (both in and outside of one's own residence), and unwavering nationalism. Written shortly after World War II, the idea of nationalism is prevalent to that of the Nazi regime in Germany. If you were a German in Nazi Germany, there was no almost no doubt that you were in favor of the Nazi party; the national pride created such a fervor that it was near impossible to not be swept up in the frenzy in support of Hitler's reign and the oncoming war machine. Although that aspect of the novel was something that was historically and culturally prevalent in the l940s, it is not unlike what is happening in present day North Korea as mentioned previously (including brainwashing). Hell, even people living in the United States were in an uproar of fervent nationalism post-9/11 (with a CBS poll noting between 64% and 70% of people were in favor of military action in Iraq). Furthermore, the idea of mass surveillance, a dystopian idea, is becoming more and more prevalent in the United States. From Edward Snowden to other countries intercepting information, citizens are becoming more and more aware of the devastating amount of surveillance that is being done on the average citizen. This is just one primary example of how literature written in a different era with its own cultural and historical context directly influences and compares with modern cultural and historical contexts and memory.

No comments:

Post a Comment