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TVTV: The Debate

by Robert Anderson, Richard Gruneau, Paul Heyer, eds.

For anybody who watched TVTV: The Television Revolution, Moses Znaimer’s bombastic CBC documentary about the nature of the culture’s dominant medium, the real debating question is probably: why would anyone want to publish a book of academic responses to it?

But this little volume, a typographically jazzed-up issue of the Canadian Journal of Communication now released as a book, is unexpectedly lively and informative. The various media scholars included here drop the curtain of fashionable po-mo jargon and speak plainly about Znaimer’s tendentious appraisal of television.

The comments are almost uniformly negative, with special scorn reserved for the reductive nostrums Znaimer calls his “Ten Commandments of Television”: “Television is the triumph of the image over the printed word”; “The true nature of television is flow, not show”; “TV is democratic; everybody gets it”; etc. The false dichotomy thus established between print and television – a staple of Znaimer’s posture of aggrieved exile from serious critical attention – is exploded over and over. Television is text and sound as well as image; print is image as well as text. Whatever Znaimer may choose to think, media are not engaged in some battle to the death. Radio survived television, and print has survived both. Basta with the media wars and their silly celebrants, such as Camille Paglia, whose truly moronic claims about TV’s “sensual pagan torrent” are singled out for criticism by all but one of the book’s 12 contributors.

The biggest problem with the TVTV documentary, however, was not its intellectual shallowness but its disastrous ratings: viewers stayed away in droves, even though the Sunday night CBC time slot is usually a cream puff. It seems Znaimer didn’t take his own advice about what makes for good television – and is still smarting about it. His defensive response to the critics, included at the end of this volume, suggests someone whose hatred of print is declining into pathology. The rebuttal is the weakest part of this book, because Znaimer seems unable to view intellectual challenge except through the prism of his anti-print (and anti-academic) prejudice.

That’s a shame, because the other writers included here are beginning just the sort of smart assessment of TV’s social role that Znaimer should be part of.



Price: $12.95

Page Count: 96 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-9698983-1-2

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 1996-12

Categories: Politics & Current Affairs