Although we tend to think of television primarily as a household fixture, TV monitors outside the home are widespread: in bars, laundromats, and stores; conveying flight arrival and departure times in airports; uniting crowds at sports events and allaying boredom in waiting rooms; and helping to pass the time in workplaces of all kinds. In Ambient Television Anna McCarthy explores the significance of this pervasive phenomenon, tracing the forms of conflict, commerce, and community that television generates outside the home.
Discussing the roles television has played in different institutions from 1945 to the present day, McCarthy draws on a wide array of sources. These include retail merchandising literature, TV industry trade journals, and journalistic discussions of public viewing, as well as the work of cultural geographers, architectural theorists, media scholars, and anthropologists. She also uses photography as a research tool, documenting the uses and meanings of television sets in the built environment, and focuses on such locations as the tavern and the department store to show how television is used to support very different ideas about gender, class, and consumption. Turning to contemporary examples, McCarthy discusses practices such as Turner Private Networks’ efforts to transform waiting room populations into advertising audiences and the use of point-of-sale video that influences brand visibility and consumer behavior. Finally, she inquires into the activist potential of out-of-home television through a discussion of the video practices of two contemporary artists in everyday public settings.
Scholars and students of cultural, visual, urban, American, film, and television studies will be interested in this thought-provoking, interdisciplinary book.
Traditionally conceptualized by both its critics and supporters as existing almost entirely in the private realm, television now shapes and often dominates public spaces, from sports bars and CNN's airport network to TVs in restaurants and beauty parlors. In this engrossing book, McCarthy, assistant professor of cinema studies at New York University, documents the enormous social and political impact on our daily lives of television's public presence. In lucid, if academic, prose and with a keen eye for historical detail and telling examples, McCarthy describes how televisions in 1950s taverns (viewed by the media as white, working-class, urban male enclaves, though many bars served diverse clientele) evolved into more upscale sports bars in the late 1980s. She also shows how "visual merchandising" (i.e., televisions located in department stores) functioned in the 1940s to direct the "irrational shopper" through the "rationalist architecture" of the stores. Drawing heavily on such theorists as Raymond Williams and J rgen Habermas, critical studies of merchandising and marketing, and trade journals, McCarthy's argument is fluent and convincing. Attuned to quirky and revealing juxtapositions such as religious images and icons placed next to televisions in stores and restaurants she astutely explains television's function as a disseminator of information in places like doctors' waiting rooms. While television's effects on public consciousness have long been a focus of sociologists and psychologists, McCarthy's eye-opening, scholarly work breathes new life into the debate over TV's ubiquitous influence. Photos.