I was lucky enough to work with the University of Sussex recently and helped organise a discussion about television values and ideology.
The topic might sound a little highbrow but it addresses some of the fundamental issues around the use and abuse of a powerful medium – whether you’re:
- bloggers looking to introduce a little video into your mix
- commercial television companies seeking the next X Factor
- charities trying to tap into public consciousness
- commercial organisations looking to oil the wheels of doing business
- or audiences looking to be entertained, or informed (or a bit of both).
It got me thinking…
Say the word “television” and I initially think of the traditional box in the living room but this is way too old school. The ‘vision’ bit is fairly self explanatory. ‘Tele’ comes from the Greek for ‘far’ or ‘distant’. I had to look that last bit up, but I’m glad I did.
Looked at this way, television is a more apt catch all term than video or audio-visual when it comes to describing the many ways moving images are now delivered into our personal living rooms: that bit of tech space we surround ourselves with as we navigate the world.
If I watch a YouTube video on my smartphone to keep boredom at bay on a train journey, or dip into a Ted Talk on my computer, instead of getting on with some real work, it is, to all intents and purposes, tele-vision. It just so happens that traditional television, delivered and consumed in a linear fashion, accounts for the bulk of it. But the lessons learned can be applied much more widely.
The presentations that formed part of the University of Sussex event covered a huge range of material from how the traveller community has been framed by a Big Fat prefix that modulates our perceptions of their culture and values – some fantastic work done by the event’s organiser Roberta Piazza, Senior Lecturer in English Language – through to Clive Jones, Chairman, Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), and his thought provoking insights on how a disaster appeal must also have televisual appeal if it is to tap into mass market heart strings and purse strings.
You can download a full list of speakers and topics at the end of this blog.
Images as part of the giving process
Mother nature doing her worst under the baleful gaze of the camera can focus attention in a way that aid workers working discreetly in politically fraught environments cannot.
Identify an aid worker by showing them on television one day and one faction or another might take a shot at them the next. Nonetheless, the giving public evaluate available images as part of the giving process. It is a transaction. I receive an image that triggers a response that provokes me to give. Quid pro quo.
Of course, not all of us are looking at this from academic or charitable perspectives. But any organisation considering moving images needs to think about both value and ideology.
Value first. Why use images and is there additional value in images that move?
There is significant research that indicates that images can have a powerful impact. They can aid charitable giving and foster trust in commerce. The images need to make sense. Whether you’re selling a cause or a product they need need to work and not just take up space (attention and real estate) – show after as well as before, particularly in the case of charitable campaigns.
Givers need to know how money will be spent and be shown images that support this. In the commercial world, potential purchasers respond positively to images of past customers in receipt of their purchases.
But what about images that move? The value of movement has long been recognised. Laws of public decency used to pivot around this point, making nudity legal when static but more desirable when in motion.
But what got me excited was some research I came across under the title ‘At the Heart of It All: The Concept of Presence’ (Lombard and Ditton, 2006), which indicates that virtual reality simulators, video conferencing, home theatre and HD TV provide users with an illusion that: ‘a mediated experience is not mediated’.
In effect, the more like reality it is the more we take it at face value and believe what we see. Moving images are more lifelike. The more like life then the greater these images may play in helping us store information, retreive it and and make decisions based upon it. Moving images also create a degree of harmonised experience shared by watchers. Powerful things all.
Now to ideology. That’s a tricky area.
In a commercial sense this has to be the system of ideas and principles that underpin use. In terms of an organisation looking to use moving images this would seem to cover not just having an ephemeral vision but practical strategy governing that use and budget and goals that can be as ambitious as you like, but have to be evaluated against actual performance (who came, who saw, who bought/gave). Moving images are sexy but that’s not a good enough reason for using them.
If I have an issue with regular TV it’s that as the images have become more real the values and ideology that underpin them become less so. So-called reality TV shows are now no more that poorly rehearsed dramas.
If there’s a fly on the wall it’s only because the documentary-style footage on often smells distinctly fishy.
Finally, to this paradigm I add the concept of self. If as an organisation you plan to use moving image you are also up against not only your competitors and peers but the global audience of individuals who both record moving images and upload them through social media. Welcome to the world of ME-TV. And the subject of my next blog.
Values and ideology in TV discourse: A one-day interdisciplinary colloquium on recent research, University of Sussex – School of English, Friday, November 22nd 2013. Speakers and topics: Values and ideology in TV discourse