Notes from Flow:  On Taste

I’m posting some of my notes from yesterday’s sessions here. These notes should be taken primarily as my impressions of the conversations that took place; any misimpressions created by these notes are solely the fault of yours truly.

friday, 27 october

session 1: taste and television

jason mittell: we too rarely talk about taste in tv studies, and when we do, it’s about other people’s taste, not our own; how do we introduce the question of “taste” into television studies? it matters in an implicit way in terms of what people write about and how they write about it–our writing is always informed by our own taste, and we should be more open about acknowledging how that plays out. taste also informs our teaching, what we choose to show our students.

ron becker (miami): two ways people are talking about taste in tv; one: yes, taste is important and useful, and we should consider our own taste as an object of study; two: can we use our taste not as an object of study but rather as the basis of our work? the second is problematic as it might lead us to cease to be critical. how can taste serve as the basis of our work? what is the goal of a taste-based evaluative criticism? raises the issue of pleasure–what is the role of pleasure in the work we do? how do cultural studies theories/methods legitimate certain kinds of questions about pleasure and delegitimate others

louisa stein (sdsu): role of taste in engaging with diverse fan communities; how does one negotiate one’s investments in particular texts and communities? need to be aware of relationship to taste communities. wants to think about role of taste in thinking about tv audiences; shifting and complex community values that circulate in fan discourses

greg smith (georgia state): understood the question to be less about taste than about taste cultures; taste is not individual; cultural norms have values implicit in them–the “popular” is therefore always meaningful in multiple ways; the value of hipness in television studies–why are certain programs worth thinking seriously about but others much too dorky?

matt sienkiewicz (wisconsin): scholarship often seems to suggest that there is an objective, neutral interpretation of humor that makes laughter acceptable; in fact people often laugh at things that are “unacceptable”; thus the analysis of what people laugh at is always a taste judgment, privileging one reason to laugh over another; can never really get at a logic of laughter

roberta pearson (nottingham): is centralization of taste via national/international dissemination of television undermining local modes of taste development? how is “quality” television affecting this? how is quality television related to widening gap between rich & poor? crisis in public service television and its relationship to taste–the arnoldian tendencies of the bbc; issues of national culture

julia price baron (moderator): what makes some shows more hip or “better” than others? what sorts of intertextuality create this quality? what is the relationship between this quality and access? what is the relationship between quality and taste?


we don’t have tools for understanding the popularity of middle-brow shows, and in fact the “cult” shows that we study aren’t really all that popular

need to recognize that issues of taste and issues of value are separate questions; need to be able to get outside our own taste values in order to fully understand how other taste cultures operate

question of who we’re producing our scholarship for–the young and hip are more likely to read it, on some level

we’re always talking about our own tastes (what are you watching?), but we don’t do it in our scholarship so much, at least not explicitly

question–what’s the difference between politics and taste? some suggestion that taste is inseparable from politics, but also another disagreeing viewpoint

tone of criticism of “bad” television–awkwardness of writing about something we fundamentally don’t like

about JAG: a kind of critical presumption about what things *must* mean simply because they’re very popular, or because their characters happen to wear military uniforms; so questions: when did good/bad become critical categories? who are we writing for and why? are we having to rationalize tv studies as related to “high,” literary studies in order to be worthy of placement in the curriculum? if something troubles you about why it might be popular, watch it!

interesting that if we want to talk about “good,” we can talk about politics and aesthetics, but if we’re talking about “bad,” we can only talk about politics

henry jenkins: problems with aca/fan perspective; need to put ourselves in dialogue with red-state values, or we’re just going to become further distanced and irrelevant

complexity as the key to the politics/aesthetic issue: notion that complexity is better than simplicity, idea that complexity begets political complexity

problematic nature of attempt to create a canon, as questions of value always wind up reinscribing hierarchical notions of elite ideologies

interesting the ways that writing about television seems to have become writing about particular shows, and thus the selection becomes about liking/disliking some individual text; should writing about television be about something larger, and thus

how does all of this play out in our teaching? what kinds of discourses are allowed in the classroom? how do we get students to unpack the terms they use to talk about shows?

bourdieu on taste–historical purpose of taste was to form gentlemen so that they could govern the country

concept of style as related to taste (john caldwell’s televisuality)–a means of negotiating between high and low/good and bad

multiplicity of aesthetic categories attempting to negotiate the very different aesthetic frameworks under which particular shows operate; what different kinds of evaluative criteria might we bring to looking at different shows?

aesthetic machineries of television industry itself

can we really know our likes and dislikes? what about the space for ambivalent reactions to?

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