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Television Studies: The Key Concepts (Routledge Key Guides)

Television Studies: The Key Concepts - Bernadette Casey

A book outdated the instant it was published.

Some topics are destined to become outdated shortly after they’re published; studies of popular culture or social networking fall in this category, because the fields are changing so quickly. Oddly, Television Studies: The Key Concepts, despite its edgy cover, was already outdated in 2002, the year it was published. The book is arranged like a glossary, with key concepts bolded and short, encyclopedic entries following.

Consider the entry on “Reality Television.” In 2002, “reality television” was a concept readily understood. In popular terms, it did not refer to talk shows or game shows or on-the-scene documentaries, though these types of shows were often fairly unscripted and live. Conceptually, “reality television” referred to television shows, such as the early An American Family, which aired in the 1970s, or Real World, first shown in 1992, where real-life people are followed during their daily lives, in a particular situation, or in a challenge where participants are eliminated, etc. Given that this genre was well established by 2002, it’s peculiar the authors don’t go far beyond the broader, more dated, sense of the concept (e.g., game shows, documentaries, etc.).

Other entries, such as the one on “Feminism” are fraught with generalizations and assumptions. To read this entry, one would think feminism was a complete failure and over and done with. The most recent study cited is that of Camille Paglia (Sexual Personae), who is a rather well-known anti-feminist. To be credible, most reference books at least aim at some semblance of objectivity. Certainly a less controversial figure might have been chosen. Also, for a book published in 2002, a 1990 citation is dated.

In all, the book is unhelpful, and the concepts chosen for its glossary entries are peculiar – comedy (yes), hegemony (why??), mass culture (yes), polysemy (are you kidding?).