Wall to Wall Dallas? The US-UK Trade in Television
Media analysis is in danger of repeating the behaviour of the Bourbons: learning nothing and forgetting nothing. Slowly and laboriously, simple behaviourist stimulus and response models of effects and audience research are being driven from the field by more nuanced and mediated models of the consumption and effects of the mass media. A variety of studies, including Hall’s Encoding and Decoding (Hall, 1980) and Morley’s The Nationwide Audience (Morley, 1980) have asserted the differentially of audience understandings and actions. Yet this understanding of the specificity of micro-cosmic responses to television programmes is rarely replicated when the macro-cosmic impact of programming is considered. Studies of world information flows assert confidently that imperialistic relationships exist, that cultural imperialism is rampant and that everywhere the media are American (see Schiller, 1969, Smith, 1980, Tunstall, 1977, Varis, 1974). However, much evidence suggests that the same differential found at the microlevels of consumption is found at the macro-level, though there has been little reconsideration of the media imperialism thesis other than Lee (1980) and Ravault (1980). In Europe the alarm at the impact of American television programming (for which Dallas has become a codeword) has continued, becoming sufficiently fashionable to have assumed the dimensions of moral panic. ‘Wall to Wall Dallas’ is by now the accepted shorthand of critics anticipating the effects of the general introduction of pay cable television to the UK (Chris Dunkley even used that as the title for his recent book [Dunkley, 1985]) and a French government minister attacked Luxembourg’s broadcast satellite (a delivery system for American programming) as a ‘Coca-Cola’ satellite ‘attacking our artistic and cultural integrity’ (in Financial Times, 31 May 1984, p. 3). Indeed, the dreaded Dallas was chosen by the Commission of the European Communities to exemplify the perils of non-European television:
There is already a certain uniformity in the range of films screened on television in the Community. Programmes such as ‘Dallas’ are carried by almost every television channel in the member states. The creation of a common market for television production is thus one essential step if the dominance of the big American media corporations is to be counterbalanced. (Commission of the European Communities, 1984, p. 47)
National broadcasting authorities have recently attempted to regain audiences lost to Dallas by reworking it in a national idiom-for example, France’s Chateauvallon, Canada’s Vanderberg and the Netherlands’ Herrenstraat 10. These initiatives are in turn perceived as imitative amplifications of US imperialism and distinctive symptoms of the decline of authentic national cultural production. But the impact of Dallas, and of US television in general, is far from unambiguous.