chapter  2
20 Pages

Watching Television

Bodies on Both Sides of the Screen
ByMarsha F. Cassidy

This chapter rethinks television studies’ broadcast paradigms to make the case that 21st-century digital television holds the potential to enhance corporeal appeals. More numerous, better quality, and bigger screens in the home; heightened experimentation in narrative and aesthetic excellence; and the loosening of constraints on cable channels now make possible a viewer’s more robust encounter with screen bodies. These developments refute the earlier precept that analog TV’s inferior quality precluded immersive attention.

The dominant model of viewership inherited from the broadcast era, characterized by everyday interruptions in a domestic setting, is also being questioned today. Although many factors argue against the distracted “glance” that was thought to be the universal viewing practice during the broadcast era, the chapter recognizes that digital television allows for a wide spectrum of viewing modes, making the level of encounter with the screen variable and unpredictable. In its review of earlier concepts about television’s apparent access to reality and its simulation of a co-present intimacy, the chapter argues that television today evokes the viewer’s body in both innovative and familiar ways. The chapter ends with two examples from widely different genres: the epic final three innings of the 2016 Cubs/Indians World Series and the dramatization of sexual manipulation by Soviet spies on The Americans.