chapter  2
14 Pages

TV as time machine: television’s changing heterochronic regimes and the production of history


Most of the existing scholarly literature on television texts focuses on particular programmes. This chapter, however, will consider television’s dynamics as a larger textual composite. At a moment when, to invoke Raymond Williams, television’s technology and cultural form are very much in transition, the medium’s fast-changing textual mix and our access to it merit closer consideration. In considering this mix, I will focus on a particular aspect of television’s temporality that in effect makes it a time machine, allowing viewers to experience a distinctive kind of time, and possibly even notion of history. Television’s temporal regime has been in flux since the start of the broadcast era, and I am interested above all in how changing configurations of time and the (re-)sequencing of programming units themselves constitute key elements of the medium’s relationship to historical representation. I am interested in using medium-specific attributes to explore television’s changing role as a site for the personal construction of historical meaning and as a vehicle for public history. Although the broad contours of this short narrative – the shift over the past 60 years from relatively stable and widespread textual sequences to highly variable and personalized constellations – will not be surprising, by limiting my focus to the interplay of certain televisual logics, I hope to at least shed some light on an under-illuminated aspect of television’s historical capacities.