By Mikayla Alexander
An article written by David Charpentier was published in Reading Pop Culture: A Portable Anthology. The focus of this collection of works consists of popular culture, media, television, and film. Charpentier’s overall message is that shows provide better storytelling whereas films lack more substance and cost more money. Throughout the piece, he mentions that television and film united to form multimedia conglomerates due to monetary drive. He argues these organizations fall flat by not focusing on the criteria shows use, that would make storytelling in film exceptional. He feels television shows are better and addresses their differences with film, but his closing paragraph forced me to analyze how he might feel about media conglomerates. I find it misplacing to accuse the oligopoly of having enough money and not using it for quality work on all fronts while failing to address how the oligopoly is harmful to popular culture's influences on society. He states,
Feature photo: Melting Television via Wix
“The concept of traditional television will likely fade away far earlier than movies... The appeal of today’s top series amongst viewers may change the way that movies are made. And there’s no reason a film and a series can’t exist side-by-side in today’s culture. Who’s to say they should be defined separately at all.”
In this final statement, he acknowledges media conglomerates have begun the work to drastically change the definitions of TV and film, but puts more emphasis on this being a bad thing if the art is not up to par. He does not acknowledge the harm of encouraging these well- funded art forms to no longer be separately defined, as that puts more unleveled power in the hands of the organizations. Mass media domination puts individuals at further risk of receiving certain messages and being persuaded by these corporations through popular culture. These corporations work hard to arrive at the end goal. The end goal for any corporation is to stay in business and when that applies to the entertainment industry, it means the more money we spend on consuming their products, the better off a corporation is.
We see the proof today of lines blurring between disciplines with the example of Walt Disney. In 2019, 21st Century Fox sold its entertainment assets to Disney, making Disney a larger owner in the oligopoly (Schwartz, 2019). The best example is that The Simpsons is available to stream on Disney+, when you could otherwise watch it for free online at the Fox website, by signing in with your TV provider. This can be a disadvantage too, if you do not pay a corporation monthly for its exclusive television and film commodities, or cable television. This merging allows Disney to be richer, giving it more power and outreach for persuasive message opportunities.
A specific example of harmful message opportunities would be a show like Euphoria. When Euphoria first came out, there were a lot of conversations across social media like Twitter and Instagram. Obviously, it garnered enough attention to be cleared for three seasons, but some of the reactions to it were not great. It was seen by some audiences as an oversexualized teenage experience, getting views from representing different versions of childhood trauma. The writer, Sam Levinson, speaks to his writing behind Rue being based on his struggle with drugs. Despite that, he has still been criticized for the explicit nudity and accused of sexism. One of the instances would be the character development of Kat.
Kat Hernandez did start season one as insecure, body-conscious, and slightly ostracized from her peers. She becomes a cam-girl and takes on a dominatrix persona, that allows her to feel more confident and appealing in her body. Kat’s arc does not extend beyond this new persona in season two. In fact, her story is not built on much at all, and when we do see her, she is more self-absorbed and insensitive to her friends and her newfound boyfriend. It felt as if Kat traded in some parts of her true self, but we do not get to the point of revealing that this would be the new her, considering the harm of sex work as a minor and seeking happiness in male validation. We also do not see if she learns to weigh her newfound confidence with a stronger sense of self -validation, as she eventually quits cam work.
As it turns out, we will continue to be left in the dark on the true message of Kat’s story, as Levinson kept rewriting lines and adjusting her story. Levinson and the actress of Kat, Barbie Ferreira, had frequent disagreements about where her story would go. Barbie felt that the true character of Kat had not been found yet, and the directions that Levinson wanted it to go, would not do justice to the character thus far. Levinson essentially wrote off Kat’s character development into a coffin, with no real intention aside from an insecure girl who found false confidence after ‘domming’ grown men online. She is further isolated because she really does not know who she is. This resulted in Barbie leaving the show. The lack of direction on Levinson’s part as creator and director, as well as his failure to create an option in which one of his star female leads has space for useful and creative input, further puts him in a bad light. Audiences out there perceived Euphoria as harmful in its “male perspective” and spoke out about the sexist, harmful, and unrealistic impact of his show.
I do think Charpentier does well in his initial discussion on the benefits of television versus the downsides of film. Unfortunately, his closing remark does not have the foresight of how controlling and wide-reaching the media oligopoly is and, subsequently, the messages of popular culture. The events regarding today’s media conglomerates and popular culture are worth being actively aware of, no matter how forcibly or voluntarily we consume their products. The encouragement that Charpentier expresses of these conglomerates would only serve to put more money in the pockets of the owners. Those rich in power, money, and connection were doing well for themselves prior to the structure of media conglomerates. Their unions are only inspired by greed.
Charpentier, D. (2016). In J. Ousborne, Story or Spectacle? Why Television is Better Than the Movies.
Schwartz, M. (2019, March 20). Disney Officially owns 21st Century Fox. NPR.