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Demographic Vistas

Television in American Culture

By David Marc. Foreword by Horace Newcomb

Publication Year: 1996

In Demographic Vistas, David Marc shows how we can take television seriously within the humanist tradition while enjoying it on its own terms. To deal with the barrage of messages from television's chaotic history, Marc adapts tools of theatrical and literary criticism to focus on key personalities and genres in ways that reward serious students and casual viewers alike.

This updated edition includes a new foreword by Horace Newcomb and a new introduction by the author that discusses the ways in which the nature of television criticism has changed since the book's original publication in 1984. A new final chapter explores the paradox of the diminishing importance of over-the-air broadcasting during the period of television's greatest expansion, which has been brought about by complex technologies such as cable, videocassette recorders, and online services.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page

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pp. i


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pp. iv


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xviii

"A most confusing thing in American History," observed William Carlos Williams, "is the nearly universal lack of scale."1 Television is very much at home in this history. Inviting nothing but superlatives ("dullest," "greatest opportunity," "most asinine," "quickest," etc.), it has generated more cash and less prestige than any other activity that could be even...

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Foreword to the Revised Edition

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pp. xix-xxii

In this edition of Demographic Vistas David Marc directly addresses the fundamental question that underlies the first edition and all his subsequent work: What is television? Here, in a new concluding chapter, the question is framed in the past. Marc argues, and I agree, that what we have generally accepted as a social, cultural category and phenomenon referred to as "television," what he more...

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Introduction to the Revised Edition

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pp. xxiii-xxxi

I attended college at a school that changes its name quite a bit. It was founded as Harpur College in 1948. When I enrolled in 1968 it was in the process of switching over to the State University of New York at Binghamton. The last solicitation for alumni funds I received had it...

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1. Beginning to Begin Again

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pp. 1-38

An unholy marriage of sociology and art—the shotgun is pointed at art—American television is a perplexing montage. The programs are conceived as stimuli for the masses, but it is left to the viewer to establish a text in a personal, even private, way. Whatever is exposed to television is under attack. Ideals are confounded by the depressing spectacle of astonishing technical acumen aimed at gross simplification. Belief is...

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2. The Situation Comedy of Paul Henning: Modernity and the American Folk Myth in The Beverly Hillbillies

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pp. 39-63

While relatively much critical attention has been given to the "sophisticated" sitcoms of Norman Lear and Grant Tinker, little has been said about what was probably the most popular sitcom—if not the most popular show—in television history, Paul Henning's Beverly Hillbillies (CBS, 1962-71). Even among those critics who do not...

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3. The Comedy of Public Safety

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pp. 65-98

The sitcom offers representation of the interior, the domestic, the banal, and the intimate. The genre comments on American society microscopically, portraying the effects of culture on a family, extended family, vocational group, or other microcosmic social unit. Culture is revealed in the opinions and styles of the various demographic components of...

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4. Gleason's Push

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pp. 99-128

The television personality develops in one or more of three general modes: the representational, in which he dons the mask of a frankly fictional character; the presentational, in which, as "himself," he addresses the audience within the context of theatrical space; and the documentary, in which...

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5. Self-Reflexive at Last

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pp. 129-166

Whitman and Poe were the major urban poets of nineteenth-century America. Their visions are diametrically opposite. Whitman saw a new beginning for humankind in the teeming polyglot masses of the new nation; Poe was horrified by its chaotic formlessness. The imaginative agenda...

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6. What Was Broadcasting?

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pp. 167-189

Like the national debt, the homeless population, gun ownership, and job insecurity, television grew prodigiously in the 1980s. In terms of quantity, a steadily increasing number of channels served a steadily increasing number of audiences who were putting their sets to a steadily increasing number of uses. In terms of quality, programming...


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pp. 191-203


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pp. 205-213


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pp. 215-220

Main Index

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pp. 221-231

Index of Television Series

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pp. 233-238

Index of Films Made for Theatrical Release

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pp. 239-240

E-ISBN-13: 9780812202717
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812215601

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 1996

Edition: Revised Edition