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Quantum Leap The Postmodern Challenge of Television as History Robert Hanke She said: What is History? And he said: History is an angel Being blown backwards into the future He said: History is a pile of debris And the angel wants to go back and fix things To repair the things that have been broken But there is a storm blowing from paradise And the storm keeps blowing the angel Backwards into the future And the storm, this storm is called Progress Laurie Anderson, "The Dream Before" Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap Accelerator, and vanished.... He awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home. voice-over from the opening title sequence of Quantum Leap Laurie Anderson's "The Dream Before," which recalls one of Walter Benjamin's theses on the philosophy of history, shall serve as a point of departure for this essay, just as the "Quantum Accelerator" serves as Dr. Sam Beckett's point of departure in the television series Quantum Leap} This 60 | Robert Hanke essay examines some possibilities for thinking about television as history. It considers what television studies could do to address television as remembered history and how the notion ofpopular memory works as a supplementary to the main arguments advanced by histories of television. The agenda of this essay is three-fold. First, it describes the contours of the study of media history, Michel Foucault's remarks on popular memory, and the emergence of collective memory studies. Second, it suggests the usefulness ofWilliam Palmer's New Historicist holographic model of film history and criticism and applies it to Quantum Leap.2 Moreover, it argues that this model needs to be revised in light of memory studies and the rise of cultural history as the "study of the construction of the subject."3 Finally, it briefly presents some theses on the philosophy of television as history. Before the advent of critical historiography in the 1970s, traditional approaches to media history were satisfied to look backward, like the angel in "The Dream Before," only to be blown into the future by visions of progress. Communication historians then began to take notice that traditional approaches produced a great (white, middle-class) man, top-down, press and artifact-centered version of U.S. media history.4 Since then, a growing body of critical historiography has continued to challenge the traditional view and revise the practice of media history.5 In his critical history of the discipline, Hanno Hardt writes that communication studies must "recover its sense of history" and "recognize the relationship between history and theory."6 Recovering our sense of history will entail more than assembling all of the necessary facts and getting the story of U.S. media right. For one thing, it will require us to recognize how standard historical accounts function as cultural myths about the past.James Schwoch, Mimi White, and Susan Reilly, for example, argue that television's view of its own "Golden Age" structures academic accounts of the "origins" of network television, valorizing"live" television production and severing television's development from economic, institutional, cultural, and technological factors .7 For another, television has undergone massive technological and institutional changes since the 1980s, becoming part of the transnational media industry and a global mediascape. Consequently, "it has become impossible to treat [television] as a unitary phenomenon with a single line of history."8 Such acknowledgments, of course, resonate with the New Historicism, an intellectual challenge to antiquarianism that began in the 1960s and came to more widespread interdisciplinary recognition in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As Palmer aptly puts it, this "type of'metahistory,' always aware of itself as text and of the interrelation between its texts, subtexts, contexts, Quantum Leap | 61 intertexts, can elevate the past into the participatory position of being a layer in the holograph of present history."9 This intellectual development can, in turn, be treated as part of a longerterm history that would...


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