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The Representation of Work (Panel 9)

posted on 2024-07-08, 08:03 authored by Elke WeissmannElke Weissmann, Christina Wilkins, Alexander BeareAlexander Beare, Robert BoucautRobert Boucaut, Tatiana Chervyakova

Christina Wilkins (University of Birmingham, UK)

The work/life balance in contemporary (speculative) television

Work has been a consistent feature of television programming – with office-spaces being the basis for entire sitcoms (The Office, Parks and Rec), or an offshoot of a storyline in a soap (Underworld factory in Coronation Street). This broadly reflects how work is featured in our everyday lives – it is a central part, but not all of it. In the wake of the pandemic, and with changes to work culture (through technological means, for instance), the centrality of work has increasingly started to bleed into other aspects of life. We now often work in the same space that we live, and are constantly available via email or phone to answer work queries, weakening the divide between work life and our ‘own’ lives. Two recent television series begin to think about this problem in interesting ways. The first, Apple TV’s Severance (2022-), posits a world in which a worker can be ‘severed’ – i.e. divided into a ‘work’ self and an ‘outside’ self. The ethics of it are debated through the storylines, but it functions as a solution to the problem of the work/life balance, which ultimately ends up reading as dystopian. The second, Marvel’s Loki (2022-), focuses on the work of the TVA (Time Variance Authority) in trying to maintain an ‘approved’ timeline, which involves finding ‘variants’ that would disrupt it, and removing them. It transpires by the end of season 1 that the agents who work for the TVA were previously variants themselves, who have been brainwashed to think they have always worked for the TVA and have no knowledge of their previous lives. This raises questions about the divide between self/work as the selves of the TVA agents have been voided for the purpose of the ‘work’. That Loki’s aesthetics present an outdated bureaucratic space (nicely indicated by the tones and props) suggest this balance, too, is outdated and needs to be rethought. That both series are speculative fiction/sci-fi is interesting – in offering a future where the work/life balance is taken to an extreme, both seem to indicate that it is dystopian. Yet, both feature on platforms (Apple, Disney) that are reliant on labour and the framework of late-stage capitalism to continue their success. These ideological clashes are interesting to consider. In this paper, I will explore how work (in these iterations) functions as barrier to health and agency, and offers warnings for what may be to come, despite the tensions of the platforms they are distributed on.

Alexander Beare; Robert Boucaut (University of Adelaide)

Cultivating a Capitalist Utopia? The Textual Prevalence of Apple’s Corporate Identity in Apple TV+ Originals.

In recent years, large tech corporations like Apple and Amazon have invested significant capital in developing their own Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) services and original programming. Popular platforms like Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime have been purposefully designed to fit into large corporate structures. In many ways, such SVOD services bring obvious benefits for a corporation—in addition to subscription revenue, they can be used to boost hardware sales or collect user data. For example, a typical episode of Apple TV+’s most popular original programme, Ted Lasso, will feature up to 36 shots of Apple products. While this type of egregious product placement is common, this paper interrogates some of the deeper and more challenging textual implications that come from original programming on these platforms. With reference to Amanda Lotz and Ramon Laboto’s understanding of the supportive structures of streaming services, this paper provides a close textual analysis of the Apple TV+ original programmes Ted Lasso (2021-2023), Loot (2022-present) and Mythic Quest (2020-present). Apple has a distinctive and recognisable brand identity that places an emphasis on individuality, disruption and “thinking different.” We contend that this corporate persona is intrinsically woven into the characters, themes and cultural messages of the Apple TV+ originals themselves. These programmes all feature outsider characters who, through their eccentric genius, disrupt the status quo and find great success. Ironically, instead of dismantling or challenging the real-world issues they depict, Apple TV+ originals will often sublimit their narrative wants to Apple’s broader corporate needs. All three of these programs work to selectively harness real-world context to create a storyworlds with utopic world visions that are predicated on the existence of “good” capitalism and consumption. Ultimately, we argue that this highlights the textual implications and consequences that come with the paradigm ‘supportive’ SVOD services.

Tatiana Chervyakova (Universidade Lusófona - Centro Universitário de Lisboa)

How television business practices deal with a conflicting regulatory landscape: the case of small European countries

This paper examines data and preliminary outcomes of the Horizon project Mapping Media for Future Democracies, in particular those that contribute to a better understanding of contemporary regulatory/self-regulatory instruments in use by television broadcasters across different European countries. We will in particular focus on the structure of the supply side of the market in small European countries using Portugal as a case study of the often complex and contentious relation between business models, existing legislation, and self-regulatory policies of television broadcasters and in particular PSB in Europe. Our research highlights how the mission and legal obligations to promote diversity and pluralism broadcasters sign to, and that constitute a core basis for democracy and political participation, are challenged by several elements, namely political and economic ones. Our paper addresses the media system sustainability and pluralism in terms of the influence of the legislative environment and the reality expressed in the economic model of commercial television, which potentially affects editorial decision-making.

Agenda setting theory (McCombs and Shaw, 1968) claims that how TV channels strategize their programming, priming, and framing across the TV day, shapes the audience's perception of “what to think about”. This approach corresponds with media performativity which contributes to the construction of social meaning (Mateus, 2018). But we will argue that the reversed agenda setting, which has become relevant due to the emergence of social networks, takes a significant place. In our case, the role of “reverser” is played by ratings, which directly influence the commercial success of TV channels and determine program policy. The news economy is linked to sensationalism: the more shocking the event, the more public attention. Therefore, to maintain competitive figures due to the saturation/boredom effect (Downs, 1972) and the nature of public attention in multi-screen environments, TV channels have to resort to tools that artificially support this interest — demand-side paradigm (Uscinski, 2014). Media as a two-sided market sells content and the audience to advertisers. A popular technique of news agenda design for raising ratings due to bright emotional components is sensationalism and trickster-speakers exposing emotional attachment, potentially influencing polarisation. In the case of Portugal, the broadcasters carry out their activities, based on three elements: the country's legislation, business model, and ethical code. In their missions, TV channels proclaim pluralism and political diversity, often failing to pass the reality test.

This paper investigates the reasons such as the business model of private channels that compete for high ratings among the audience highlighting the reversed nature of agenda setting due to the rating hostage effect and possible checks and balances. The paper focuses on Portugal as this media market can be characterized as small, which makes the economic factor for such a market vital, with a relatively small advertising market, as well as the significant influence of other countries. The Portuguese example is exemplary of other European countries also with high levels of free speech, pluralism, and media trust in a multi-party political system. It can help us understand how television broadcasters are trying to adapt to a changing landscape often sacrificing pluralism and diversity.


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