Understanding ‘Television Morality’

TitleUnderstanding ‘Television Morality’
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Krijnen, T.
Affiliation (1st Author)Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands
Section or WGPopular Culture Working Group
DateFri 28 June
Slot CodePOPF3a
Slot Code (Keyword)POPF3a
Time of Session14:00-15:30
Session TitleMediating the Real
Submission ID6557

The economic crisis has, among other things, rejuvenated awareness of ethical behavior and morality. A variety of opinions is voiced, some accusing bankers to grabble, some accusing governments to be slack with control, some accusing capitalism in general, and so on. One thing all these voices have in common is the strict belief in moral poverty of contemporary society. Regularly, media are pointed at as provocateurs of this moral poverty, or as evidence. The use of the concept ‘morality’ is rather lax and ill-developed, especially when the relationship between morality and the media is discussed. Popular media are deemed to contribute to moral decay of society even more than other media are assumed to do. In this study I focus on the relationship between popular television and morality, in an effort to understand this relationship. Without truly understanding this relation, debates on television and morality will be perpetually based on assumptions. If popular media are capable of contributing to society’s moral, we should aim to fully understand how, when, where and with whom this contribution takes place. Over the last few years, many researchers have spent their valuable time and efforts to researching this relationship. In both fields of cultural studies (for example, by Hill and Hawkins) and media psychology (for example by Raney and Tamborini) insights into popular television’s contribution to our moral thinking have been developed. To reach full understanding of ‘television morality’ I aim to bring the insights of both fields together, as they connect and complement each other. A narrative approach is adopted to as the theoretical core to understanding television morality. Empirical research on popular television’s content and reception will illustrate this narrative understanding. In both studies qualitative methods are used. Moral discourses were analyzed in over 160 hours of (Dutch) prime time television. The qualitative content analysis included all genres available in the prime time slot. Results show how discourses on family, violence and democracy underscore and corroborate (traditional) values on these topics instead of undermining them. In-depth, unstructured, interviews with 41 people show how audiences appropriate values offered to them by their favorite programs into their own moral discourses. Together these studies offer a first insight into how popular TV contributes to audiences’ moral thinking, and more importantly, when it does not.

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