The Story of Us

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(Credit: Ghislain and Marie David de Lossy, CU, Group of friends watching television in living room, Saint Ferme, Gironde, France, Getty Images 2016)

Flicking through the pages of blogs with respect to our elders and their memory of television, the theme is clear. Although the interviews were about television, the answers revealed stories of people and the rituals they create that involve the television.

“My father would sit in his arm chair with a beer in his hand, and my mother would sit in the armchair next to him, with a chocolate bar and Pepsi in each of hers [hands].”(Amy, 2016)

“My mums first memories of watching TV at home was being in her lounge room at night time sitting on the floor next to her sister watching a show like the Brady Bunch.”(Irving, T 2016)

“So, me and my brother were only allowed to watch maybe 2 hours of TV a day total. Of course we never did this, I have some great memories of waking up super early some mornings and sneaking the TV on so I could watch some more. I would also sneak into the kitchen and grab a tub of milo and eat it straight from the tin while I watched my favourite cartoons.” (Moses, N 2016)

Again and again the research of the humble students of BCM240 unwittingly points at  communal behaviour. Human beings, acting out similar scenes in separate houses that center around family interaction and joint experience (with a strong emphasis on food).

So how effective is using memory and interview as a research technique. As a form quantitative research I don’t think memory is very reliable. Even in my own interview, my subject remembered watching the Lawrence Welk Show as a child. However, when I researched the dates of the Lawrence Welk Show, I found that by the time it aired the subject would have been in his late teens.  I suspect that had I come armed with a list of shows that were on TV at the time of his childhood, his oral recount would have changed quite drastically, but it would have been led by myself and may have influenced authenticity of the memory.

Even with my critic of using memory as research, I think it is not without value. While not being relied upon for the hard data of any issue, an oral recount can communicate quite accurately the ritual, ceremony and emotional connection that coloured the landscape around the television. Hard data is rarely able to capture this landscape and dynamic that possibly only lives in people’s personal stories. As identified by Nick Couldry in ‘Social Semiotics’,

The proposed new paradigm is disarmingly simple: it treats media as the
open set of practices relating to, or oriented around, media. (Couldry, N 2004)
The memories described by our interviewees and the experience of remembering are examples of what happens around media. To capture more meaningful data we would have to have spent a great amount of time with the participant and recorded a detailed account of the surrounding circumstances that contributed and shaped their personal stories. As discussed in the Elizabeth Loftus TED talk (above), memory is unreliable and requires independent corroboration.

The brief experience did bring meaning to the term collective ethnography. A process where through collaboration with the participant we drew out an oral picture of a culture, space, time, experience and memory all revolving around the television.  The study become more meaningful to me when we reciprocate by creating contrast and comparing similarities to our own experience. Also, by researching the culture of the time and acknowledging how what was happening in the greater world impacted peoples viewing and ritualistic behaviours.

 

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