What can we learn from TV work? Below the line (II)

Posted on | October 14, 2012 | 1 Comment

The significance of Mayer’s book is not just the challenge it issues television studies. On this front, the careful and sympathetic details in its judicious case studies illustrate the potential for the field if it opens its analytic lens. If it is to mean anything, production studies cannot only be satisfied with better accounts of the Hollywood elite; it must also study the periphery in its material and imaginary forms.

I really appreciated the temporal ambition of the book: cognisant of the current infatuations of media and communication studies (one would hardly expect otherwise from the Television & New Media editor), it manoeuvres effortlessly across various traditions of screen studies, cultural policy and ethnographic inquiry to provide a thoroughly nuanced and historicised account of its project. In foregrounding the quantity and quality of invisible labour integral to the television industry, Mayer makes us sensitive to similar processes in other sectors of the economy as well. This is a book about winners and losers in the battle over professionalism itself.

Ch1: ‘Producers as Creatives – Creativity in Television Set Production’ 31-65

‘No longer just docile bodies with agile hands, assemblers have had to negotiate new identities that explain their own creative acts’ (24)

‘producers’ monopoly on the label “creative” has more to do with the new division of labor in global economies than with any organic definition of creativity’ (24)

Soldering wires had to be done by hand; the fumes blinded those who stayed too long at the post. The physical repetition required in assembly meant that workers had to be promoted to different stations to keep them from retiring early due to a stress injury or some other hazard. Terezinha said her supervisors let her take breaks to unwind her sore arm muscles at times, but that she was also valued as one of the fastest in her group (36)

Incorporated literally, the manual work became part of workers’ psyches. One assembler told me that she dreamed of the hand movements, even after she hurt her hands and could no longer physically do the work (44)

Ch2: ‘Producers as Professionals: Professionalism in Soft-Core Production’ 66-100

Professionalism promises television workers the chance to be professional without a recognized profession. It offers a strategy for the weak to safeguard some symbolic status against amateurs and a material payoff in the form of exchange value (87)

Even as media industries have cheapened their labor, they demand their workers’ professionalism. While the cameramen developed their own internal standards of professionalism, the industries that hired them imposed external standards as well. The professionalization of soft core brought the workers for the denigrated genre into line with other corporate media workers. The corporations’ impetus to professionalization is clear. Professionals were easier to control from a distance. Companies wanted video professionals who would discipline themselves when they were far away on location shoots (89)

Management did not want hobbyists or tinkerers on the payroll, but instead recruited laborers who would self-identify as professionals while still earning less than camera operators for television industries (90)

Teamwork and mutual camaraderie were guises for autopolicing and other-surveillance… The party that drew recruits to the field was now limited to the rewards of not partying on the job, making soft core little different from any other company with an evening happy hour. Fledgling producers who emphasized their ability to control the party found swift in-house promotion (93)

‘soft-core workers illustrate how professionalism operates as the bait in a deprofessionalized television industry marked by instability and declining material benefits’ (98)

Ch3: ‘Sponsoring Selves: Sponsorship in Production’ 103-138

Whereas Hollywood casters seek the perfect match between performer and performance, reality casters work to develop a pool of people who they have little or no intention of casting. They are the commodities for sale to advertisers, so their presence must be both cultivated and managed in addition to the ultimate participants in the programs. (110)

This commodification is not easy. Contrary to popular perceptions, not everyone wants to be on television. In fact, the prized cast member for producers is someone who is not apt to be on television (110)

Drawing on Lukacs: Workers, no longer in control of their own productive means and rationalized by their employers, become mere objects, or the equivalents to the machines they work with. This objectness seeps into the consciousness of workers who, recognizing their productive capacities in terms of exchange value, use their subjectivity as a productive tool (124)

The interaction between casters and their subjects promoted reification, the self-recognition through identity categories that enhances one’s exchange value. (125)

Anxiety: ‘the representation of objects as subjects and of subjects as objects creates anxiety for the representers who must distance themselves from subjects and create affective relations with the objects’ (129)

At times, casters had to objectify the very people they had established a personal relationship with to maintain a relationship with the production team or with network executives. From friendly and chummy to distanced and authoritative, the caster shifted personas to thingify, not just the cast member but also herself or himself as the member’s sponsor (129)

Conclusion: Rethinking Production Studies in The New Television Economy 175-186

The routine enlistment of workers who do not recognize their own labor value and who yet provide forms of low-cost and no-cost services to the industry, demonstrates how the cultural processes of identity and identification are integral to the formation of television’s invisible labor force (175)

Production processes rely on sanctioned forms of creative innovation to boost profit margins, which lead producers to ignore or repress other creative actions that may interrupt team-based work flows or dynamics. Employers seek to promote and distribute a professionalism that promises fun or autonomy but delivers self-control and other-surveillance in lieu of material benefits or job security (177)

Liquid lives: Whether or not this particular personification is tautological, the apparent multiplication of merging sites for understanding production justifies why studies of television production need to look as intently at work on the street as at that in the studio, and as deeply into the nature of freelancing and contract work as into emotional and surveillance work (180)

When being a worker means being a certain kind of embodied subject, the most oppressive masters over workers were they themselves. This does not mean that their voices are fake, disingenuous, or not worth listening to, but that excavating the layers of meaning in their discourses of personal success and competency takes time and patience—resources that seem in short supply for researchers too (181)

‘the inclusion of more people and their roles in relation to television industries in production studies reveals that not everyone experiences media work as liquidly as others do’ (182)


One Response to “What can we learn from TV work? Below the line (II)”

  1. ana australiana
    October 14th, 2012 @ 4:46 pm

    Loving this. ‘Below The Line’ has been on the to-read list for a while!

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