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Assignment: 01-02
Essay 3 - Voicing a Cultural Insight about Television for a Public Audience
As a fixture in most of our homes, television is one of the most pervasive communicators of U.S. culture today. Some estimates suggest Americans watch as many as eight hours of television programming daily. A commercial medium, television responds to current tastes or, at least, to what TV executives determine are current tastes. All of that makes television a very good place to begin thinking about what it means to read and write about culture. --From Reading Culture: Contexts for Critical Reading and Writing Watching television is undeniably one of the most popular activities among Americans. But as a dominant "communicator" of culture, what does television tell us? What messages does it communicate about social identity, conventions, attitudes, and ways of thinking or behaving? And what are the implications of those messages-for viewers and larger culture? Critically "reading" this part of culture reveals that often TV shows communicate mixed or conflicting messages to viewers. These messages tend to both reinforce and challenge shared cultural beliefs. For instance, if we consider NBC's Will & Grace, we might say that through the character of Will the show challenges the shared cultural belief of what a gay man is like but through Jack simultaneously reinforces that same belief. But one could interpret the implications of those mixed messages differently. For instance, some might view the challenge to this shared cultural belief in Will & Grace as having more weight and therefore see the show as encouraging acceptance of homosexuals. But others might find the presence of mixed messages and reproduction of this belief in the show as having negative implications for concerns of the gay and lesbian community. A writer might decide that some implications are more important than others and to write to an audience that she or he has decided needs to critically consider those implications from a cultural viewpoint. This paper, then, asks you to become more active in culture through writing about a particular television show that you decide has cultural significance. Your challenge is to explain a cultural insight (about what the show is doing with particular cultural messages and the implications of those messages) for a public audience, specifically, a subset of viewers who merely see the show as entertainment or readers who do not recognize the cultural value of the show. The assignment requires that you center your analysis and paper on a complexity of that show-i.e. mixed messages on a particular topic-so that you can increase readers' understanding of that show's relationship to culture and viewers. As a result, focus on one particular cultural message in the show that could be read to both reinforce and challenge a specific cultural belief.

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