AMBIENT TELEVISION: Visual Culture and Public Space

Anna McCarthy, Author, Anna McCarthy, Author, McCarthy, Author . Duke Univ. $18.95 (328p) ISBN 978-0-8223-2692-2

Traditionally conceptualized by both its critics and supporters as existing almost entirely in the private realm, television now shapes and often dominates public spaces, from sports bars and CNN's airport network to TVs in restaurants and beauty parlors. In this engrossing book, McCarthy, assistant professor of cinema studies at New York University, documents the enormous social and political impact on our daily lives of television's public presence. In lucid, if academic, prose and with a keen eye for historical detail and telling examples, McCarthy describes how televisions in 1950s taverns (viewed by the media as white, working-class, urban male enclaves, though many bars served diverse clientele) evolved into more upscale sports bars in the late 1980s. She also shows how "visual merchandising" (i.e., televisions located in department stores) functioned in the 1940s to direct the "irrational shopper" through the "rationalist architecture" of the stores. Drawing heavily on such theorists as Raymond Williams and Jürgen Habermas, critical studies of merchandising and marketing, and trade journals, McCarthy's argument is fluent and convincing. Attuned to quirky and revealing juxtapositions—such as religious images and icons placed next to televisions in stores and restaurants—she astutely explains television's function as a disseminator of information in places like doctors' waiting rooms. While television's effects on public consciousness have long been a focus of sociologists and psychologists, McCarthy's eye-opening, scholarly work breathes new life into the debate over TV's ubiquitous influence. Photos. (May)

Reviewed on: 05/07/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
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