cover image Boxed in: The Culture of TV

Boxed in: The Culture of TV

Mark Crispin Miller. Northwestern University Press, $39.95 (349pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-0791-5

In these provocative essays, Miller, associate professor in the writing seminars at Johns Hopkins University, brilliantly employs the techniques of New Criticism to ``read'' TV commercials, game shows and the news, in order to expose television's pernicious effect on American life and culture. Miller persuasively argues that TV advertising sponsors seek to reduce viewers to a state of semi-hypnotized consumerism, and that qualities that might threaten this condition, such as individuality and critical awareness, are discouraged by everything on the tube. For example, Miller not only describes with devastating wit the game show Family Feud 's, stupidities and its host Richard Dawson's ``oleaginous noblesse oblige,'' he also proves that by rewarding contestants for giving the most common answer of 100 people surveyed, the show celebrates not family identity but the sameness of consumer households that advertising has helped to create. Even the news is governed by a desire to sell the viewer. The author's analysis of the 1984 Democratic primary news coverage demonstrates that TV journalists strive not to ``inform the public,'' but ``to tell the public what the newsmen think the public is already thinking.'' A handful of essays on rock music and film, while interesting, seem out of place in this collection devoted primarily to TV, and occasionally Miller's acerbic blows are below the belt. Photos not seen by PW. (September)