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As I was reading through the three articles that focused primarily on what defines the increasingly common television practice of narratively complex…well, narratives, I found interesting the discussion of what role the viewer occupies within television, particularly within the general framework of Newman’s PTS, Mittell’s concept of Narrative Complexity, and Ndalianis’ use of the “five narrative prototypes.” Each of the articles offer very similar notions of the role of the viewer and I’d like to outline some of those qualities right now.

Newman’s notion that “out of industry constraints comes aesthetic strategies” certainly operates on the level of the viewer. I mean, the primary goal of the television industry is to get people to tune in, and tune in consistently. So, Newman looks at the ways in which these PTS (Prime-Time Serials) are constructed so as to engage the viewer’s attention primarily through compelling characters and the “forging [of] an emotional connection with them.” For example, in episodic “Beats”, the point is to provide new information in order to amplify the viewer’s desire to know more. Another example would be the 4-act structure of television narratives (due to commercial breaks). In order to maintain viewer engagement, techniques such as plot twists and complications, recapping, and repetition all serve the purpose of keeping the viewer tied down to they’re seats, and, as Newman writes, “Rememeber your goal. It’s to pull ’em back from the refrigerator.” So, basically, Newman says that the television industry, one that requires a high level of viewer participation, structures its narratives in a way that maintains interest through gratifying and pleasureful emotional connections to the text.

Ndalianis discussion of the viewer’s role is likely the least comprehensive of the three articles, but she makes an interesting assertion that the rise of serial narratives has followed the rise of global economics, with corporations operating within a captialist system dominated by interactions with “multiple countries and multiple media.” She reckons that viewers are treated as consumers in a media market: the intended goal is to provide the consumer with a product that inspires further consumption (i.e. repeated viewing). More directly dealing with the multiplicity of global economics, Ndalianis asserts that viewers must be more capable of navigating multiple ‘texts’ in order to “give coherence to an individual episode with a series,” or just to give coherence to complex narratives and their multiple storylines that span across a series of episodes. What Ndalianis suggests is that viewers need to learn how to understand the complex narrative structures of the contemporary television serials. She is also suggesting that this is symptomatic of an important global shift, both culturally and societally.

I think that this insistence upon a more active viewer is very much in-line with Mittell’s article and his use of the “operational aesthetic.” The basic idea behind the operational aesthetic is a de-emphasis upon “what will happen?” and an emphasis on “how did he do that?” This notion automatically requires a more active viewer who can simultaneously engage with the storyworld while “marvelling” that its narrative construction. Put succinctly, the shows require a formally aware viewer who can recognize the narrative spectacles being shown before them. Mittell suggests that this style of viewer arises out of 1) fan cultures almost obsessive (maybe too strong of a word) viewing practices, 2) The implementation of time-shifting technologies (TiVo, DVR, DVDs) that place the control, literally and figuratively, in the hands of the viewer, and 3) the accessibility of information via the internet and the formation of a “collective intelligence” of devoted fans (i.e. Lostpedia: a wiki for everything LOST-related). Furthermore, one point Mittell makes concerns these formally aware viewers and their ability to “gain competency in decoding stories.” For example, in LOST, flashbacks are focused upon one character per episode (generally) and are cued by a nifty sound effect. A viewer who watches multiple episodes will recognize this technique and become to comprehend this particular intrinsic norm of the show.

In summary, what I think these three articles succeed in showing is how viewers of these complex serial narratives are formally aware of the spectacle they are seeing (a self-conscious device often used by the show’s collective “implied author”), are actively viewing, and continue to view based upon emotional connections with characters and the engaging question of “how did he do that?” (an engagement with narrative structure). My only question, and this is a very basic one, is how do viewer practices change across media? We’ve watched so many films in this course, how do viewer practices of film differ from those of television? This is a question Ioana and I posed in our discussion questions and I think would be an interesting and logical point to “dive in” to this topic. My sense is that the answer will be quite complex, with some major differences. While not going into too much detail because I am exhausted right now, I imagine that the mode of viewing (theatre vs. TV) affects things.  Roland Barthes talks about how the theatre lulls the spectator into a pre-hypnotic state, which is an affect not often felt in one’s livingroom. However, due to the accessibility of television and films on the internet, as well as, DVDs moving film viewing experiences from the theatre to the TV, film, as well as TV, is experiencing a shift towards more active “viewership.” If an increase in active viewing coorelates with the emergence of more complex narratives, I think that this trend is more evident is TV, but just by thinking about movies that we have seen thus far (particularly Memento and Mulholland Drive), film seems to be moving in that direction. I mean, the revelation that Mulholland Drive was a TV pilot turned film speaks volumes about A) TV’s propensity towards more complex narratives and B) the influence that TV is having on filmic narratives, specifically in Mulholland Drive‘s use of a TV narrative as a subjective representation of events from the mind of a delusional woman (if you wish to believe that theory, which is the simplest to accept, and thus I accept it). In that sense, Mulholland Drive uses the Neo-Baroque idea of open, polycentric format of serial TV, and reverts it into a subjective device of character with the model of Classical, Aristotelian narratives, which are self-contained and closed narratives.

That last paragraph was way more stream of consciousness then I intended, haha. Anyway, just some food for thought.

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