TELELITERACY by David Bianculli


Taking Television Seriously
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 A ringing defense of TV as a forum for art, information, and education, and as a candidate in the more-cultured-than-thou sweepstakes. Bianculli is a TV critic for The New York Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and NPR. The quiz that launches the book, comparing knowledge of the classics with knowledge of TV programs, will leave many readers feeling sheepish. Isn't it embarrassing to know who shot J.R. and not know who killed Achilles? And that, of course, is Bianculli's point. Since the early 50's and the advent of I Love Lucy, he contends, TV has become America's cultural reference point, a common language--teleliteracy--that often bridges class and ethnic barriers. Citing Plato, who trashed poetry as a diversion ``not to be taken seriously,'' Bianculli likens TV to other media--music, the novel, radio, film--once scorned because they appealed to the masses. But programs like Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, CNN's coverage of the Gulf War, PBS's The Civil War, children's programs like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and even sitcoms like Taxi and Cheers are offered in evidence that TV can broaden its audience's view of the world and sharpen its critical skills. Shared experiences like TV's coverage of JFK's assassination and of the Challenger disaster create a national memory, Bianculli says, adding that making TV the scapegoat for poorly educated children avoids looking at the true root causes, like underfunding. And there's much more, both positive and not, in this carefully researched, brightly written book. Admitting that TV has yet to reach its potential, Bianculli finds enough meat in current programming to relieve the guilt of all of us who watch the not-so-boob tube more than we care to admit. (Ten b&w photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: June 26th, 1992
ISBN: 0-8264-0535-5
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Continuum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1992


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