ON TELEVISION by Pierre Bourdieu


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A Frenchman’s overly academic look at television that will likely leave most American readers cold. Bourdieu’s principal thrust in these collected lectures (presented on French television--thus the pun in the book’s title) is the presentation of journalism on television. He notes correctly that French (and American) television is flawed by its inability to move outside the mainstream in seeking perspectives. It’s always the same “talking heads” who appear on talk shows to discuss hot topics, and more often than not, people with “differing” points of view are actually good friends. As a result, little or nothing new is ever presented or learned about subjects that may affect large portions of the population. Bourdieu similarly attacks sensationalism in journalism, noting that it appeals to the baser instincts in the population. He uses the example of the murder of a French child and its representation in the local media and shows how members of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s neo-fascist National Front eventually ended getting caught up in the subsequent calls for vigilante justice. While all of this discourse is interesting and pertinent, it gets lost easily in the postmodernist vocabulary that Bourdieu uses to discuss his topic. Furthermore, the literary and sociological references that Bourdieu uses to support his argument will be completely lost on readers who aren—t well schooled in the disciplines of either literature or sociology. And because his references are almost overwhelmingly French, the non-French reader will likely also feel at a loss. Translator Ferguson attempts to rectify this obvious failure in cultural transmission with a brief note at the end of the text, but by the time the reader reaches the end, the damage caused by such confusion is already done. Bourdieu’s work is thus of interest only to the serious scholar of sociology or postmodern cultural criticism, not to the reader looking for a broad, lucid study of the problems of television.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-56584-407-6
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1998