Academic Scholarship

Hybridity, History, and the Identity of the Television Studies Teacher

Cinema Journal, 50(4), 166-172, University of Texas Press, July 2011

Photo Needed Jonathan B. Kraszewski, Ph.D.
College of Communication and the Arts

Ten years ago an established institutional logic prevailed that those who taught television studies had the identity of a television studies scholar. In the second half of the 2000s, television studies jobs primarily disappeared, with a job dedicated exclusively to that field appearing every two years or so. Now jobs that mention the teaching of television ask the candidate to have a hybrid identity and teach television with a combination of other media—usually film or new media. One might blame this on the way university cuts and consolidations force workers to take on more tasks. Or one might positively conclude that areas such production studies investigate the creation of contemporary film and television simultaneously, a sign that the study of television is being brought together with the study of other media. Likewise, the focus on convergence coupled with the increasing tendency to call our field “screen studies” suggests we are more comfortable with merging media in our teaching and scholarship.

One could claim that all media scholars should have a hybrid identity and teach numerous media; yet a quick glance through the Chronicle or the SCMS job postings today reveals that many departments advertise for film positions or for new media positions and do not require the hire to teach other components of our field such as television studies. Hyrbridity—a term that I use to describe how we need to combine various media and/or areas of media studies (i.e., film studies, television studies, new media studies, etc.) in our teaching and scholarship—is unequally affecting the practice of hiring and the future of different fields within media studies. Contemporary universities usually construct the identity of a television instructor as that of a hybrid scholar-teacher who should not focus solely on television, whereas film or new media teachers often have the option just to teach their medium of specialty. Yet we should not conclude that hybridity is simply bad for the teaching of television studies.

Rather, the hybrid identity of the television teacher can serve either as a benefit to television studies or a denigration of the field, depending on who constructs this hybridity. Self-identified hybrid scholars usefully illustrate how identities are constructed and contested across media or how industry personnel work in more than one medium. Diane Negra’s and Yvonne Tasker’s work on post-feminism in film and television is a superb classroom tool that asks students to think about problematic notions on television that suggest that we have somehow moved past the need for feminism. Likewise, Mary Beltrán’s writings on Latina/o and mixed-race identities in film and TV has helped me teach my own interests in multiracialism and post-racialism. Amanda Klein, who has a forthcoming book on film cycles, has provocative writings about reality television that I have used to teach multi-platforming and class-based prejudice in the genre. Television studies is still indebted to 1990s industry studies that prioritize mining trade magazines and archives, so I have used these writings from hybrid scholars in my own television courses because they break from that mold to speak more explicitly about the social, political, cultural, and economic constructions of identity on television. I place a priority on archival and trade research in my own teaching and writing, but the identity issues from hybrid scholars offer my students an important and equally valuable way to understand struggles over meaning in TV programs. Moreover, the booming field of production studies is populated with scholars dedicated to understanding culture of production and production of culture in both the film and television industries. As John Thornton Caldwell notes, “The production sector in Los Angeles . . . involves the interaction of personnel from both film and television.” Production studies teaches us that many people with careers in contemporary media move between television and film.

At the same time, the prominence of the hybrid television scholar in job ads can play into the common belief that television is a lower form of culture than other media; this belief helps support the idea that anyone can teach television—even those with no background in the field.

 

 
 

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