Grant Wythoff received his BA in English from Rutgers University in 2007. He has since joined the PhD program in English at Princeton University, where he was awarded the Certificate in Media and Modernity in 2008. His current work is situated at the intersections of media theory and science fiction, exploring the various types of worldbuilding, defamiliarization, and utopianism that bubble up from moments of epistemic change in media technologies. Grant’s dissertation centers on “gadgetry” in the American twentieth century and the various forms of fictional worlds that we might call the medium through which these indeterminate technical objects are expressed. Other areas of interest include: early cinema, the historical avant-garde, literary naturalism, Frankfurt School aesthetics, media archaeology, sound studies, and the rhetoric of “content” in digital culture.
The Form of Content Delivery: Networked Television and Narrative Property
Both academic and pop cultural spheres have recently seemed to take a certain pleasure in proclaiming “the death of television.” Television now occupies a wide range of viewing practices (live, DVD, DVR, streaming, etc.) and technologies (computer, HDTV, mobile, etc). To Amanda Lotz, these technological and cultural changes are “on the scale of the transition from one medium to another, as in the case of the shift from radio to television.” Yet on the other hand, there has never ceased to be a unified entity that is culturally identifiable as “television.” We have never stopped “watching TV.”
In this paper, I will assess not only the differential specificity of television in the context of digital networks, but also the language used to register this new situation. For example, “broadcast,” what once named for some the fact of television as a medium, has become with “content delivery”—protocols that deliver digital information at minimum bandwidth cost—a model of transmission that specifies no narrative form or genre whatsoever. Content delivery merely specifies what Georg Tholen calls “transferability as such.” While “content” once evoked something like raw story material, the abstraction that only becomes visible against the presence of its individual manifestations in narrative form or plot, today we speak of “content owners,” “content vendors,” and the “content industry.” The figure of “content” itself does a significant amount of work in determining the conditions for the transmission of a proprietary material in the face of unchecked transferability.
The examination of contemporary television gets at the larger aim of this paper, which seeks to set up terms for a discussion of the circulation of narrative in a network environment. Is it possible, or even useful, to locate medium specificity within networks or the medium specificity of a network? Similarly, it seems that within this heterogeneous field of content delivery, viewers now differentiate “television” through a set of viewing practices and aesthetic criteria located in a certain narrative specificity. Excitement is growing over the ability of television to sustain increasingly complex narrative worlds. What role should the aesthetic or critical analysis of narrative play when these structures are increasingly flattened out into the figure of digital “content”?