Raymond Williams and the Culture of Televisual Flow



It is my intention in this essay to show that Raymond Williams’s principled interventions into a series of debates concerning the ways in which television is interwoven throughout the cultural fabric of our everyday realities continue to be richly suggestive for research in a wide variety of analytical contexts. Specifically, my aim is to draw upon his writings about television, in general, and on its discursive ‘flow’, in particular, in order to extend a critical reconsideration of what he describes as ‘the normal television experience’. In this way, television as both a technology and a cultural form will be set in relation to the profuse flow of its sounds and images as they are negotiated by the televisual audience on an ordinary, ‘lived’ basis.


Mass Culture Cultural Form Soap Opera Public Service Broadcasting Technological Determinism 
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    If the experience of flow as sequence was not entirely absent from British broadcasting at the time, this was sequence in a new sense. ‘Even in commercial British television there is a visual signal – the residual sign of an interval – before and after the commercial sequences, and ‘programme’ trailers only occur between ‘programmes’. Here there was something quite different, since the transitions from film to commercial and from film A to films B and C were in effect unmarked. There is in any case enough similarity between certain kinds of films, and between several kinds of film and the ‘situation’ commercials which often consciously imitate them, to make a sequence of this kind a very difficult experience to interpret’: R. Williams, Television, p. 92.Google Scholar
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    In Britain, ‘audience measurement’ is performed by the Broadcasting Audience Research Board (jointly owned by the BBC and the Independent Television Companies Association), which monitors over 4500 households using electronic meters to collect viewing data by the minute. Qualitative research is undertaken by the Television Opinion Panel which has a weekly sample of 3000 people register their viewing preferences in a booklet. In the US, viewing data produced by the A. C. Nielsen ratings company is enormously influential in the ‘ratings war’ between the four national networks. Interestingly, in a comparative discussion of British and US television, J. Caughie observes how, in his view, the ‘specific nature of “flow” produced by the staggered scheduling of British television, with built-in resistance to clean cross-over – the risk of “dead-time” – seems to be to encourage a residual degree of channel loyalty (or inertia – it’s easier to stay than to switch) quite uncharacteristic of US television flow. And the relative absence of like-against-like scheduling organizes the movement from programme to programme in what seems like more structured, rational choices. The regularity of American television time, the opposition of like against like, dissolves my loyalties and draws me to the jumpy, nervy, mosaic gratifications of sampling’; see J. Caughie, ‘Playing at Being American: Games and Tactics,’ in P. Mellencamp, (ed.), Logics of Television (London: BFI, 1990), pp. 49–50.Google Scholar
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1997

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