COHOUSING & TV: Finding this debate in print, plus my 8 cents
From: Jon Goldberg (
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 1997 16:54:39 -0500
Dear everyone,

I typically don't like to jump in to a mailing list discussion so soon 
after I've joined (about a week ago) but I feel that I'm pretty qualified 
to speak on the issue of TV and the idea of the public sphere, an 
important concept for cohousing members, I should think.  The public 
sphere is the proverbial marketplace of ideas, a place where people share 
their different beliefs, worldviews, and so forth.  Aside from this being 
my specialty here at school, I recently had the opportunity to discuss 
the issue with Steve Korn, Executive VP of CNN.  In a nutshell as regards 
commercial television, it is not the voicepiece of the masses, but of the 
rich alone.  Quick thought:  One out of every four sitcom families has 
servants of some sort.  Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and the Brady Bunch both 
spring to mind immediately.  If the working class male is portrayed, it 
is usually as a buffoon (Honeymooners, Simpsons).  
     The news has more of a stake in competing with entertainment these 
days than in the past, for reasons far too complicated for me to explain 
in a short e-mail, which explains the focus on sensationalistic (or as 
Mr. Korn put it, "salacious") news coverage.  The news (my current area 
I'm focusing on) assumes wealth, and Eurocentric values, because that is 
the target audience that the advertisers want.  This results in racist 
news coverage (the "crack epidemic" of the 1980's, for which news 
coverage was disproportionately high; people may remember when Reagan 
held up crack purchased across the street from the White House, and it 
was soon after found out that it took the DEA weeks to coax the dealer 
over to the White House so that the crack could be purchased there), and 
the fact that the average news story is 105 seconds limits the amount of 
information that gets out, which reinforces traditional ideas, which have 
already been expressed.  Those of you who remember the Rideout marital 
rape case might remember that rape reform had succeeded in Congress, but 
people were amazed when John Rideout got tried for raping his wife, 
because the idea had no way of receiving adequate news coverage.  Once it 
did over the period of several years however, it became accepted as 
common sense.
     How does this relate to cohousing?  The two most obvious ways I see 
that it affects cohousers more than other folk is that for one, any news 
coverage of cohousing is likely to portray you as a little goofy.  Anyone 
who already sees you as a little goofy, consider that they've never seen 
cohousers on TV.  There's a reason for that, and it has to do with the 
economics of television.
     Second, most cohousing groups I see are interested in the 
environment, and many recognize that different class and race backgrounds 
bring different world views to the community.  Television is against both 
of these things.  Television is meant to be commercially profitable.  
They would rather everyone be the same, than have to go for "niche 
markets".  And let's face it, General Electric and Westinghouse, 
respective owners of CBS and NBC, and major defense contractors both, are 
frankly uninterested in the environment.  
     While TV can bring ideas to the public's eye (Ellen coming out as a 
lesbian in two weeks), they can also suppress it.  Where were gay and 
lesbian characters for the first forty years of television?  Why were 
they given stereotyped roles for the past ten?  Where are cohousers, 
people with third-party political beliefs, and so on in the media?  You 
got it!  Geraldo.  Something to keep in mind.

I guess I said more than a mouthful. . .I guess now I should divulge my 
sources, the books I've read on the topic.  Fortunately, I have a list of 
most of them on my computer right here:

Bennett, Lance.  News: The Politics of Illusion.  White Plains: Longman, 
Cuklanz, Lisa.  Rape On Trial.  Philadelphia: U Penn Press, 1996
Ack. This'll take forever.  Let's do this.
Dines and Humez.  Gender, Race, and Class in the Media.
Reeves and Campbell, Cracked Coverage.
Tricia Rose, Black Noise
McManus, Market Driven Journalism
Schudson, Discovering the News
McAllister, The Commercialization of American Culture
The Disney Project, Inside the Mouse
Benedict, Virgin or Camp:  How the Press Covers Sex Crimes
Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly
Kellner, Television and the Crisis of Democracy
Neuman, Common Sense

If anyone wants more information on the topic, or a fuller list (these 
are only books I've read, there are a great deal more on my "to-do" list) 
please e-mail me, as you can tell by the length of this message, I love 
to talk!


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