Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Criticism of "Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination"

After finishing this reading assignment I felt that Douglas left out a couple of key arguments that could have been made. A quick summary of the article for those people who haven't read it would be that radio or audio media is better than television or visual media. That is a really shortened version of what I basically got out of the reading. But being an avid television/film watcher, I am going to pick apart and criticize some of the points she makes.

"And the conclusion I believe on will come to is that while radio, banalities and all, expanded the imagination, its successor, television, constricted it, and we are the worse for it as individuals and as a culture." I am going to completely disagree with this theory. I do believe that radio does leave a lot to peoples' imagination; having to translate what they hear into mental images, but television let on a totally different type of inspiration. Yes, television gave up the ability to let people create the scenes they hear, but television gave people the ability to expand their horizons. Instead of listening to something and interpreting it into a visual image, you had to go beyond that and start 'imaging' what comes next. For example, someone on the radio might describe a city with cars whizzing by, hundreds of people walking and shouting, huge skyscrapers towering over you, etc. So in your head you are picturing everything you are hearing. When you actually see all of it, you aren't picturing it anymore but interpreting and analyzing. You might start thinking what city it is, questioning everything about the people you see, assuming where they are going, etc. It becomes an imagination where you don't have the details, you get to add to it. So I believe that there is a distinction between imagination used for the radio and imagination used for television.

Another thing I believe that Douglas overlooks is what isn't spoken. We have all learned that language is mostly what isn't spoken. The addition of television brought to the table body language and facial expressions as usable language. With radio you were left with just basic verbal language and markers like pitch and tone. For example, someone could have the most entertaining, angelic voice on the radio that could make you want to do whatever it told you to. But for all you know the person could be a complete joke. For example, you hear a presidential candidate on the radio and they are an amazing speaker, you would probably go out and vote for them. What you didn't know was that this candidate was speaking in a studio with no pants on, drinking whiskey and doing coke. You didn't know this because you weren't able to see it. And yes this is a highly exaggerated example but you don't know how real or honest a person is until they are able to do it in front of you and not hiding in a studio or whatever. Being on television demands that you have the complete package and not just the amazing voice/vocals to make it big on the radio. No one is going to believe what they hear if it is coming from someone who "looks" like they don't even believe in what they are saying.

There are also some other things Douglas fails to mention; things like how television created more jobs and such.


  1. Josh, thanks for getting us started this week. I think you make two valid objections to Douglas's argument, though I think we could also question whether or not what we see on television (or any other screen, for that matter) necessarily represents "truth" or "reality." As you point out, the televisual image, in addition to sound, seems to contain more information on which to base evaluations and the like. But I'm a little wary here, primarily because of the danger of misjudging someone or something based on appearances (from the adorable otter that attacks a tourist to outwardly upstanding politicians with dark secrets!).

    Underlying the Douglas is really a very old debate about the level of involvement required by various media: Roland Barthes's "readerly" vs. "writerly" texts (see The Electronic Labyrinth), the famous media theorist Marshall McLuhan's "hot" vs. "cold" media (see Wikipedia), etc. Note that McLuhan actually would have agreed with you!

  2. Just my thoughts on the Radio/Television debate on which is best or most honest.

    I have to agree that audio media definitely leaves more room for the imagination than visual media does. Audio media draws similarities to text based media (Books/Novels etc...) in that the audience is left to their own devices to imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of a particular location or situation that visual media just plainly shows. This is definitely debatable, but one could look at visual media as more of an escape from reality to a fantasy world created for us, while audio media we create that fantasy. While some might argue one is "better" than the other, "better" will always be subjective and as such instead of looking at what is "better", one could look at both forms of media and appreciate them for what/why/how they are used (which has changed over time).

    In one of Thursday's reading (Television begins - William Boddy?) a point is raised that while the introduction of television and its explosive growth has greatly reduced the average number of hours an individual listens to the radio, it has not completely disappeared and at certain hours of the day remains the same or has grown over time. This is simply explained by the fact that radio/ audio media can be used while doing the chores/driving (essentially being mobile), television/ Visual media cannot ( well not yet anyway.....). This then goes back to point that certainly both forms of media are unequal in what they can inspire or produce in us and likewise both are equally dishonest (Rush Limbaugh.....Fox News....), but both are for most part used in/for different circumstances which change over time.