|Notes on Mattelart M (1985) 'Education, Television and
Mass Culture: reflections on research and innovation' in Drummond P and
Paterson R (eds) Television in Transition, London: BFI Publishing
In the USA, there are well-developed links between education and TV, especially via the mechanisms of enjoyment -- what are the implications for France? Sesame Street (hereinafter SS) is the protoype, reflecting the 'unifying drive' of US mass culture. In France, the education system is still separate and dominant ('hegemonic' in both 'good' and 'bad' senses).
SS offers a probable future link between the micro levels [lifeworld] and trans-national systems. The pedagogic choices in SS tell us about these micro-macro links -- how to apply appropriate education to overcome the [divisive] effects of minority group kids living at home, and how to use mass culture (on TV), paradoxically, to compensate for the levelling down of mass culture (in US society).
In SS, TV is openly a mechanism of control -- like an Ideological State Apparatus (in Althusser), although Althusser is too determinist. Foucault could also be profitably used to analyse the strategies and techniques of power (leading to some speculation about TV as a central surveillance device, a Panopticon). This too might overemphasise the passivity of viewers, though -- TV viewing is really a site of negotiation and struggle.
SS demands that leisure will be productive. This is aimed specifically at the needs of certain social groups. Scientific research and the use of precise objectives and so on, a whole apparatus of scientific management, guides this project [and the approaches are spelled out in some detail -- as in my general file on SS -- main text]
SS takes a specific shape as a result: it's chosen site (TV) is cheaper as a means to deliver nationwide coverage, compared to providing access to schools. Cost is always important. This also harmonises nicely with the expansion of the domestic TV market [and Mattelart hints at another aspect of the drive to use commercial technology for educational ends -- it helps sell TVs to guilty parents!!]
It focuses on cognitive rather than moral, social or affective objectives. This is not only because cognitive objectives are more easily measured -- it also indicates the real priorities -- 'hard' knowledge is to be mastered, despite the official equivalence of the moral etc.
Evaluation dominates the project and this has changed -- towards the measurable as we have seen, and towards providing evidence for promoters and funders (rather than educators). The final step is to take ratings and popularity as the main indicator of success -- which leads to an inevitable conception of the audience as consumers, and a shift towards providing 'universal', popular fare, rather than concentrating on the [less commercially attractive] 'special groups' with which the project began.
Commercial simplification of evaluation accompanies a simplification of the conception of learning, especially the abandonment of the principle of 'active learning'. There is a 'bad' side to the wish of SS to be seen to 'stand by itself' as an educational experience -- daily life as an educational resource is denied, and so are parents and other members of the community (who are offered merely a supporting role). SS offers ['proper' knowledge], superior technical kinds of knowledge, seemingly scientific and objective pedagogy with all its testing and evaluation, and its supporting material. [I said something very similar indeed to this in 1976 in my very wonderful critique of Open University 'packaged learning'!!]
SS uses the techniques of commercial TV to seduce, especially advertising techniques. It must do this, to 'organise attention through desire in the private sphere' [it cannot use the traditional school mechanisms of demanding attention]. This technique looks desirably 'anti-traditional' too, which gains support among educators -- but the techniques are basically those of Skinner [a behavioural psychologist, NOT well-favoured by 'progressives',offering a 'scientifc' approach to the use of rewards to train animals and people]. Kids are used to this from commercial TV. SS uses the same techniques exactly -- 'bright colours, variety, sudden changes, big type[faces], animated sequences' in rapid 'technical effect/events' (minimal information, maximal use of visual or sound effect). These are incorporated at the rate of 20 or 30 per minute just as in commercial TV. Defenders of the programme hope that this commercialised form of communication can be put to educational ends -- offering education rather than violence, real life rather than sensationalism, but this is only the old liberal dream of a 'liberating technology'.
SS uses an 'arsenal of signs' from the 'universe of mercantile culture', and tries to integrate children into this universe. It delivers spectacle rather than the 'rhythms of everyday life'. It does integrate kids from many cultures but into a technological modernity -- it 'assimilates, homogenises and agglutinates' them. It is an initiation not into 'adult life' but into the consumer universe.
The educational specifics, including the stress on the cognitive and the measurable, and the use of educational psychologists to set standards, can be read as a further example of [social and cultural] standardisation. SS demonstrates the growth of the cybernetic system, the integration of 'hard' social science in a system to manage imagination and subjectivity. It is a part of atomisation. It needs to be resisted (partly by the use of the new [for 1985] radical French work on linguistics and psychoanalysis [-- what we came to know as semiotics or post-structuralism]).