Brief notes on: Buckingham, D.  (1991) 'What Are Words Worth?  Interpreting Children's Talk About Television'.  Cultural Studies 5 (2):228-44

Dave Harris

47 primary school children were studied in groups of four or five.  They were allowed to talk about television programmes.  It was found that they were able to be critical, for example of advertisements, especially those relating to adult goods.  It was also clear that they were influenced by their families, by adult critical discourse, and they often found themselves in a situation where criticisms might be expected.  As a result, they came to see offering criticisms as a way of presenting themselves as an adult (231).  This is not dissembling.  Instead, it shows the results of possessing discursive repertoires.  Obviously, it can affect audience research, however.  Thus for example the classic studied by Morley on the Nationwide audience could really be showing a response by black FE students to him.  The same situation arises in his Family Television where the different responses, say of males and females, must be seen as responses made in the presence of each other and of Morley.

In this way, 'non - television meanings' can 'swamp' those offered on television (233), particularly with group viewing [another criticism of Morley's work arises from the fact that the groups he interviewed were allowed to interrelate among themselves in complex ways, while Morley just assumed they were representative].  Decoding television is a social process as well as the product of other social processes, particularly when it is done collectively (as it often is).

So when developing discussions of racism on TV, one child's discourse was able to function 'rhetorically', to demonstrate his sincerity to the other kids (235).  As the conversation of other kids develops, so interpretations of the TV programme changed.  It is again important to insist this is not inconsistency, merely different functions of discourse.  Discursive repertoires might well be linked to class, but Morley's suggestion is still too mechanistic.  Socialization is a much more active process and more of a struggle.

Another example turns on the discussions of gender and the representation of different genders in cartoons.  Again the girls' criticisms could be seen as part of a wider concern, including the need to be seen to be taking a principled stand, and again 'each individual contribution builds on the preceding one', a clear illustration of the active construction of group solidarity along gender lines.  Age is also important, and kids feel a need to define themselves as mature and sophisticated.  Class also intervened [but as a matter of distinction]—a middle class child was 'not too popular', and her comments were used to marginalize her still further: her preferred programmes were condemned by the group. Not all the boys had learned the 'right on' line.  The older ones were able to police the younger ones.

Television programmes are not the major cause of sexist attitudes.  Concern emerged within the group [as a kind of visible reading formation].  Programmes to provide a material input for further discursive activity, however.  Nevertheless, there is a clear 'danger in exaggerating the degree of power or freedom that audiences possess' (244).

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