Imagined community in media rituals

In her book, Susan Douglas refers to Benedict Anderson’s description of the way that mass media or broadcast media can create a sense of imagined community, or an imagined ‘public’, by acting as a kind of shared ritual activity.  Where else in human experience (present or past) is there a specific media ritual activity which holds together human beings who are not in physical proximity?

An essay for Media Technology & Social Change, Fall 2014

When I was little, I used to watch and cry over Korean dramas with my mother and my sister in our cozy living room. As I grew older, each of us became more caught up in our own businesses, so we watched dramas individually yet after that cried over them together through the phone if the main character died. At least one time in life, we have had a chance to experience similar situations ever since television was invented and distributed globally. Watching television is a media ritual that connects the audience by providing them with a shared visual experience. The sense of community starts first and foremost from the act of watching television itself—that is, seeing the same television programmes with other people either with or without their physical presence in the same place. The ubiquity and accessibility of television makes the world a mutual forum and a mutual home for people from different backgrounds and cultures.

The habit of watching television creates mutual hobbies among people. The common question we always ask each other “What’s your favorite movie/tv show/channel?” comes from this habit. As soon as we find out that we have the same answer, mutual interests are formed. These mutual interests connect people and create groups of compatible individuals. Watching your favorite movies with your friends nurtures human intimate relationships and promotes different communal activities such as conversing, chatting, and participating in social networks.

Just as radio creates a sense of nationalism through the act of listening, so too does television through the act of seeing (watching.) Watching the President speak on the news reminds us that we are a nation. That is why television could be used as a way to disperse propaganda. The public could recognize their mutual background and standings in the society as they watch national channels or vice versa for international ones. With the visual support of television, our eyes are satisfied with images and sceneries of our own nation, namely The Statue of Liberty, people on the streets of New York, architectural buildings and infrastructures. The visual effect impresses us and helps us remember images with the belief that they are absolutely truthful.

Television is a facilitator for social awareness, mutual understanding as well as other humane values. Hardly could America forget the September 11 attacks having resulted in 2,996 people being killed. Television broadcasts helped people all over the country and the globe get known of this tragedy by reported news which allowed them to see exactly how it happened, from the crash of two airplanes to the collapse of the World Trade Center complex. No sooner had the news been aired universally than people could fully understand what “tragedy” means. Billions of people witnessed and shed tears towards the suffered nation and unfortunate victims. Nations by any means offered America support and solidarity. The aftermath of this heartbreaking account highlighted a mutual altruism and acknowledgement of people thanks to the worldwide coverage of television. It reminds us of being unselfish and supportive within the community we are living in.

Similar to the act of listening to the radio, watching television also evokes nostalgia. Yet this nostalgia might be more vivid since it is consolidated by available visual images. Television’s recorded materials such as movies, advertisements, documentaries, reality shows, etc. bring back memories of the past that everyone misses. One of the reasons why the ‘90s Friends series never finished with less than twenty million viewers and has been re-aired throughout decades is it helps people recall the free yet intimate lifestyle of a group of pals hanging out in a public setting. This is a shared experience that most of us love and trace as nowadays the speed of life curtails our time of communal activities.

The feeling of knowing somewhere on this globe, someone is watching the same thing you are watching is very intriguing. You know that you are not alone even though you are lonely in your place; you know that you are a part of the human society even though you are individually different. Watching television is a shared visual experience that brings us together locally and universally. It shortens the proximity among people physically, emotionally and ideologically. It nurtures and develops community bond as well as mutual stance for people. Yet when the world unites through the technology device television, is it potentially creating social norms and conformity as soon as we start spending more time on this communal activity and less time on developing ourselves, our own uniqueness? When voices are shared, where is your own voice in this world filled with more than seven billion people?

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