Family Television: Cultural Power and Domestic Leisure

David Morley

I like British television. So did the 18 families interviewed by David Morley. Morley had the purpose to develop a conceptual framework based upon the concepts of interpretation (how are television materials interpreted by the family?) and of use (how is television used by different families?). He then planned to collect data through in-depth interviews in the home, with the entire family present. This was done but he was unable to operationalize his model.

Realizing there was limited funding for his project, Morley selected a research method that was a departure from the usual measurement of viewing behaviour. He decided to concentrate on nuclear families in the east end of London. His definition of the nuclear family was the intact family of two parents and at least two children up to 21 years of age. (In fact Morley had three families that did not meet this description. One family had a 68-year-old parent living with them, which means this was an extended family of three generations. Two families were married for the second time and brought children from the first marriage into the second marriage. These should be identified as mixed families. Morley himself admitted that the nuclear family is now in the minority but he did not use statistics to back this statement.)

The review of literature concentrated upon television in the family. The selections included both British and American sources.

The method of obtaining the sample and taping the interviews was adequately described. However, when it proved difficult to interview the children with the parents, the project changed. The findings area was discussed from the point of view of gender and television. Eleven gender-related themes were identified. The statistics for these are included in the appendix. Morley points out that the home is the site of leisure for the husband and it is a sphere of work for women, even when they work outside the home. It is interesting to note that Morley's sample had more husbands watching more television than wives, in contradiction to most audience survey results.

The findings for this sample may be summarized as follows: The power to control television lies with the husband or son. When the man is unemployed he may lose some of this power. Men prefer to watch in silence. Women prefer to chat or to perform a domestic task as they watch. Men plan what they view. For the most part women like it or leave it. Women talked more about television to their friends than did men, unless the topic was sports.

All families had a video recorder. The BBC was preferred for taping as there are no advertisements. Taping was done by husband or sons. Women claimed not to understand the technology. Nor did women make decisions about rental video.

Masculine programs were described as factual, which included news, current affairs, and documentaries. The films were full of activity and masculine fiction was realistic. Feminine programming included fiction, especially romance. The only woman who preferred masculine programming was a woman with a higher educational background. Husbands, sons, and daughters all enjoyed comedy, but wives did not. Men preferred to watch BBC for its educational features and women preferred ITV for its entertainment value.

Family Television does not materialize as anticipated by Morley. Although Morley planned to analyze the data for different families, categorized as families with different social backgrounds and different family life stages, he was in fact unable to do this. Nevertheless there is a contribution from these data to gender-and-television studies in that the data build on to the slowly accumulating body of knowledge concerning domesticity and television viewing.



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