Tele-ology: Studies in Television

John Hartley

Because I was a faithful devotee, I always felt somehow cheated when EMI would release a "new album" featuring the Best of The Beatles' Love Songs, or their Top Hits of the 1960s and then of the 1970s or their Best Live Performances, and so forth. You see, I already had them all. This was nothing new to me. But since these "new albums" were part of the enjoyment of owning the entire collection, I just had to "fork out" the $8.99.

I find myself in a very similar quandary today with regard to John Hartley's Tele-ology (which is defined as cause after the event and, as Hartley writes, "a doctrine of knowledge with which neither science nor TV executives are very comfortable" [p. 3]). I will confess right away that I am an avid reader of Hartley's previous works and that he has influenced my thinking significantly over the years. His Reading Television, co-authored with John Fiske in 1978, was an instrumental source of education and inspiration. Hartley's Tele-ology is a collection, a montage of some of his best papers (I must assume) over the last 10 years. Other than the introductory chapter, every entry in this book is from formerly published works. In all fairness to the author, it must be said that many of these essays, even today, could be tedious to track down. That alone might justify buying the collection as opposed to the individual pieces, but again, it depends on what kind of collector you are!

Tele-ology's 15 chapters are divided into five parts: (1) "Television Theory," where Hartley develops a textual-cultural approach to the study of television; (2) "Truth Wars," which exposes some representational and relational dimensions of news texts; (3) "Paedocracy" (i.e., that which is governed by childlike qualities), where the author advances the notion that the audience construct is nothing more than a sheer fabrication of texts and discourses; (4) "Photopoetics," a plea for recognizing the merits of creative popular culture; and (5) "The Art of Television," which deals exclusively with issues pertaining to Australian television.

For a North American readership, the abundance of British and Australian references might at first be somewhat disconcerting. However, Hartley's treatment exceeds national boundaries and can be transposed easily to many current Canadian contexts. The dominant intellectual discourse that Hartley uses throughout is definitely that of media studies. An avowed textualist, Hartley analyzes television and television audiences from that perspective. He thus offers the reader numerous case studies which he uses to validate the manner in which some programs or program formulae arrive at constructing what he sees as "axes of relations" with the viewers.

Above all, Hartley must be commended for the depth, thoroughness and breadth of his wide-ranging observations on television. Together they help establish his stance as an intervention analyst, a position he prides himself on, since it "seeks not only to describe and explain existing dispositions of knowledge, but also to change them" (p. 5). In the process, Hartley examines television through a variety of lenses and offers insights to those who are interested in the cultural, aesthetic, political, textual, and even industrialized dimensions of the medium. His own personal auto-ethnographical account of how he first came into contact with television in his childhood is a rich and vivid testimony that should resonate favourably with the proponents of soft methods of investigation.

Hartley's works can be thought of as a media critic's own travelogue potpourri. He does indeed venture into a number of popular places within his own, mostly British-tinted television universe in order to share with the reader the content of his voyage diary. The goal is eminently noble: "To understand TV better is to anatomize it, but to do that can help to improve its performance and the pleasure of its audiences" (p. 20). Certainly not as fundamental as Hartley's previous works, Tele-ology nevertheless remains a valuable collector's piece if television happens to fall within your repertoire of interests.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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