Saturday, March 12, 2011

Michael Thorn: Television Discourse and Governmentality: Considering Da Vinci's Inquest and Da Vinci's City Hall as Citizen Projects

Television Discourse and Governmentality: Considering Da Vinci's Inquest and Da Vinci's City Hall as Citizen Projects
by Michael Thorn
Cineaction #82/83 (Hosted on Free Library)


This analysis will use a Foucauldian governmental approach that borrows from political economy. A governmental approach is a context-specific approach that analyzes cultural institutions, products, and discourses in terms of tactics and strategies of influence and control where power and knowledge work together to regulate, manage, problematize, and maintain and/or change behaviour and thought. (3) This approach assumes that "discourses structure action, belief and conduct" (4) and it has been applied to both film and television. (5) It also assumes that discourses compete with each other as "wills to knowledge" and "wills to power" in what Foucault calls "truth games." (6) Understood in this way, discourse is both more and less than ideological. That is, this approach understands that tactics and strategies can be resisted, rejected, and contested both by those addressed and by others seeking to address the same audience. As Foucault says, "[t]he power relationship and freedom's refusal to submit cannot ... be separated." (7) However, this approach also understands that the types and forms of knowledge and power used to underlie the "truth" of any particular discourse will still have an impact on that text's ability to maintain, control, or change thought. A governmental analysis of discourse in film, television, and new media, then, is not so much concerned with how the spectator is hailed to accept as true, uncritically, a certain ideology, or, alternatively, how a certain discourse can be deconstructed to reveal its inherent contradictions, or even how a multiplicity of spectator positions can frame a text in different ways; rather, this approach is concerned with the methods, practices, and knowledges used to try to persuade spectators to accept as valid particular perspectives--perspectives seeking to maintain, control, or change enough thought about an issue or problem so as to have an impact on that problem. As such, this approach should also work to uncover the political, economic, and institutional influences reinforcing these discursive tactics and strategies. This is why the discipline of political economy is perfectly suited to dovetail with a governmental analysis. According to Vincent Mosco, political economy is the study of "the social relations, particularly the power relations, that mutually constitute the production, distribution, and consumption of resources." (8) How discourses, especially media discourses, are constituted politically and economically prior to and during distribution and consumption have definite effects on their governmental influence. For Mosco, the key entry point for political economy is the process of commodification, but this process must also be understood in relation to processes of spatialization and structuration. (9) While this paper does refer to the profit-driven commercialization of Canadian television, a process of commodification, and also to the relationship between the regional politics of Vancouver and the national politics of Canada, a spaclalized relationship, the political economic emphasis in this paper will be on how the discourse of the Da Vinci series participates in structuring and promoting certain kinds of social relations, particularly power relations; in this case, as they pertain to the relationship between certain governmental institutions (the police and coroner's office) and certain vulnerable populations in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (drug users and sex-trade workers). Of course, for Foucault, technologies of power intersect with technologies of production, technologies of sign systems, and technologies of the self. (10) As such, the Foucauldian emphasis here will be on how the narrative sign system of the show is constituted with the power to influence and change thought and action (or the self) on the issue of harm-reduction through productive influences. In other words, this paper will use as its entry point that intersection where the show's explicit textual meaning meets both its socio-political context and (some of) the creative elements of its production. 1 am using this as my entry point to highlight the show's obvious political agenda, which seems to operate above and beyond any desire of the show's producers to generate profit.

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