The boob tube : television, object relations, and the rhetoric of projective identification
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Much of the existing scholarship on the popular appeal of television emphasizes the role of content over any of the medium’s other elements. Work within the cultural studies tradition, for example, often centers the importance of specific television programs when discussing the small screen’s allure for discerning viewers. Other analyses that proclaim explicit concern for “the rhetoric of television” as a whole nevertheless tend to limit their focus to specific, recognizable elements within broadcast programming. As a result, there exists no strong theoretical perspective that helps account for an attraction to television as a medium, despite that fact that many people are familiar with instances of television reception that appear to have nothing to do with the specificity of broadcast content (i.e. collapsing in front of “the box” after a long day and watching whatever happens to be on—sometimes for hours at a time). The present study remedies this absence by proposing a rhetorical mode for the medium of television based on the psychoanalytic concept of “projective identification.” Originating in the object relations work of Melanie Klein, projective identification names a primary mechanism by which individuals manage unconscious anxieties that attend modern subjectivity. This study asserts that specific elements of the televisual apparatus in combination invite unconscious acts of projective identification from viewers. Because this invitation relieves viewers of primal anxieties and increases their attraction to the medium itself, it is appropriate to interpret projective identification in this context as an inherently rhetorical concern. This study progresses in three basic sections. The first two chapters review relevant literature in the fields of rhetoric, media, and psychoanalysis in order to propose “the rhetoric of projective identification” as a mode of address inherent to the medium of television through the second half of the 20th century. The middle three chapters then validate and extend this mode by considering three elements of the televisual medium in even greater depth: Intimacy, flow, and instances of audience activism. Finally, the conclusion of the study considers the continued utility of the proposed mode in a contemporary era marked by media convergence and technological implosion.