Blips, Bites & Savvy Talk: Television’s Impact on American Politics

Blips, Bites & Savvy Talk: Television’s Impact on American Politics

In the pilot film for the 1987 television series Max Headroom, an investigative reporter discovers that an advertiser is compressing television commercials into almost instantaneous “blipverts,” units so high-powered they can cause some viewers to explode. American television has long been compressing politics into chunks, ten-second “bites,” and images that freeze into icons as they repeat across millions of screens and newspapers. The 1980s were saturated with these memorialized moments. Think of Ronald Reagan at the Korean DMZ, wearing a flak jacket, field glasses, keeping an eye on the North Korean Communists; or in the bunker at Omaha Beach, simulating the wartime performance he had spared himself during the actual World War II. Think of the American medical student kissing American soil after the troops had evacuated him from Grenada. Think of Star Wars animation and Oliver North saluting. The sense of history as a collage reaches some sort of twilight of the idols when we think of the 1988 election. There it is hard to think of anything but blips and bites: the Pledge of Allegiance; George Bush touring the garbage of Boston Harbor (leaving aside that some of the spot was shot elsewhere); the face of Willie Horton; the mismatch of tank and Michael Dukakis. The question I want to raise is whether chunk news has caused democratic politics to explode.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima