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Is the Audience Really Commodity? --- An Overdetermined Marxist Perspective of the Television Economy
Unformatted Document Text:  Tracking number: ICA-10-10560 Is the Audience Really Commodity? --- An Overdetermined Marxist Perspective of the Television Economy "We erect our structure in imagination before we erect it in reality." --- Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, p. 178 Most neo-Marxists worry about the narcotic effect of the cultural industry and the interpellation of the ideological state apparatuses. Reacting to the pessimistic imagination about how audiences watch television, some Leftist scholars of cultural studies attempt to encourage and reveal alternative and oppositional readings of television texts. However, Dallas W. Smythe’s (1977) materialist approach conceptualizing watching as working and the audience as commodity has distinguished him from researchers who fail to recognize the mechanism of the commercial television economy. Trying to rescue communication studies from the "jungle of idealism," Smythe insists that any audience’s reading of a television text occurs under a certain structure of commodity exchange, thus textual and ideological analyses are secondary to the political economic analysis of advertiser-supported communication systems. The subsequent "blindspot" debate has both refined and questioned Smythe’s original argument (Murdock, 1978; Smythe, 1978; Livant, 1979, 1982; Jhally, 1982; Meehan, 1984, 1993a, 1993b; Maxwell, 1991). In this paper, I have conceptualized the audience commodity as fictitious, betting on the future exploitation of labor, and the commercial television economy as credit-sustained accumulation --- its rise and future decline are related to structural contradictions and collective struggles in capitalist societies from the very beginning of this century. 1 No matter how audiences interpret particular media texts, they are counted, packaged, and sold to advertisers and industrial capitalists. Audiences’ "actual reading" is held in the unknown future, whereas their imaginary value has been cashed right now! Confining

Authors: Chen, Chih-hsien.
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Tracking number: ICA-10-10560
Is the Audience Really Commodity?
--- An Overdetermined Marxist Perspective of the Television Economy
"We erect our structure in imagination before we erect it in reality."
--- Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, p. 178
Most neo-Marxists worry about the narcotic effect of the cultural industry and the
interpellation of the ideological state apparatuses. Reacting to the pessimistic imagination about
how audiences watch television, some Leftist scholars of cultural studies attempt to encourage and
reveal alternative and oppositional readings of television texts. However, Dallas W. Smythe’s (1977)
materialist approach conceptualizing watching as working and the audience as commodity has
distinguished him from researchers who fail to recognize the mechanism of the commercial
television economy. Trying to rescue communication studies from the "jungle of idealism," Smythe
insists that any audience’s reading of a television text occurs under a certain structure of commodity
exchange, thus textual and ideological analyses are secondary to the political economic analysis of
advertiser-supported communication systems. The subsequent "blindspot" debate has both refined
and questioned Smythe’s original argument (Murdock, 1978; Smythe, 1978; Livant, 1979, 1982;
Jhally, 1982; Meehan, 1984, 1993a, 1993b; Maxwell, 1991). In this paper, I have conceptualized
the audience commodity as fictitious, betting on the future exploitation of labor, and the
commercial television economy as credit-sustained accumulation --- its rise and future decline are
related to structural contradictions and collective struggles in capitalist societies from the very
beginning of this century.
1
No matter how audiences interpret particular media texts, they are
counted, packaged, and sold to advertisers and industrial capitalists. Audiences’ "actual reading" is
held in the unknown future, whereas their imaginary value has been cashed right now! Confining


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