Shall I Appear on Television?

I bought Pierre Bourdieu’s little book ‘On Television and Journalism’ for $1 from a bargain bin. This alone illustrates the disconnect between the market and things of value – a concern of Bourdieu’s in relation to what is considered “news”. However, maybe it was in the bargain bin because it was written in 1996. What could a pre-internet, pre-9/11, pre-social media book have to say of relevance about television and journalism?

Perhaps nothing. I haven’t read it. But the below excerpt suggests that many of the contemporary practices of gathering and disseminating “expert opinion” in news media would not surprise Bourdieu.

If the media today had existed in full force at the time, [Mallarmé] he would have wondered: “Shall I appear on TV? How can I reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number?”

Earlier, I pointed out two effects of television. On the one hand, it lowers the “entry fee” in a certain number of fields – philosophical, juridical, and so on. It can designate a sociologists, writer, or philosopher people who haven’t paid their dues from the viewpoint of the internal definition of the profession. On the other hand, television has the capacity to reach the greatest number of individuals. What I find difficult to justify is the fact that the extension of the audience is used to legitimate the lowering of the standards of entry into the field. People may object to this as elitism, a simple defense of the besieged citadel of big science and highculture, or even, an attempt to close out ordinary people…In fact, I am defending the conditions necessary for the production and diffusion of the highest human creations. To escape the twin traps of elitism or demagogy we must work to maintain, even to raise the requirements for the right of entry – the entry fee – into the fields of production. I have said that this is what I want for sociology, a field that suffers from the fact that the entry fee is too low – and we must reinforce the duty to get out, to share what we have found, while at the same time improving the conditions and the means for doing so.

Pierre Bourdieu, On Television and Journalism, Pluto Press, 1996, p.65

It appears one of Bourdieu’s main frustrations is with Bernard-Henri Lévy, of whom “no sociologist worthy of the name talks about” (p. 54).

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2 Comments

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  1. Chris, you’re back blogging! There’s a good discussion of the issues around TV, the nouveau philosophes, and BHL in Peeters’ bio of Derrida. JD was no fan, either. It’s an interesting debate to contrast to the current Australian scene.

    • Yes! A year break after a brief return…so you are back in blogging world too.
      I’ve recently been reading Foucault’s newspaper articles on Iran and some biographical stuff about that period when he was entertaining the idea of becoming a philosopher-journalist. I would be interested to know what Bourdieu thought of that period because he heaps scorn on BHL – not to suggest equivalence between BHL and MF. Bourdieu does suggest there is some potential for positive interaction between philosophers/sociologists and the news media, but he has little patience for those obsessed with “scoops” and raising their own “capital”. I plan to write some more substantial blogs on this, but it could end up being block quotes!

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