TV; When does an audience become a nation?

Recently I’ve been staying in my home town of Perth. Staying at home has many advantages and disadvantages, but the one that seems to be most prominent on both sides is my three year old brother. His non-stop energy, drama and cuteness combine into one small bundle of joy and exhaustion. His early morning wake ups, however, have meant I’ve been up early enough to watch the early morning television schedule. This is usually Seven’s Sunrise. Watching it regularly makes me wonder about its influence on the typical Australian, and for that matter, the influence of broadcasting as a whole on what we’ve come to know as a ‘nation’.

We as a ‘nation’ owe a lot to broadcasting. Beginning with the humble radio, broadcasting created a “sense of communal identity” (Morley 2000, p. 106) that had never been experienced before.

In the case of Australia the ability to broadcast was extremely significant in shaping our national and cultural identity. The humble radio guided us towards sports commentary, national news and weather forecasts. As a result, we as Australians play cricket, enjoy being updated on important news, and have the privilege of knowing whether shorts will be appropriate attire for the coming day.

Furthermore, in his book Home Territories: Media, Mobility and Identity, David Morley suggests this was the beginning of a crucial role of broadcasting; “forging a link between the dispersed and disparate listeners and the symbolic heartland of national life.” (2000, p. 106) With broadcasting came the ability to merge public and private, to ‘invade’ the living rooms of the citizens, ‘penetrating’ the domestic environment and furthermore “turning previously exclusive social events into mass experiences.” (Morley 2000, p. 107)

Most importantly, the national was transported into the domestic environment. A large ‘community’ was created, which held particular importance, I feel, in Australia, given the nation was newly formed and still attached to its heritage only slightly more than a century ago. Morley, referencing Lofgren, speaks of a “cultural thickening” of the nation state due to the educative role of broadcast media. People could feel at home whilst simultaneously enjoying all broadcasting had to offer, and this sense of community transported to a private space is the key tool in the success of broadcasting and ‘communal identity.’

Today, broadcasting expands its role much further. No longer just used as an informative, educational and slightly entertaining technology, broadcasting has advanced and developed further to provide more services. “Cultural thickening” still occurs, but in a much more complicated sense; audiences now have more ability to choose and tailor content to their liking. They are more educated, more aware of the techniques of broadcasting, and thus can be seen as less passive to the affects of broadcasting. There is also an overload of content, and more ways to reach it, creating a complex model of broadcasting and media.

Television networks, however, do their best to assume the wants and needs of the average media consumer. Enter Channel 7′s Sunrise, a morning breakfast show that attempts to mix news with ‘quintessential Aussie’ personalities and activities. Just now as I explore the show’s website, I’m subtly confronted with various ‘Aussie’ quirks: the bold Toyota advertisement that greets me, followed by a cheeky “From humble beginnings in a tin shed, we’ve grown to be Australia’s number one breakfast show,” statement when meeting the team. The show clearly promotes various Australian cultural ideas inherent in everyday life that are constantly encountered by many Australians.

Co-hosts Mel and Kochie are no exceptions. Samantha Armytage, the typical ‘girl next door’ replacing Mel, also the typical ‘girl next door’, epitomises many qualities we as Australians expect to see in the typical casual co-host. She’s nice, with a kind of naive vibe about her, and plays well against ol’ Kochie. Kochie – or David Koch for short – attempts to portray the ‘sophisticated larrikin’ of the group. The majority of the hosts also make use of conventional ‘Aussie’ nicknames, such as Kochie, Nat, and Berretts.

Kochie and Mel

These and other techniques prove the show is determined to portray a particular idea about typical Australian culture. Through the ability to broadcast simultaneously (and now be watched back online later), Sunrise and other shows like it are able to promote these ideas to a national audience and create a sense of routine, daily life, and community. This is enhanced by constant engagement with their audience, be it live outside the studio, during live crosses or on the show’s twitter account. The sense of ‘liveness’ further endorses the idea of authenticity and immediacy.

First through radio, and now television, broadcasting has constantly shaped the idea of cultural identity. Particularly in Australia, the ‘ideal’ everyday ‘Aussie’ culture is emphasised in one way or another. It is now natural to have the public life wrapped up in our living rooms, no longer a solitary newspaper reading experience but a collective communal viewing event shared with the nation.

Morley, D 2000, ‘Broadcasting and the Construction of the National Family’, in Home Territories: Media, Mobility and Identity, Routledge, United States of America & Canada, pp. 105-128.

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