Some critics argue that there are limits to what

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Some critics argue that there are limits to what knowledge can be communi- cated through a documentary, and in particular they point out that the formal possibilities are limited by television’s emphasis on images and its tendency to resort to heavy use of narration. Locked in the limited visual possibilities of the small screen, television realism tends to utilise close-up shots. This gives the impression of concreteness, although in fact it presents only a surface reality. Less tangible parts of reality such as power relationships are far more difficult to 2 Green, James, 1994, p. 4. 3 McLuhan, Marshall, 1964. 4 Generally speaking all television programmes modify our knowledge and experience. Here I refer to television’s capacity to communicate a particular body of knowledge. 5 Corner, John, 1999, pp. 108 f., says critics argue that selection is the function of either market structures or bureaucratic control. 6 Edgerton, Gary, 2001, p. 19. Calvert, Pamela, 1995, p. 31, says historical documentaries are governed by “priorities foreign to the practices of scholarly hsitoricizing.”
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166 represent. 7 Television’s limited capacity to convey knowledge has made some critics draw the drastic conclusion that television is a medium not well suited at all to furthering cognitive goals. Their argument is that television is fundamen- tally anti-intellectual and thus hostile to the very knowledge-processing capa- bility of the audience. 8 Joshua Meyrowitz, who argues that television does much good when experiences can become shared across national borders, like many other critics says that whereas written words emphasise ideas, electronic media emphasise feelings. And, he continues, as television and other electronic media become more pervasive in a culture, the entire culture changes. In Mey- rowitz’s opinion, there is a “decline in the salience of the straight line […] a retreat from distant analysis and a dive into emotional and sensory involve- ment. The major questions are no longer ‘Is it true?’ ‘Is it false?’ Instead we more often ask, ‘How does it look?’ ‘How does it feel?’” 9 The new heavier focus on emotions noticed by Meyrowitz has been recog- nised by many television scholars, and it is likely the trend extends to historical documentaries as well as to other programming genres. But it is well to note that emotional involvement can function as a means of gaining understanding, as a complex complement to the intellect. The emotions felt by a film viewer can start cognitive processes in that viewer. In consequence, a historical docu- mentary that puts emphasis on emotions can be successful in communicating certain historical insights. While emotional insights are not the same as knowl- edge communicated by a more traditional, intellectually oriented documentary, both emotions and intellect can serve a cognitive function.
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  • Summer '15
  • History, Sveriges Television, Documentary film, history culture

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