Abstract for Jason Mittel’s keynote at “Cultural Distinctions Remediated: Beyond the High, the Low, and the Middle” (Leibniz University of Hannover, 15-17 December 2011):
The Complexity of Quality: Cultural Hierarchies & Aesthetic Evaluation in Contemporary Television
Jason Mittell (American Studies, Film & Media Culture, Middlebury)
In much popular and scholarly discourse about television, there is a slippage between the terms “quality television” and “narrative complexity.” The former is a well-worn signifier demarcating both an aesthetic judgment, and an assumed set of textual norms and mode of address—in the vein of Bourdieu, it is a classification that classifies the classifier. Narrative complexity, as I and other scholars have been exploring, is a textual mode that highlights particular storytelling structures, industrial formations, and strategies of consumption, but it need not inherently point to an evaluative hierarchy. In this talk, I will tease out the differences and overlaps between these two cultural categories, arguing that by dispensing with the rhetoric of quality television, we can use narrative complexity as one (of many) measures of aesthetic evaluation that might present a more nuanced way of discussing televisual taste and value.