What Do You Think? Consuming Media in Public

March 29, 2010
By | 7 Comments

It’s March Madness, and that’s gotten the Antenna editors thinking about what it means to consume media in public.  At the SCMS conference, Antenna’s own Jeff Jones and Tim Anderson were spotted as they searched for someplace to watch a game.  And at least one of our Facebook feeds has featured a friend mentioning that she seems to spend all of March at a local bar so she can see her alma mater play, even though that school is hundreds of miles from her current home.  And bars nationwide are running special promotions to entice sports enthusiasts to view the game there instead of one of the other 324098 bars in town.  Without question, March seems to bring the crowds out in droves to watch “the game” (whichever game “the game” is at that moment) with others.

But what does it mean to consume our media in public?  In a time when so much is being made of the ability to watch TV on our big screens in the privacy of our own homes, or on miniature screens in the public setting of the doctor’s office or bus, what is it that makes us want to consume media together?

So we want to hear from you–what entices you to watch Project Runway at group viewing nights in clubs?  Or to attend a group sing-along for Rocky Horror or The Sound of Music?  What are the pleasures of consuming your media in public?  Tell us your stories and analyze your behavior below…


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7 Responses to “ What Do You Think? Consuming Media in Public ”

  1. Jeffrey Jones on March 29, 2010 at 8:35 PM

    When I think of consuming media in public spaces, sports is usually the least pleasurable (including Super Bowl parties). For me, I have become fascinated with the public consumption of various fictional programs in bars. There is a pizza joint near my house (with 33 taps), and I used to watch original episodes of South Park there. They would turn off the music and turn up the sound, and a good portion of the diners/bar folks would watch together. There was no doubt that we were ALL watching television, even for those who would rather not. It was a wholly different experience than, for instance, watching the news in the same bar with the sound off. If you weren’t expected to laugh, you were certainly missing out on the fun if you didn’t watch.

    Perhaps my favorite was going on a Friday night when they would play an ’80s movie, again with the music off and the movie’s soundtrack blasting. I guess the joy came in my thinking it was camp (so, for instance, they might show some completely outrageous movie about break dancing, but shown with a straight face), while I sat in the corner and laughed my ass off. While they too thought it was funny (how could you not?), we were obviously laughing at different things (I am 47-years old, while the other strangers were largely in their early 30s). Big hair, leg warmers, and suppressed gayness can’t help but make everyone smile. There is a particular joy, it seems to me, from communally watching fiction with strangers. Everyone has their own marks of identification, the things they want to share with the person sitting next to them, the desire to make connections with others over a common culture.

    It is largely the opposite feeling I have, though, of watching news with others, say in an airport or an auto-repair shop. There my exclamations of disbelief and objection over CNN or Fox’s bullshit make me an outlier, even if the other silent people around me feel the same thing. Professionally, I am more interested in our common citizenship, and what would be more common than watching public life on television with other citizens? With that said, it seems more oppressive and less communal than fictional viewing. There we search for commonality, the joyous, the shared. With news–at least in our current political culture and environment–it reminds me, at least, of how much it sucks to be a liberal. And that is not very fun when Tea Party ragers are enjoying the spotlight.

  2. Danny Kimball on March 30, 2010 at 1:15 PM

    I’m a pretty big sports fan and I love watching sports at bars, whether I care about the game or not and whether it’s the focal point in the space (all the TVs on the same game, sound on, etc.) or just on as background atmosphere. I’ve tussled with some of you before over my stance on a local bar that (although rather sporty) plays black and white film and not sports (Dotty’s, for the Madison folks out there)– yes, I understand you find it refreshing, but c’mon, “the game” is on!

    The most interesting part to me about watching sports in public is not just the communal, shared experience, but the vocalized and embodied participation of the audience. This is something that sports has traditionally lent itself to more than other cultural forms, but this isn’t a necessary condition. This is why I really like Jeff’s point about news, especially as our political process seems to be more and more like team sports all the time. There seems to be a useful analogy here: while the ‘us vs. them’ mentality of sports is very dangerous in this context, I think, sports in many ways demands participation in ways that might be instructive to our thinking about formal political processes. Also, as participatory media make our engagement with traditional media more dialogic, though (e.g., by live-blogging big events or tweeting about TV, as has been brought up here on Antenna before), does any media consumption become (at least potentially) public?

  3. Dave Resha on March 30, 2010 at 2:09 PM

    It seems important to consider what the game is that people are watching. Personally, I don’t have cable, which drives me to consume many sporting competitions in public. Even if you have cable, sometimes you need a special sports package to watch your favorite team play. This may partially explain why the Facebook feed friend goes to a bar to watch her (hundreds of miles away) alma mater play- it’s harder to see non-local college teams play on basic package cable. Oh, and 33 taps is another good reason.

  4. Josh David Jackson on March 30, 2010 at 2:51 PM

    I think there’s a difference between consuming media IN public and consuming media WITH A public. Most of my media consumption tends to be the former and thus my concerns are more generally focused on limiting my public media footprint (Is my iPod too loud for the people on the bus? Are these YouTube clips too distracting for the other folks in the office?) In terms of the latter, my own preferred viewing experiences generally prohibit enjoying media as part of a crowd, either because I see conversation as a distraction from the television set (Shhh!) or, more often, the television set as a distraction from conversation (nothing kills a discussion more quickly than an interruption by the “Give me back that Filet-o-Fish!“ jingle). That said, I find the filmgoing experience a happy middle ground, one where everyone’s focused on the movie (laughing at the funny bits, startling at the scary bits) until the end, when, sometimes, we all break out in applause—a shared public declaration that what we just saw was, in fact, totally awesome.

  5. Annie Petersen on March 30, 2010 at 5:46 PM

    I’ve recently started watching bad serialized procedurals on my iPod while exercising, and it attracts a ridiculous amount of sheepish peeking, eye-dropping (instead of ‘eavesdropping’) and generalized curiosity. People always want to know what I’m watching and what the story line is when I take out my earbuds — when obviously part of the reason that I’m watching something like *Fringe* while using the ellipitical is so that I won’t have to engage in small talk. Part of it is the fact that I work out at the local YMCA, which, during the day, is filled with old-timers who love to talk and most likely haven’t played with an iPod Touch. But it’s a daily reminder of how practices that some of us have started to consider normal can still seem strange….can you remember when consuming media via a normal ipod attracted looks?

  6. Bärbel Göbel on April 4, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    I’d like to share an interesting public viewing experience in Germany. The series Tatort (Scene of the Crime, which airs irregularly on PBS in the states) has been running on German television since Nov. 1970, is a 90min. long format, and in its 760th + episode. (It is also my dissertation’s case study).

    In bigger cities in Germany, people, mainly young urban intellectual viewers (yes, the “quality” audience par excellence) will congregate in large bars and viewing halls to watch the newest episode on Sunday nights. The television station ARD is actually providing the episodes pre-original air date, earlier the same day or even further in advance. This is done, so that the episode can be started 15 minutes or so early. The viewing is interrupted before the murder is revealed and the audience begins bargaining, discussing, guessing and betting on who the perp might be, before the episode’s bad guy is revealed, at the same time every other viewer will find out at their home sets.

    Clearly, this is an experience of active viewing in a large group, the audience is fully engaged in the murder mystery/police procedural and the noise level, especially during the break (in the one location I’ve witnessed this at) was reminding me of what I read of movie houses in the silent era.
    The genre, community, cult status of the show all work together, much like sports, but the target audience is a special one, and the level of ‘brainy’ interaction is also different from sports watching.
    In this case then, with the internet and i-phones threatening the home viewing experience, this congregation of viewers, not even fans (many go there irregularly, just for specific detectives etc.) , discusses a text which is stuffed with questions of morality, local character, and German nationality.
    In the case of Tatort then, the public viewing turns into a discussion of something rather more complex then who is the better team.

    On a different note: I will forever regret not having flown back to Germany during the World Cup in 2006. The country has for a long time been VERY cautious about displaying national pride (for obvious reasons), but I was flooded with e-mails of my friends back home that simply couldn’t believe that they were sitting among thousands of strangers in public viewing arenas and sang the German anthem.

    It stands to reason that on the national level in global events, public viewing is a whole other beast, but I believe that experiencing sports, and other media, in a larger group simply resembles what theater, arena, stadium do for their audiences, and that is to create a feeling of belonging, and the exchange of ideas (may they be looking for clues, good foot work, or the better pitch).

  7. NickB on April 12, 2010 at 6:05 AM

    I like in the UK and therefore cannot watch live football (you would call it soccer) on TV on a Saturday afternoon – when most games are played. However, friends from around the world – one in Italy, one in Ireland, another in the Far East, for example – can and do watch my team play live every week. The ‘no live TV coverage in the UK’ rule is in place to try to ensure that people still go to the games to watch them live, which is bizarre as I am sure people would do this anyway.