TV as a Bardic Function: Does it Still Exist Today?

By Maren Eisenmesser

According to Fiske and Hartley, TV programs are designed to feed into the dominant culture and to keep you there through a “bardic function”. TV is supposed to occupy what the central habits are at the time through this mechanism. Many times TV shows would try to bring you back towards society and make it all seem natural and it is supposed to set and assure what culture is defined as. It had the power to set up what is prominent in society and its influence is very big, but in recent years, television’s influence has only decreased. In my opinion however, TV does not have as much power as it once did because of the expansion of modern day television through shows like Gossip Girl.

In today’s modern day TV era there are so many shows catered to all different types of people. We have this new age of the consumer culture that really personalizes and focuses on a key demographic for their product. Gone are the days of a universal product all can use, rather we have products that are catered to everyone’s individual needs.  Since TV has become very custom-made we have genres to pin point various types of shows.

Gossip Girl is not meant to appeal to everyone. There are very few middle aged men in America that would find joy in watching teenagers discuss college applications and losing their virginity. Rather, those men are their own demographic that watch their own shows.

I don't know many middle aged men that would enjoy watching two best friends...

I don’t know many middle aged men that would enjoy watching two best friends…

In our society, young people grow up, and everyone’s individuality is celebrated rather than everyone being the same person. TV as a result has had to adapt to this idea that the dominant culture doesn’t exist anymore. They had to do this by having specific TV shows designated for different people. With the explosion of cable TV there aren’t as many shows directed to just your average American because there is no such thing as an average American anymore. We have so many diverse people in our country that it’s extremely hard to pinpoint just one type of person as an average American. And as a result, we have over hundreds of channels with our cable box systems. Each channel (except the big broadcasting channels) is tailored to fit the viewing needs of people with many different interests.

Gossip Girl is a show that was not what the Fiske and Hartleys’ of the world would believe that would have been as successful as it was. It aired on CW 11 during prime time typically on a Monday night at 8 pm. During those times, teens from all over typically watched a teen drama on that station. Many adults have no interest in the show. This alienated many people from the show, yet “Gossip Girl” was a very successful show running for 6 seasons.

Overall, this show was designed to entertain teens with the rich and extravagant lifestyle of people around their age. This extravagant lifestyle doesn’t speak to the average high school student. This lifestyle is not the dominant culture; rather it is giving insight to the average Americans on how the other half lives. But at the same time many of these teens have some of the same issues that all teenagers have, which gives it a more universal feel. Given their economic status not everyone is like them, yet people tuned in week after week and continued to watch to see their favorite characters deal with some similar problems that they had to deal with. It drew a bridge between the characters and the viewers, as if they’re actually friends.

What teenage girl wouldn't want to watch these girls week after week?

What teenage girl wouldn’t want to watch these girls week after week?

One common idea that is mentioned many times during the first episode the issue of sex. The unifying theme brings Blair decides that she wants to lose her virginity to her boyfriend Nate. She claims she’s ready to take the next step with Nate, but has to come clean that he originally lost his virginity to Serena behind Blair’s back. Blair then proceeds to break up with Nate. This current issue does seem extreme; the main problem at hand was sex. Many teenagers are considering having sex during their high school years. “Gossip Girl” was able to bring a subgroup and teenagers together to discuss the hard topics of those teen years. The show took what many teenagers were going through at the time and put the issue of sex in the first episode.

At the same time during the first episode, a character Jennie was a victim of sexual assault. The viewers watch as both scenes unfold to see the true risks and dangers of sex. The point of those scenes were to make the teens watching think about sex and if they are really ready to go all the way with a significant other one must be cautious.

“Gossip Girl” dealt with issues related to teenagers. Teenagers aren’t the dominant culture; they are just a group of people. The idea of “bardic function” does not exist anymore. Rather, TV has become more of a tailored experience and it will continue to grow that way.

Fiske, John, and John Hartley. Reading Television. London: Methuen, 1978. 12-108. Print.


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