What is "Critical Viewing?"

From the introduction to the 1979 curriculum, Television Literacy: Critical Television Viewing Skills, Module 1

Since the effects of TV viewing can be both positive and negative, the purpose of this module is to help you approach the medium with new-found delight, awe, outrage, interest, and knowledge. If you are aware of the medium's behind-the-scenes realities, you will not be so stunned or manipulated by its messages. You also will be better able to understand its potential benefits in your home, community, and society.

As a participant in this course, you will begin to watch TV actively by imagining yourself to be a professional TV writer, director, producer, advertiser, actor - and most important, a TV critic.

Critical viewing is not painful viewing. Just as the listener who is knowledgeable about keyboard techniques and music theory takes a heightened pleasure in a piano concerto, so does the viewer who is knowledgeable about broadcasting take a heightened pleasure in a TV program. An art critic needs "visual literacy"; a music critic needs "aural literacy"; and a television critic needs what some analysts describe as "television literacy."

This use of the word "literacy" is, admittedly, metaphoric. There is no evidence that our comprehension of television in analogous to our comprehension of printed words. When we read, we constantly are translating little black marks — marks that have absolutely no intrinsic meaning — into sounds and, by extension, into concepts, feelings, and mental pictures. TV images, on the other hand, are less abstract and more direct. They are representational; they come decoded.

The literate reader, however, does not stop with converting printed words into ideas. He/she contemplates those ideas, and carries on an internal dialogue with the author, congratulating the latter for brilliant insights or condemning him/her for outrageous opinions. The literate TV viewer carries on a similar dialogue with the creators of a program, congratulating or condemning them for everything from the sublime to the ridiculous.

At this point, reading and critical viewing, literacy and television literacy, become synonymous. Both the reader and the viewer learn to be active - to challenge, analyze, react, explore, and understand the medium, whether it's a printed page or an illuminated TV set.

What is TV? Where does it come from? How is it made? Who controls it? Stay tuned for the answers and much more.

Author Bio: 

Television Literacy: Critical Television Viewing Skills was developed by Boston University, School of Public Communication, under a contract with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, U.S. Office of Education. Project Director: Donis Dondis. In 1982, the project along with several complementary programs developed by other universities, was given a dubious honor