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News, Television, and Performance: the Case of the Los Angeles Riots

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 January 2009

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When the ‘action’ at major news events is observed over days or weeks by television cameras, how far does the medium become, whether knowingly or not, a participant and shaper in the action it observes? How far does the action itself become, to some degree, a performance before the cameras? While not ignoring either the moral or practical implications of such questions, lan Watson sets out primarily to analyze the ‘frame’ of television news broadcasting, and to consider the events within that frame as elements of performance. He considers the six days of rioting in Los Angeles in 1992, sparked by the acquittal of police officers charged with the beating of Rodney King – itself caught on camera – as a case study, in which the often ignored role of the observer, whether the news anchor-man in the studio or the audience watching at home, comes in for corrective scrutiny. He concludes that in the ‘mediated present’ of the news event on television, the medium is indeed as much a producer as a reporter of an action which is pervasively shaped by its presence. An Advisory Editor and regular contributor to New Theatre Quarterly, lan Watson teaches in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Rutgers, where he is Co-ordinator of the Theatre and Television Programs.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1998


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