Eduardo Cintra Torres, A Multidao e a Televisao: representacoes contemporaneas da efervescencia colectiva.
How are crowds represented by television? In A Multidao e a Televisao [tr. The Crowd and Television: Collective Effervescence's Contemporary Representations], a book written in Portuguese, Cintra Torres tries to answer that question. In this rich, solid and convincing study, the author draws upon a vast range of disciplines (philosophy, history, sociology, political theory, social psychology and communication studies) to stress how the crowd is linked to political representations, the relations between power and the people, order and chaos, collective behaviour, publicity, rationality and emotionality. While there are a number of well known works that deal both with the notion of crowd (1) and mob, (2) Cintra Torres's approach differs in that he specifically attempts to connect contemporary crowds and the social role of television broadcasting. Its novelty lies in the attempt to trace the ambiguous relation between present media societies and the constant emergence of the crowd in public spaces. Principally, he aims to access the meanings and symbolic forms of television texts, narratives and technical codes (p. 35) to understand how a multitude of configurations of the crowd manages to be a constant presence in television discourses. Thus, not only does the crowd manifest itself as television audience (talk shows, game shows), we also regularly see programmes such as news bulletins where the crowd is one of the main actors (for example, the birth and subsequent public display of Prince George by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge).
Having more than 400 pages, Crowd and Television is divided into two parts. In the first half, Cintra Torres surveys classical theories on the crowd, starting with the ancient Greeks and Romans (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero) (p. 41), through the Middle Ages (Fernao Lopes, Machiavelli) (p. 51), until modern, mediatised and networked societies (p. 207). Crowd and Television's first part goes, then, from the age of the crowds (Le Bon) to the age of the publics (Tarde) and underscores, as the author states, 'two great traditions: the Anglo-American tradition characterized by the deletion of the concept of crowd; and, with Le Bon, the European Continental tradition that puts it at the centre of the political constitution' (p. 41).
One of the most striking assumptions the book explores (in the first chapter) is, perhaps, Emile Durkheim's hidden agenda on the crowd. According to Cintra Torres, Durkheim has integrated the phenomenon of the crowd in his sociology without ever identifying it. (3) Although in the late nineteenth-century 'les foules' was a popular theme in academic discussion, Durkheim, it is contended, chose not to address the concept of crowd. While talking about 'collective effervescence' Durkheim does not refer to the mob or the crowd. Cintra Torres calls this the 'crowd's exnomination' (p. 87). What's more, Durkheim's sociological perspective on the crowd discards the psychological dimensions as purely emotional to emphasise the crowd's social function and its collective purpose. As Cintra Torres points out, 'developing an explanatory theory concerning what keeps societies united, Durkheim has incorporated the phenomenon of the crowd. He did not see it as an isolated occurrence but integrated in a structural conception where crowds fulfil functions that transcend them serving group survival interests, conceiving of crowds as part of society and not as a society, mistaken with mass society, in the vision engrained by Le Bon' (p. 99). Chapter 2 continues revisiting key authors that directly or indirectly dealt with concepts of the crowd including Marx, Sigmund Freud, Ortega Y Gasset, Hannah Arendt or Canetti. This forms the background that takes Cintra Torres to consider, in chapter 3, crowds' affinities with performances and audiences. This is the part where the relation between crowds and modern culture is best achieved.
In the second part, the focus is on the empirical analysis of different representations of crowds as broadcast on television. Thus, Cintra Torres studies how a very diverse set of crowds is presented (and represented) on worldwide television (p. 213), undertaking the task of analysing political, musical, sports and Catholic crowds. Case studies are taken from European channels such as Radio e Televisao de Portugal (RTP), Music Television (MTV) or the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC), and include, for example, the political protests against globalisation, (4) the professors' protests in Portugal (5) or the 2005 World Youth Day. (6) Each analysis is accompanied by several photographs illustrating, through still images, how television has portrayed and represented crowds. After the lengthy appraisal on crowd theory, the second, more empirical part is almost a book in itself. Although it starts with a historic contextualisation of the subject examined, its aims are eminently practical and pragmatic, functioning as an important complement to the first half of the book. Inspired by (among others) Selby and Cowdery, (7) Cintra Torres gives notice of the different codes of the image--camera angle, composition, illumination, enactment and non-verbal communication--attempting to decode the complexity of television images of crowds. This strategy is also used in the study of the representation of the crowd attending the last concert of the 2004-05 BBC Proms. (8) The book demonstrates how crowds inside and outside the Royal Albert Hall are a central element of the concerts. In addition, it shows that the television discourse (audio-visual and verbal) highlights the idea of nation and communion. In this context, union flags not only denote the patriotic dimension but also contribute to giving us an impression of a united, homogeneous, national crowd (p. 307).
Crowd and Television has some terminological problems. Even if it defines 'crowd' and 'multitude' in the very beginning (p. 19), the close proximity to terms like public, media audiences and mob provoke some confusion throughout the book. The analysis also leaves the reader with the impression that the concepts established in the first part are not fully worked through in the second. Nonetheless, the book has the strong merit of connecting crowds to media representations. It is based on a clear methodology that enables us to decipher the presence of crowds on television. Besides, it is the first Portuguese study surveying and assembling in one place all the historical evolutions and the scattered crowd theories, providing the reader with a more cohesive perspective on the subject.
In all, Cintra Torres achieves two things: first, an appreciation of the notion of crowd beyond its negative dimensions in contemporary societies. In fact, the crowd is here seen as a social structure able to compensate the experience of anomy (p. 354). Second, it relates the social prominence of crowds with its appearance on television. It seems that the media and the crowd are intertwined. One of the main values of this book, then, is that it raises a challenge to common assumptions about the crowd and forces us to consider the influence of television on the shape, development and identity of today's crowds. As such, Crowd and Television makes an important contribution not just to television and media studies, but also to sociology more widely.
This review is a CST/ECREA collaboration. It is available in Portuguese on CSTonline.
Universidade Nova de Lisboa
(1) Erika G King, Crowd Theory as a Psychology of the Leader and the Led, Mellen Press, 1990; David A Locher, Collective Behavior, Prentice Hall, 2001.
(2) John McClelland, The Crowd and the Mob: from Plato to Canetti, Unwin Hyman, 1989; Peter Hayes, The People and the Mob: the Ideology of Civil Conflict in Modern Europe, Praeger, 1992.
(3) See for example Emile Durkheim, Selected Writings, Cambridge University Press, 1972.
(4) TeleJornal (RTP/RTP, 2002).
(5) Jornal da Noite (SIC/SIC, 2008).
(6) Telejornal, (RTP/RTP, 2005).
(7) Keith Selby, Ron Cowdery, How to Study Television, Palgrave Mcmillan Limited, 1995.
(8) BBC Proms (BBC, 2004, 2005).
Samuel Mateus is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in Centro de Estudos de Comunicacao e Linguagens (CECL-NOVA University), benefiting from a Fundacao para a Ciencia e Tecnologia Scholarship. He currently teaches in Universidade Autonoma de Lisboa (UAL). His Ph.D. in Communication Sciences (NOVA University) dealt with publicity and society from a trans-disciplinary perspective. He is the author of Publicity and Consummation in Contemporary Societies (2011, in Portuguese) and Tele-Reality: The Mediatized Principle of Publicity (2013, in Portuguese), both free e-books available for download.
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|Publication:||Critical Studies in Television|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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