Ethnography has become an important element in understanding society and cultural habits. It provides valuable insight into the past and present world through collaborating with individuals and learning through experiences. As Luke Erik Lasseter recognises in his piece ‘Defining a Collaborative Ethnography’ “Collaborative ethnography invites commentary from our consultants and seeks to make that commentary overtly part of the ethnographic text as it develops”. Through undertaking a series of interviews and supplementing it with primary and secondary research we are able to gather an understanding of society’s behaviour and interactions as whole. I had the privilege of undertaking an ethnographic interview based on television with my father which explores his experiences during its rise.
Growing up as a child in the 1950s and 60s John Murphy, my father, was well acquainted with the iconic television set but as opposed to today they were seen as a luxurious item, which makes you question the values we place on current technology. John remembers he often gathered at his neighbours home every Sunday night to watch iconic Disney cartoons, a routine he became fond of until 1961 when his father brought home the Murphy’s first television set, a 19inch Phillips television. John instantly fell in love with this technological revolution, as opposed to today where television can be accessed through various mediums and platforms there were only three iconic channels, which still air currently 7, 9 and the ABC. Nonetheless John couldn’t retain his excitement the day his father returned home with the set, he recalls the exact moment his father entered the home “I was playing with roman soldiers near the front door when my beautiful dad, your grandfather, carried the box containing the TV into the house”. The television which would eventually define the families dynamic. Unlike my father television was present in my life from the time I was born, I don’t have a first recollection of the blank box, I guess from the beginning it was just another object associated with my life which makes me question whether my generation has taken advantage of its technological capabilities moving towards online streaming. .
Growing up in large household with one television John states that his father continually ruled the box when he was home. My father, however was not the dictator of the box in our house, I was. I continually ruled the black box when I was younger. Being an only child I became obsessed with television shows. I needed to be constantly entertained, my parents barely had a moment to relax in front of the TV when I was around.
Because my father had three older brothers their interests were quite similar therefore they often avoided brotherly fights over the blank box. Most shows were family orientated, the Murphy’s favourite show to watch was “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”, my father recognises that most programs were imported from America at the time. John was never banned as such from watching television shows but the iconic 6:30 news was often seen as a horror story rather than a beneficial source of current affairs.
John remembers numerous pivotal moments experienced through the television set. In particular the moon landing, John specifically stayed home to watch the infamous and often questionable moment in history that defined us as a civilisation. John states with a glimmer in his eye it was “Bloody Marvellous” and he had the ability to experience it through this media platform which is now becoming disregarded by technological advancements. As I continued to interview my father I could see the positive impact television established during his childhood, just like it did in mine. I remember my mother telling me the first time I counted to 10 was when I was watching Sesame Street. It formed the basis of my numerical journey, and created a huge milestone in my life. My father was able to learn about current events occurring nationally and internationally, in particular watching The Beatles fly into Australia and learning about the Kennedy assassination as it occurred. The visual elements enhanced the stories and a sense of inclusion was formed through a simple screen. Now our sense of inclusion is formed in real-time through social media and the ability to discuss current events with millions globally at the touch of our finger tips, but is it really bringing the world together or establishing a conflicting and hateful environment.
John’s favourite show growing up was The Samurai an extremely violent Japanese ninja program, John describes it as “Absolutely sensational and it was shown at 4.30 pm, perfect when you came in from school. Marketing of the show included ninja uniforms/costumes as well as bubble gum cards. This show made you very aware of the concept of good versus evil it emphasised and reinforced what you had learned from your parents and teachers on just how to live your life as a decent and caring person, helping those less fortunate than you”. Coincidentally my favourite show as a child was quite violent too, The Simpsons and my father happened to experience its violent tendencies through me. Yes, I may have hit my father over the head with a bake bean can after watching an episode of The Simpsons where Maggie hits Homer over the head with a mallet, ironically, the episode was commenting on violence within television shows. After that point my relationship with the television considerably decreased.
As John entered his adolescence and became a young adult television began to dictate how he viewed himself and the world. The power of advertising became more apparent as television grew and multiplied in homes across the nation. Through advertising my father began following the trends of the time including fashion, hairstyles and music. Television started influencing how individuals viewed issues, in particular John made the decision to never vote for the coalition again because of the Vietnam conflict. “It made you and others aware of certain governments and their foreign policies through great journalism. It brought the Vietnam conflict into your lounge room. It became the first time people could be horrified with graphic atrocities. Television motivated people into action either directly through protests and political movements or indirectly through the ballot box.” Just like today television continues to spark debate and action especially through iconic shows like Q&A, freedom of speech has become more acceptable thanks to the action generated in the past.
The only problem is ethnography is predominantly reliant on memory as reiterated by Stephen Cribbett in his study ‘Ethnography: The Gateway Into Customer Experience Research’, Cribbett indicates this creates limitations through influences such as fatigue, emotion and attention. A bias view can be formed which focuses on an individuals preference or opinion rather than what may have actually occurred, for example, my father’s opinion in contrast to mine is based on our memories rather than complete fact, therefore further primary and secondary research is always needed to form more credible evaluations.
Interestingly John believes that television programs and events have the same impact on memory recollection, stating “one attaches different but equal importance to different issues whether it is real or a piece of fiction”. I agree with his statement in its entity, as Lasseter recognises in his piece we cannot understand ethnography or society itself without “engaging others in the context of their real, everyday lives”. Television shaped the person my father developed into through the bonds, information and life experiences he gained through a screen. Without fictional characters and iconic news stories our outlook on life would be substantially different and I’m glad that we both had and still have the opportunity to experience the wonders of the black box.