By locating the American indie film in the historical context of the "Sundance-Miramax" era (the mid-1980s to the end of the 2000s), Michael Z. Newman considers indie cinema as an alternative American film culture. His work isolates patterns of character and realism, formal play, and oppositionality and the functions of the festivals, art houses, and critical media promoting them. He also accounts for the power of audiences to identify indie films in distinction to mainstream Hollywood and to seek socially emblematic characters and playful form in their narratives. Analyzing films such as Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996), Lost in Translation (2003), Pulp Fiction (1994), and Juno (2007), along with the work of Nicole Holofcener, Jim Jarmusch, John Sayles, Steven Soderbergh, and the Coen brothers, Newman investigates the conventions that cast indies as culturally legitimate works of art. He binds these diverse works together within a cluster of distinct viewing strategies and invites a reevaluation of the difference of independent cinema and its relationship to class and taste culture.
Beginning with the release of the Magnavox Odyssey and Pong in 1972, video games, whether played in arcades and taverns or in family rec rooms, became part of popular culture, like television. In fact, video games were sometimes seen as an improvement on television because they spurred participation rather than passivity. These “space-age pinball machines” gave coin-operated games a high-tech and more respectable profile. In Atari Age, Michael Newman charts the emergence of video games in America from ball-and-paddle games to hits like Space Invaders and Pac-Man, describing their relationship to other amusements and technologies and showing how they came to be identified with the middle class, youth, and masculinity.
Newman shows that the “new media” of video games were understood in varied, even contradictory ways. They were family fun (but mainly for boys), better than television (but possibly harmful), and educational (but a waste of computer time). Drawing on a range of sources—including the games and their packaging; coverage in the popular, trade, and fan press; social science research of the time; advertising and store catalogs; and representations in movies and television—Newman describes the series of cultural contradictions through which the identity of the emerging medium worked itself out. Would video games embody middle-class respectability or suffer from the arcade's unsavory reputation? Would they foster family togetherness or allow boys to escape from domesticity? Would they make the new home computer a tool for education or just a glorified toy? Then, as now, many worried about the impact of video games on players, while others celebrated video games for familiarizing kids with technology essential for the information age.
Newman and Levine argue that television’s growing prestige emerges alongside the convergence of media at technological, industrial, and experiential levels. Television is permitted to rise in respectability once it is connected to more highly valued media and audiences. Legitimation works by denigrating "ordinary" television associated with the past, distancing the television of the present from the feminized and mass audiences assumed to be inherent to the "old" TV. It is no coincidence that the most validated programming and technologies of the convergence era are associated with a more privileged viewership. The legitimation of television articulates the medium with the masculine over the feminine, the elite over the mass, reinforcing cultural hierarchies that have long perpetuated inequalities of gender and class.
Legitimating Television urges readers to move beyond the question of taste—whether TV is "good" or "bad"—and to focus instead on the cultural, political, and economic issues at stake in television’s transformation in the digital age.
In this history, Michael Z. Newman casts video as a medium of shifting value and legitimacy in relation to other media and technologies, particularly film and television. Video has been imagined as more or less authentic or artistic than movies or television, as more or less democratic and participatory, as more or less capable of capturing the real. Techno-utopian rhetoric has repeatedly represented video as a revolutionary medium, promising to solve the problems of the past and the present—often the very problems associated with television and the society shaped by it—and to deliver a better future. Video has also been seen more negatively, particularly as a threat to movies and their culture. This study considers video as an object of these hopes and fears and builds an approach to thinking about the concept of the medium in terms of cultural status.