"[My book, Gender and Television,] is an overview of all the ways in which researchers have understood the relationship between gender and television."
At the dawn of reality television, Susan Murray felt an anthology of essays about the phenomenon was in order. But the topic soon worried Murray and her co-editor Laurie Ouellette. "We had all these predictions about how reality television would redefine television genres, remake the television industry, and alter the audience's engagement with the medium, and then it occurred to us: what if by the time the book comes out none of these things happens and reality television is over?"
Their worries, it seems, were unfounded. Reality TV: The Re-Making of Television Culture was published by NYU Press and has accelerated the dialogue about the controversial and ever-mutating television genre.
Murray has finished one book and is writing another book that also deal with television, although both deal with the medium's earliest period. Hitch your Antenna to the Stars!: Early Television and Broadcast Stardom (Routledge 2005) examines how the television industry borrowed aesthetic, performance, and marketing techniques from different entertainment forms such as vaudeville, radio, legitimate theater, and film.
Gender & Television: A History of Theory and Method is the other book that Murray has in the works. "It's an overview of all the ways in which researchers have understood the relationship between gender and television," says Murray. The book looks at studies that social scientists undertook in the early days of broadcast media that researched, for example, women's relationships with soap operas. The book then follows television as it was perceived through the lens of feminism, post-modernism, and queer studies, among other movements of the last decades.
Murray traces her interest in media studies to her childhood and "growing up in a heavy TV viewing household!" At first she thought she'd be a journalist. "I was interested in alternative press and how it counters some of the ideas presented by mainstream press."
That interest led to Murray considering the historical questions surrounding different media. "But I realized at a certain point that you can't really talk about media as one thing, you have to focus on one medium at a time and its cultural, industrial, and historical context." Murray completed her PhD in media studies at the University of Texas at Austin in 1999, before teaching media studies at City University of New York (CUNY), Brooklyn College. After two years at CUNY, she came to NYU's Department of Media, Culture, and Communication.
"It's a really great department," Murray says, although at first she wasn't sure she fit in. "My approaches to media studies are different from the other faculty. But once I got here I felt very quickly at home and saw that the Department embraces a variety of methodologies and approaches, which is its strength." Murray illustrates this by pointing out the faculty's varied backgrounds. "We have sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, economists. So we're bringing all these different tools to this question of media, but with a collective goal in mind."
Murray extends this sense of respect and collaboration to her own students. "When I'm teaching, ideas will come to me because students provoke something I hadn't thought of. Sometimes it's just hearing a student pose a question a certain way that reveals something I hadn't considered before. They definitely participate in the kinds of questions I ask myself about my work."
Beyond the way her students inspire her, Murray is impressed by their preparedness and interest in discussion. "Those two things are a great combination. It means they're very engaged and active students, which is really such a pleasure."