What is a public sphere? It is a term that used to describe the virtual space where people interact with conversations and ideas. It is said by Habermas, a place where people exchange ideas and discuss issues, in order to reach agreement about ‘matters of general interest’. However, it is impossible for a million of people to sit in one place and exchange discussions.
“When the public is large this kind of communication requires certain means of dissemination and influence: today, newspapers and periodicals, radio and television are the media of the public sphere.” (Habermas, 1997:105)
Media is the most powerful tool for the formation of Public opinion and views in modern times. It is the Television, the press, the radio and the Internet that has brought an enormous effect and therefore impact on various parts of private and public life. It has become an important type of leisurely activity and entertainment in our lives. We talk about super heroes, TV presenters, singers, etc all the time and we try to be and act more like them every day making them our new best friends.
An example of a ‘popular’ media that has caused debates in this mediated public sphere is The Ellen DeGeneres Show – often known as Ellen, An American television daytime talk show. Hosted by a comedian/ actress, Ellen DeGeneres , the show is the daytime destination for laughter and fun. Ellen has been making audiences laugh all over the world with her unique brand of humor and her powerful message of kindness, making the audience forget their troubles and enjoy the conversation. She allows the guests to engage in entertaining and thoughtful discussions on topical issues of the day.
The show features various mixtures of celebrity interviews, musical performers, audience participation, and also focuses everyday people with extraordinary stories and talents. Ellen relates hilariously awkward stories of her first meetings with celebrities she admires and other embarrassing situations when Hollywood’s superstars and Ellen get together. “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” continues to be a destination for biggest stars of television, music and film industry. Guests have included, Justin Timberlake, Steve Carell, Lady Gaga, Cameron Diaz, Lindsay Lohan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bill Clinton just to name a few.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show has attracted a massive audience, drawing 3.5 million viewers daily and has won several awards throughout its 11 years (The show has won 36 Daytime Emmy Awards as of 2013), it has been classified as a popular media with characters mentioned by McKee on a public sphere:
-relies too much on spectacle
-it causes citizens to apathetic
Being a popular mediated public sphere, I believe the show is quite feminized and spectacular. It talks more about trivial stuffs like ‘The cupcake kid gets his cupcake’, just to bring laughter to the audience, rather than talk about serious rational issues. (But what television show doesn’t!) Nevertheless, it also has audience participation games where prizes are awarded. This catches more of the shows audience having more women for the show than men (although the number of men isn’t less here even).
Since the show has become so popular, it is really hard for a person to get a chance to be inside the studio after waiting for so long in the queue. Moreover, the audience who gets the chance to be in the studio, are just for taping and they get to see the episode off-stage. Even then, the audience never gets any lesser. Why? Why are people so caught up in these shows? Does it have important information that they need? Is it helping them in their daily life?
Cos people are “more interested in unimportant news about celebrities, diets, and sex tips than about really important, serious political issues” (McKee: 2005)
McKee, A, 2005, ‘Introduction: the public sphere: an introduction’ in Public Sphere: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp1-31.