This article aims to shed light on the relation between multimodality and mediality in television. Taking the US TV comedy show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO, 2014–) as an example, it argues that, by mixing a variety of “modal ensembles” (Gunther Kress), the show succeeds in creating different “medialities,” oscillating between a rather classic if somewhat dated late-night show TV mediality and a comparatively more up-to-date online mediality. Last Week Tonight thus establishes both a unique look and a hybrid communicative strategy to address a wide audience and answer to a broad variety of viewer needs and expectations. Anchor John Oliver often establishes a complex political argumentation that requires the entire attention and concentration of the TV audience. Paradoxically, this is why he almost constantly interrupts the argument with funny or satirical digressions. His show therefore integrates TV-and Internet-specific modes of address, presentation, and appeal to enable new possibilities for identification.
Attention through Distraction: Basic Modalities and Rhetorical Medialities of Last Week Tonight
Anne Ulrich is a lecturer in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Tübingen, Germany. Her main research interests center around media theory and rhetoric, visual communication, television studies, and the history and theory of journalism. Her current project examines notions of mediality in the aftermath of 9/11 and the communication and mediation of threat in a changing media environment. She is the author of Medienrhetorik des Fernsehens: Begriffe und Konzepte (The Media Rhetoric of Television: Terms and Concepts), coauthored with Joachim Knape (2014), and Umkämpfte Glaubwürdigkeit: Visuelle Strategien des Fernseh-journalismus im Irakkrieg 2003 (The Struggle for Credibility: Visual Strategies of TV Journalism in the Iraq War 2003) (2012).
Anne Ulrich; Attention through Distraction: Basic Modalities and Rhetorical Medialities of Last Week Tonight. Poetics Today 1 June 2019; 40 (2): 299–318. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7298564
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