Staging science on TV: Richard Hammond's Invisible Worlds, Richard Hammond's Miracles of Nature, and Wild Weather with Richard Hammond

Morris, Nigel (2018) Staging science on TV: Richard Hammond's Invisible Worlds, Richard Hammond's Miracles of Nature, and Wild Weather with Richard Hammond. Journal of Science and Popular Culture, 1 (2). ISSN 2059-9099

Staging science on TV: Richard Hammond’s Invisible Worlds, Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature, and Wild Weather with Richard Hammond
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Item Type:Article
Item Status:Live Archive


This article comprises two distinct parts. The first surveys the problems and aspirations associated with television representations of science. This historical overview contextualizes the second part, which extrapolates from textual analysis of three closely related, high profile, peak-time BBC series. It seeks to demonstrate that, despite massive efforts and a shift in attitudes within the academy towards dissemination of knowledge over the last third of a century, many of them associated with initiatives in Public Understanding (or Awareness) of Science and Public Engagement in Science and Technology, there has been little progress in how scientific matters are represented.
Examination of extracts from the series argues that televised science draws upon the twin histories and discourses of the illustrated lecture and Victorian stage illusionism, each of which presented spectacle and sensationalism. Both utilised, in different ways, the pre-cinematic technology of the magic lantern. The former embodied the ideology of enlightenment; the latter exploited and perpetuated superstition and shamanism associated with natural philosophy.
Co-presence of such discourses and practices points to on-going ambivalence towards science. Consideration of editing structures, verbal rhetoric, and lighting, staging and mise-en-scene, as well as confusion between digital special effects and the evidential status of events captured on camera, support the claim that contradiction and inconsistency are neither new nor unusual. Attention to the programmes’ construction and implicit informing ideologies reveals their divergence from the expository mode that they ostensibly claim to belong to.
The result is mystification and distraction at a time when science has revealed pressing issues at a global level, and inclusive rational debate is urgently required to address questions of sustainability and survival. While many Public Understanding efforts appear to involve a long-standing hermetic debate between scientists and journalists predicated on outmoded communications theories, textual analysis demonstrates that relatively unsophisticated television studies approaches may yet offer worthwhile contributions. Accordingly, the article uses minimal specialized terminology or advanced theory in order to be accessible to readers from other disciplines in the hope of encouraging mutual exploration.

Keywords:representation, documentary, discourse, Public Service Broadcasting, magic, CGI
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
F Physical Sciences > F860 Climatology
F Physical Sciences > F990 Physical Sciences not elsewhere classified
F Physical Sciences > F832 Remote Sensing
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P301 Television studies
F Physical Sciences > F850 Environmental Sciences
F Physical Sciences > F861 Meteorology
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Film)
ID Code:18928
Deposited On:07 Oct 2015 10:19

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