Coda: Let It Go?

Cultural boundary crossing is rarely uncontested. And while this is evident in the arguments that regularly envelope discussions of who can cross national borders and how, of what constitutes citizenship, and of queered and/or hybrid identities, this book has found it no less true of the discussions that surround the collisions of products, people, and perceptions across the boundaries of television and film. At first glance, the task of determining where television ends and film begins, and of why anyone should care, may seem remarkably mundane. Yet, the previous chapters have shown that the maintenance and transformation of boundaries between film and television do matter to a great many. At times, the terms of mattering are vocalized explicitly—in purple prose articles about how television will never “beat” film, for instance—but they are always implicitly being reified and repeated by the many other discursive guard rails placed around each medium and their interactions with one another, some of which this book has illuminated.

For theatrical exhibitors, the distinction between these media has real economic consequences, as the premium placed on the idea of going to the movies rather than staying home to watch television proves crucial to their survival. The transformation of those boundaries thus represents a disruption of existing industry practices. For many critics, the idea of fixed boundaries between media can anchor aesthetic world views and justify beliefs about value and quality. At stake in challenging the boundaries between media is the possibility of upsetting fundamental ways of seeing and criteria of judgment. For storytellers, the boundaries between media set normative terms, conventions, and expectations that govern the creative process. While the adaptation of a television series into a movie represents an opportunity to transform a story in fundamental ways, the process also tends to be limited by assumptions about what different media can and cannot do. Creativity is both enabled and confined by these boundary crossings. And for the professionals who do this creative work, moving across the boundaries of television and film can represent something more than the next gig. Instead, the act of crossing from one medium to another can have real impact on perceptions of professional worth and prestige.

What this book has revealed then is the energy, preoccupation, and urgency that surround these border crossings between film and television. This is a boundary that gets regularly crossed, as so many of our examples have shown, and yet that movement continues to generate excitement, anxiety, concern, criticism, exaggeration, investment, and more as producers and consumers alike try to make sense of it. The collisions of television and film are mundane, and yet they take on great meaning.

There is more to be said about why that might be. We have traced the collisions, weighed their impacts, and interrogated responses to television’s movement into the realm of the cinema. We have shown how the transformation of television in its collision with film matters to a great number of individuals and institutions within media culture. But at the end of the day, it is still possible to struggle with the question of why this all has to matter at all. Asking this question is not to surrender the importance of the pages you’ve just read; instead, it is to acknowledge the possibility of imagining a world where these boundaries do not have to matter in the way they do now. We understand how and why they matter in the specific cultural contexts of the United States examined here, but we also hope to keep open the possibility that we could challenge the assumptions at the foundation of these discourses about media boundaries in order to envision other possibilities. If nothing else, this book has shown how these borders are porous, and how that porous nature allows them to be transformed. So we hope a search for a stronger answer to the question “why?” might lead not to further rationalization of these boundaries but instead to more transformation of them.

In that light, the televisual journey we have mapped here goes to its final destination. Our fundamental concern has been with television’s ability to “go” to the screens, styles, texts, and work worlds of the cinema. The story we’ve been told is one of movement, and in that movement lies possibility. When looking at those movements, we see value in being able to “let it go.” On the one hand, this means holding out some excitement for the possibilities of television’s ability to go to the movies. Let’s embrace that mobility and hope for the potential that television and film alike could be transformed for the better in that movement. In that transformation might lie new possibilities for exhibition, for storytelling, for work, and for recognizing the unrealized value and potential of media. On the other hand, maybe there’s a lot that we should be letting go in the sense that a therapist or animated ice princess might recommend. Can we embrace television’s mobility into the realm of the cinema without replicating the discursive hierarchies that dominate our thinking about these boundary crossings? Can we imagine a convergence of film and television without assessing losses and gains of capital, aesthetic value, or professional status? Can television’s ability to go to the movies be harnessed for its productive power to tell new kinds of stories, make cultural resources more accessible, and both multiply and amplify the voices of those who are too often unheard?

Let go of the obsession with the maintenance of these boundaries and the fears of what might be lost in their crossing. Instead, next time television goes to the movies, consider going along.

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