Rethinking the Informed Citizen in an Age of Hybrid Media Genres: Tanner ’88, K-Street, and the Fictionalization of News

R.J. Bain

R.J. Bain

A close reading of two television shows, K-Street and Tanner ’88, was performed to examine how one might become informed about real-life political news by viewing entertainment programs that combine fiction with actual current political events, issues, and figures. In his book The Good Citizen, Michael Schudson claims that mere factual recall does not necessarily indicate that one is “informed”, but rather an “informed citizen” is one who actively reads the “information environment”. According to Schudson, however, “the obligation of citizens to know enough to participate intelligently in governmental affairs [should] be understood as a monitorial obligation” where one scans rather than reads the “information environment”. By indexing themselves as “hybrid”, programs such as K-Street and Tanner ’88 might encourage skepticism and therefore scanning of the “information environment”, unlike “news programs” (i.e. “The News”) that frame themselves as accurate and complete. In addition, fictional narrative has the power to foster viewers’ personal investment in particular characters and, in this way, could provide additional incentive for active information gathering by creating narratives where characters stand to be directly affected by actual current political events and issues. Neither Tanner ’88 nor K-Street appear to have harnessed this potential, however.

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