|Occupation||Television studies scholar|
|Known for||Complex TV|
Jason Mittell is a professor of American studies and film and media culture at Middlebury College whose research interests include the history of television, media, culture, and new media. He is author of three books, Genre and Television (2004),Television and American Culture (2009), and Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling (NYU Press, 2015), and co-editor of How To Watch Television (NYU Press, 2013).
Mittell received his Ph.D. in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Media & Cultural Studies Program (part of the Department of Communication Arts) in August 2000. In the spring of 1996, Mittell obtained an M.A. in the same concentration and program. Mittell completed his undergraduate studies at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio in 1992, graduating with a B.A. and majoring in English and Theater.
Mittell taught Communication at Georgia State University from 2000 to 2002. Currently, he is a professor at Middlebury College, where he teaches a number of courses related to television, culture, and media, such as Television and American Culture, Theories of Popular Culture, Media Technology and Cultural Change, American Media Industries, Animated Film & TV, Narration Across Media, Media and Childhood in American Culture, and Urban American and Serial Television: Watching The Wire.
His research interests include pop culture topics such as television history and criticism, media and cultural history, genre theory, narratology, animation and children's media, cultural historiography, and new media studies and technological convergence. He is currently writing a book on contemporary American television narrative. Mittell also writes a blog entitled JustTV.
Mittell's book Complex TV outlines a historical poetics of contemporary television series, which he calls "complex TV." Mittell argues that the "complex" television series of today feature an array of storytelling techniques which cannot be adequately understood through the use of cinematic and literary theory. This is especially the case with seriality, i.e. the fact that television series are told in several, separate episodes. To Mittell, this form of television drama emerged in the early 1990s and is characterized by its use of "narrative special effect" which is to say that a program sometimes "flexes its storytelling muscles to confound and amaze a viewer", e.g. by using flashbacks in innovative ways.
Being based in Bordwellian historical poetics, this books aims to "identify and describe the formal properties that create such textured narratives." To film scholar Sarah Kozloff, this means that Mittell's work shares some similarities with Seymour Chatman's work on film narration.
Mittell's book also builds cognitivist assumptions, which means that to Mittell "comprehension is based on the cognitive poetic model developed primarily through David Bordwell's work on film narration. The core assumption of this approach is that viewers actively construct storyworlds in their minds, and that the best way to understand the comprehension process is through the tools of cognitive psychology." In line with this, Mittell also draws on Murray Smith's work. Mittell, however, makes a point of stressing that he believes that cognitivist approaches are fully compatible with cultural approaches in terms of understanding and studying television shows, arguing that we "can combine what we know about cultural contexts with the mechanics of mental comprehension and engagement to develop a more pluralistic set of theoretical tools."
In an interview in the New York Times on February 21, 2007, Mittell defended the use of popflock.com resource as a citeable resource for college-level research. Mittell responded to critics that questioned the accuracy and reliability of an online document that anyone in the world can edit at any time by arguing that "The message that is being sent is that ultimately they see it as a threat to traditional knowledge...[;] I see it [Wikipedia] as an opportunity. What does that mean for traditional scholarship? Does traditional scholarship lose value?"