Reading 'Audience of One' on the Recommendation of Sibyledu

Viewing Trump.

October 23, 2019

Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America by James Poniewozik

Published in September 2019

At the end of every book review I write, I ask you to answer a question: "What are you reading?"

This is a sincere question. I really want to know.

For my review of Emily Nussbaum's engaging I Like to Watch, sibyledu provided us with the following recommendation.

If you liked Nussbaum's exceptional book, you should read James Poniewozik's "Audience of One." It is a brilliant analysis of how changes in the TV landscape paralleled, forecast, and led to the election of Donald Trump. For Nussbaum, narrowcasting leads to quality; for Poniewozik, narrowcasting fractures the audience, eroding the cohesion of the old three-network audience and facilitating a sense that we belong not to a single community but to a number of fragmented communities (e.g. the 30 Rock community, the Bachelor community, the Duck Dynasty community, etc.).

To me, the takeaway for higher ed of Poniewozik's book is that the communities to which we have historically appealed -- such as the community of scholars, the community of educated people, the national community to which we say our graduates will serve and of which our graduates will become citizens -- are seriously challenged. Television has learned to live with multiple communities, although we viewers are still working on it. (We feel anxious about the platforms we don't get, about the conversations we aren't joining, about the shows we can't afford.)

Can higher ed survive, and/or thrive, in a fragmented context?


When I think of the value that commenting brings to our Inside Higher Ed community, I think of sibyledu. When I become exhausted by the shouting and negativity of some of Inside Higher Ed's pseudonymous commenters, I am reminded by sibyledu that living with these folks is a reasonable price to pay for enabling a much larger number of our communities participants to speak their mind freely.

So thank you, sibyledu, for the book recommendation. You are spot-on. Audience of One is indeed brilliant.

For those of us who continue to wake up each morning dismayed and flabbergasted that Donald Trump is the president of the United States, Audience of One may function as a particular sort of relief. Most of us have accepted the now conventional wisdom that Trump is part and parcel of a broader populist wave, which in itself is a response to the growing levels of economic inequality and stratification. While Poniewozik does not dispute this narrative, he does complicate it.

For Poniewozik, the story of the election of Donald Trump and the story of the evolution of television are inseparable. Trump, to this New York Times TV critic, is, first and foremost, a TV personality. Americans (or more accurately the Electoral College) did not so much elect a person, but a TV character. Trump, the TV character, fully realized over 14 seasons of NBC's The Apprentice, inhabits the persona of billionaire businessperson.

In Audience of One, Poniewozik tells the story of the development of television and the career of Trump as a parallel -- and ultimately integrated -- tale. The narrative culminated in the 2016 election and Trump's presidency, where the candidate received the equivalent of $5.6 billion in free media coverage during the election, and as we have been witness to Fox News morphing into the in-house media platforms of the president.

For those of us who have been forced to ponder the power of Twitter in shaping the contours of our academic debate, Audience of One is illuminating on the influence of social media on political discourse. It may be that Trump is evolving from a TV character to a social media influencer. Most academics will never have access to the platform of TV. But perhaps academics can learn something from @realDonaldTrump (66.1 million followers) about leveraging social media for influence. Perhaps not.

Audience of One delivers what I had thought was impossible -- a fresh, original, surprising and persuasive explanation for how we ended up with Trump as president. Brilliant indeed.

Audience of One is a book that was on my wish list, but it was only the mini-review by sibyledu that moved me from pondering to reading. Book recommendations from our Inside Higher Ed community are hugely persuasive in determining the books that I buy. I continue to hold out hope that some book-loving venture capitalist will read about my idea for a book-centric higher ed platform and get in touch with an offer to turn this concept into a company.

Until then, please keep the book recommendations coming.

What are you reading?


Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


Back to Top