It's not bargains or even the merchandise that draws viewers to the home shopping channel. It's the sense of community established in the talk between callers and host.
And that has a Berkeley anthropologist worried. Because the only way viewers can get into the community is by buying. But the goods are marketed in a picture of middle-class life that doesn't match that of the viewers--mainly lower-middle-class women.
"Sure, it imposes an ideology of domesticity for women, Mary Bucholtz, M.A., told the American Anthropological Association. "But that's not the most disturbing part. It keeps women hoping to measure up by purchasing."
Bucholtz, who analyzed transactions taking place on QVC word for word, contends that the marketing scenarios built around the merchandise project an image of what it means to be a middle-class woman: having an "office career", a professional husband, and kids in college. "The notion is that these are attainable by consuming."
Not only does the projected image exclude many--the elderly, the unemployed, the disabled--it can create real anxiety among real women. "Their lives are reflected and distorted on screen," says Bucholtz.
A Ph.D. candidate in linguistics at the University of California, she finds it ironic that the on-screen "manipulation of women and of the notion of community" occurs through the exchange of intimacies between host and caller. "It's done through language." All appearances to the contrary, "We are not in the post-linguistic era."