White Noise and Television Sound
author(s): Justin St. Clair
published in: Journal of Sonic Studies
Two of the most notable critical accounts of television sound from the 1980s are John Ellis’s “Broadcast TV as Sound and Image” (1982/1999) and Rick Altman’s “Television/Sound” (1986), both of which argue that television audio sustains, focuses, and directs audience engagement with the medium. This essay uses the work of Ellis and Altman to contextualize another televisual text from the 1980s, Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise (1985/1991). DeLillo’s engagement with television sound is characterized by a somewhat contradictory double logic. On the one hand, he anxiously echoes circulating theoretical critiques, offering—as do Ellis and Altman—that television audio expressly manipulates an inattentive audience. Simultaneously, however, DeLillo productively utilizes television sound as a literary device, interjecting snippets of audio into the novel as a method of engaging topics ranging from corporatization to cultural anxiety.