The Politics of Long-Form Storytelling in Contemporary American Serial Television: On Popular Seriality, Operational Aesthetics, and Audience Management
- Popular Seriality and Narratively Complex Television
- Operational Aesthetics
- Medial Self-Reflexivity in Fringe’s “August”
- Medial Self-Reflexivity in Homeland’s “Marine One”
The turn of American prime-time television dramas towards increasingly serialized storytelling during the last two decades seems to have coincided with an explicit politicization of their content. Especially shows discussed under the label of ‘Quality TV’ have been repeatedly celebrated and/or dismissed for their openly political agenda—be it for their engagement with the anxieties connected to the ‘War on Terror’ and the nebulous practices of intelligence agencies (as on Rubicon, Homeland and 24), or for attempts to tackle the social ills of contemporary urban America (as on The Wire or Breaking Bad). At the same time, other popular programs that at first glance seem to background political concerns in favor of more ‘escapist’ content (e.g., mystery-centric sciencefiction or fantasy shows like Battlestar Galactica, Fringe, or Heroes) increasingly engage with matters of power, politics, and political intrigue and develop these motifs in ongoing storylines. While recent cultural and media studies publications on these phenomena have easily connected this renewed interest in political subject matters to the emergence of what Jason Mittell has termed ‘narratively complex television’—that is, a (by now pervasive) shift in emphasis away from episodically contained storylines towards an ongoing serial narration that allows contemporary programming to construct richly furnished, expansive storyworlds and thus (among other things) opens up new possibilities for representing the complexities and intricacies of political systems and processes—less attention has so far been paid to the political dimensions of the increasingly active audience practices invited by such programming, and to the social aspects of popular seriality itself.
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht
Frank Kelleter; Daniel Stein