Ethico-Political Reasoning and the Place of the Spectator in Post-9/11 American TV Dramas

Associated Project H

This project examines the role of contemporary political TV dramas from the US as forums and laboratories of political discourse(s) in the aftermath of 9/11 and its political, legal and military repercussions.

Addressing a broad audience, TV serials are necessarily characterized by moral and political ambivalence. This ambivalence finds its narrative expression in representational strategies revolving around a basic form: the dilemma. Fictitious states of emergency demand extreme decisions that present an occasion to call into question and to renegotiate cultural standards of the ethically “right” or at least “acceptable”, without allowing for clear-cut answers. Yet, in the context of serialized narrative, the dilemma is not only a recurring plot configuration; perpetuating moral conundrums also constitutes an important factor in getting the spectator emotionally and cognitively involved in and attached to a particular serial.

Focusing on seminal political dramas such as 24, Battlestar Galactica, Homeland or Deadwood the project examines the narrative and formal elements used in creating ethical “gray areas” where political patterns of affiliation and identification (left/right, liberal/conservative) are still recognizable, but are simultaneously redefined, deconstructed, reshuffled and undermined. In doing so, the project sheds a light on the specific ability of serial formats to engage audiences in a continuing process of questioning and renegotiating such categories, and in turn also on the role political and ethical questions play in the development of specific patterns of serial reception.

The project was funded by the DAAD's grant for academics returning to Germany after working abroad.

Research Associate: Martin Lampprecht, Film Studies and Documentary Filmmaking, Aix-en-Provence