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Exploring abjection in twenty-first century ‘quality’ TV horror and the abject spectrums of its online fan audiences

Rendell, James 2017. Exploring abjection in twenty-first century ‘quality’ TV horror and the abject spectrums of its online fan audiences. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis focuses on the rise in graphic TV horror in the twenty-first century. Locating it within wider cultural contexts, shifting TV industries and digital technologies, and online transcultural audiences, I analyse this mode of genre television hitherto unseen on this domestic media platform. The thesis draws upon and revises Julia Kristeva’s abjection theory (1982) as a means of constructing an analytical framework that allows me to explore the cultural and subtextual meaning of TV horror, evidencing how graphic horror is implemented as a discursive marker of quality TV aesthetics within specific production and (trans)national contexts. These are British public service television, US basic cable, and US/Japanese premium cable co-productions, providing both domestic and transcultural foci. I also explore how the formatting and media ecologies of TV horror can shape meaning (Lobato and Thomas 2015), and how screen abjection is affectively engaged with in an on-going and gradational manner via what I am conceptualising as ‘abject spectrums’. This involves considering how the phenomenological, psychological, and cultural components of abjection can intersect, serving to better account for audience-horror text relationships at pre-textual, paratextual and extra-textual levels, as well as in relation to diegetic, transmedial, and post-object audience readings. In order to do this, I employ textual analysis and netnography to provide in-depth examination of my case studies: BBC3’s youth TV horror In the Flesh, AMC’s basic cable transmedia franchise The Walking Dead, and Showtime’s premium cable Masters Of Horror, specifically its American/Japanese co-produced episodes ‘Imprint’ and ‘Dream Cruise’, analysing the online fans and anti-fans who responded to these texts. In my effort to offer much needed attention to this form of television, I build on the work of Lorna Jowett and Stacey Abbott (2013) and offer two interlinking sections that critically unpack graphic twenty-first century TV horror. Beginning from a textualist point of view in Part I, each Chapter analyses a specific case study’s abject attributes as diegetic horror, and considers how abjection is used within bids for an elevated cultural status in TV industry contexts. In Part II, all three case studies are analysed together, with each Chapter structured thematically to develop my abject spectrum model – a gradational conceptualisation that situates abjection between aesthetic, affective, and/or ideological reactions/readings. This begins by considering how Web 2.0 has shaped the formatting, circulation, and consumption of twenty-first century TV horror, particularly on an international scale. I therefore offer ‘Only-Click TV’ (see also Gillan 2011) as a model that addresses the situation when textual content is solely available online for certain audiences,and how this can shape meaning and value for these viewers. I then turn to how audiences’ responded to the on-screen abjection of the case studies. Using my abject spectrum model I account for polysemic readings, how self-identity can anchor readings, and how the cultural construction of abjection is negotiated via ‘third space’ transcultural translations (Bhabha 1994). Finally, building on the traditional analysis of audiences’ written logos (Postill 2010:648, Gillan 2016:21), I extend my analysis to online image culture as a salient user practice and a valuable data type in evidencing abject spectrums. Such work complements the mixed method approaches of TV Studies (Geraghty and Lusted 1998, Geraghty 2003, Creeber 2006a, Casey et al 2008) better serves the understanding of audiences in Horror Studies (Cheery 20020, Hills 2005a, 2014a, Hanich 2010, Barker et al 2016) and triangulates these approaches with the focus on active participation that has been characteristic of Fan Studies (Hills 2002a, Jenkins 2010a, Booth 2015b, Gillan 2016). The thesis concludes by highlighting how graphic and ‘cinematic’ TV horror has become far more common. Thus, the Conclusion discusses potential future research into other forms of TV horror present in the twenty-first century that experiment with more ‘ordinary’ forms of television, such as reality TV, and how ‘post-TV’ that disrupts TV’s ontology also opens up new areas of research in terms of content and audience engagement. Furthermore, in noting the limitations of netnography to develop and demonstrate abject spectrums, I suggest interviewing as a research method that could better serve the phenomenological aspects of the model involving individuals’ histories and experiences of texts. Resultantly, the thesis’ main original contribution is the abject spectrum; this is an on-going and gradational concept that can account for the range of ways audiences encounter a text; the myriad readings and responses to TV horror texts that involve a much more expansive affective field than simply being scared; and the longitudinal perspective where new experiences and repeat consumption can shift and change audience-text relationships.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 4 January 2018
Last Modified: 04 Jan 2018 14:27

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