Earlier this week, Austrian public radio station Österreich 1 aired an episode of their daily culture magazine Kulturjournal which focused on trends in contemporary American television series — and it featured an interview with me, recorded last Thursday by the segment’s producer Benno Feichter. It’s my first time on the radio, and I am quite happy with the result; the segment addresses interactions between American film and television and also features statements by actors Richard Jenkins and Frances McDormand (stars of the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge). Thankfully, Feichter edited out all of my embarrasing ‚mhs‘ and ‚ers‘, as well as the less convincing bits of our half hour-long conversation, and cut it down to a few minutes — the whole segment (in German) is available for streaming here. The rest of this episode of the Kulturjournal is worth to be listened to as well, as it features an interview with Austrian filmmaker David Schalko, creator of the ORF TV series Braunschlag (which is, weirdly enough, soon to be adapted into a Fox comedy starring Rob Riggle).
The interview came together as a result of my participation in last year’s Transgressive Television-Conference at the Amerika Haus in Vienna (October 1-3, 2014), which was organized by the University of Vienna’s chair of American Studies Birgit Däwes and Karin Schmid-Gerlich of the US Embassy in Austria, and part of Feichter’s segment draws on the manuscript of my contribution to the conference, a talk on the NBC television series Hannibal. Since I was a bit unhappy with my presentation at the Vienna conference — which was marred by technical difficulties and eventually had me reading my manuscript without any visual aids — I thought I might take this opportunity to post the abstract of my presentation here as a teaser for the rest of my talk, in case anyone’s interested.
NBC’s Hannibal and the Politics of Serial Engagement
Felix Brinker, Graduate School of North American Studies, John F. Kennedy Institute, Free University of Berlin
From high production values, a reliance on complex, ongoing story-lines built around the conflict of two deeply flawed, white, male, sociopathic main characters and a surreal, symbolist visual aesthetics, to an overwhelmingly positive reception by television critics and a tendency to score poorly in the Nielsen ratings – NBC’s Hannibal (since 2013) exhibits all the features commonly associated with American “Quality” television programming. Located somewhere between the genres of police procedural, psychological thriller, and body horror, the show – which is based on characters from Thomas Harris‘ series of novels about the suave culinarian and serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and which accordingly offers weekly displays of gruesome violence, bodily mutilation, cannibalism and psychological torture that rival similarly graphic depictions in movies like Silence of the Lambs or Red Dragon – furthermore exhibits a tendency to push the boundaries of what level of graphic violence is acceptable within the traditionally conservative medium of American network television. Somewhat surprisingly, and despite its controversial nature and poor ratings, Hannibal has managed to sustain a run of two seasons and was recently renewed for a third – an unlikely development within the framework of advertisement-based television.
In order to explain the unlikely continued presence of Hannibal on NBC, this paper argues that the show’s relative success is indebted to its peculiar combination of “complex” linear serial narration (Mittell), the non-linear seriality typically associated with practices of rebooting, remaking, or adaptation, and a non-narrative serialization of potentially disruptive images of bodily mutilation and distress that punctuates and counterbalances the narrative complexities of the show. I argue that Hannibal’s combination of these different aspects of serialization is integral to what I call its politics of audience activation, i.e. the show’s ability turn its viewers from passive recipients to active promoters of the program who engage in a variety of textually and culturally productive fan practices online. These practices, in turn, contribute to the show’s cultural visibility and, ultimately, to its bottom-line profitability – Hannibal, and other shows like it, can thus thrive on the “free” (i.e. unpaid) work of audiences in order to sustain their own continued proliferation.
Denson, Shane. „Serial Bodies. Corporal Engagement in Long-Form Serial Television.“ Weblog post. Medieninitiative. Shane Denson — Media Theory. Post-cinema. Seriality. Techno-phenomenology. Postnaturalism. and Other Stuff. Shane Denson, 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 30 June 2014.
Kelleter, Frank (ed.). Populäre Serialität: Narration – Evolution – Distinktion. Zum seriellen Erzählen seit dem 19. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2012. Print.
Mittell, Jason. “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television.” The Velvet Light Trap 58 (Fall 2006): 29-40.
Ritzer, Ivo. Fernsehen wider die Tabus. Sex, Gewalt, Zensur und die neuen US-Serien. Berlin: Bertz + Fischer, 2011.
Stanfill, Mel, and Megan Condis. „Fandom And/as Labor.“ Transformative Works and Cultures Vol. 15 (2014). Web. 13 June 2014.