Viscerally Uncomfortable TV: Affective Spectatorship and Televisual Neoliberalism

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Viscerally Uncomfortable TV: Affective Spectatorship and Televisual Neoliberalism
Hargraves, Hunter R (creator)
Joyrich, Lynne (Director)
Chun, Wendy (Reader)
Schneider, Rebecca (Reader)
Ouellette, Laurie (Reader)
Brown University. Modern Culture and Media (sponsor)
Copyright Date
This dissertation explores the changing terms of neoliberal culture that are affectively registered in our most dominant media form, television. I examine the affective texture of millennial American television (approx. 1990-present), asking why spectators derive pleasure from situations that might appear to be designed to provoke feelings of discomfort and disgust (for example, through widespread profanity, misogynistic violence, graphic sex, and the extraordinary exploitation of ordinary people). The dissertation makes a certain historical claim: that American television in the post-network or broadband era depends upon a certain configuration of negative affect. The imbrication of the popular and the perverse – or what I term the “viscerally uncomfortable,” feelings characterized by a heightened negative intensity and associated with tabooed subjects and situations – is both a symptom of and a critical response to neoliberal culture, serving as the predominant affect for a changing televisual landscape emerging from the widespread integration of the ideology of American neoliberalism into everyday life. I thus read the affective dimensions of the aesthetic, structural, industrial, technological, and generic changes in American commercial television over the past two and a half decades, including its increased seriality, its convergence with digital media cultures, and renegotiated connections between genre and cultural value (present within, for example, both “quality” dramas and “trashy” reality fare). The viscerally uncomfortable, the dissertation contends, must be recognized as a category to locate new cultural forms and practices resonant with the cultural rhetorics of neoliberal ideology, such as the privileging of personal responsibility, the transition from an industrial to a service economy (punctuated by practices of immaterial labor), the pathologization of consumption, and the intertwining of commodity logic and national discourse. Taken together, I show how these changes to both American television and cultural affect illuminate the critical role television plays in shaping national and cultural structures of feeling.
American television
Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2015)
10, 312 p.


Hargraves, Hunter R., "Viscerally Uncomfortable TV: Affective Spectatorship and Televisual Neoliberalism" (2015). Modern Culture and Media Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.