Small Screen, Big Feels
Television and Cultural Anxiety in the Twenty-First Century
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
While television has always played a role in recording and curating history, shaping cultural memory, and influencing public sentiment, the changing nature of the medium in the post-network era finds viewers experiencing and participating in this process in new ways. They skim through commercials, live tweet press conferences and award shows, and tune into reality shows to escape reality. This new era, defined by the heightened anxiety and fear ushered in by 9/11, has been documented by our media consumption, production, and reaction.
In Small Screen, Big Feels, Melissa Ames asserts that TV has been instrumental in cultivating a shared memory of emotionally charged events unfolding in the United States since September 11, 2001. She analyzes specific shows and genres to illustrate the ways in which cultural fears are embedded into our entertainment in series such as The Walking Dead and Lost or critiqued through programs like The Daily Show. In the final section of the book, Ames provides three audience studies that showcase how viewers consume and circulate emotions in the post-network era: analyses of live tweets from Shonda Rhimes's drama, How to Get Away with Murder (2010--2020), ABC's reality franchises, The Bachelor (2002--present) and The Bachelorette (2003--present), and political coverage of the 2016 Presidential Debates.
Though film has been closely studied through the lens of affect theory, little research has been done to apply the same methods to television. Engaging an impressively wide range of texts, genres, media, and formats, Ames offers a trenchant analysis of how televisual programming in the United States responded to and reinforced a cultural climate grounded in fear and anxiety.
Introduction: Watching (and Feeling) Contemporary American TVScreening Terror: How 9/11 Affected Twenty-first-Century Televisual FictionEscaping Reality by Watching Reality TV? Voyeurism, Schadenfreude, and Other Coping Mechanisms for Avoiding or Engaging in Societal ReflectionPerforming and Experiencing Anger (through Humor): Infotainment's Increased Visibility and Political Effect"All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues": A Psychoanalytic Reading of the Father-Child Relationships on ABC's LostThe Trauma of Post-Apocalyptic Motherhood: The Walking Dead's Social Commentary on Contemporary Gender RolesA Country (Still) Divided: How Recent Vampire Series Use Nostalgia to Comment on Current Issues Related to Gender, Race, and SexualityFictionalizing Ferguson in Prime-Time Dramas: Interrogating the Potentialities and Consequences of Remediating Events That Are Still in ProgressLive Tweets as Social Commentary? Analyzing How Gender, Race, and Sexuality Play into Conceptions of Morality in How to Get Away with MurderDefending The Bachelorette: What Online Comments from Reality TV Fans Reveal about Contemporary Gender Expectations, and Live-Tweeting as a Form of Feminist Digital Activism"I'm (Not) with Her": How the Political Commentary Surrounding the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Reflects Anxieties Concerning Gender EqualityConclusion: Screening Emotion, Archiving Affect, Circulating Feelings: Final Thoughts and Even More Questions
"An impressive work that will be essential to anyone with an interest in American television of the twenty-first century. Ames masterfully explores the underlying politics of genres as diverse as reality television and vampire series, election campaigns and comedy shows, infotainment and postapocalyptic drama. A wide-ranging and in-depth study of a medium in the midst of tumultuous changes in its sector." -- Aris Mousoutzanis, author of Fin-de-Siècle Fictions, 1890s--1990s: Apocalypse, Technoscience, Empire
"Melissa Ames's Small Screen, Big Feels is an important, timely read. This book deftly combines scholarly insights, thoughtful perspectives, relevant literature reviews, and appropriate research methods through a familiar, accessible writing voice. Ames seamlessly interweaves current and past psychology and media theories in developing her argument." -- Todd M. Sodano, St. John Fisher College