Seminar by Dr Alan Gibbs
19 April 2018. CASiLaC Room (ORB 1.24)
Cultural production in the United States since 9/11 has, for a variety of reasons, witnessed a shift towards deterministic narratives, many of which echo the literary naturalism of roughly a century earlier. A number of explanations might be advanced to account for this, but the one explored in this paper is whether these particular deterministic narratives reflect a reassertion of masculinity in America during this period. The three popular TV serials under consideration present middle-aged white American male characters who are, by various biological or environmental determinants, seemingly coerced into particular ways of behaving. Vic Mackey, the LA cop protagonist of The Shield (2002-08) regularly tortures information from suspects, but is represented in the show as having to resort to such methods due to the pressure of circumstances. The eponymous Dexter Morgan (Dexter, 2006-13), a Miami-based forensic analyst who is also a serial killer, is nevertheless presented as a victim of a childhood trauma, which produces the murderous adult. Viewers’ understanding of Walter White through most of the run of Breaking Bad (2008-13) is that he is compelled to become a drug manufacturer/dealer in order to pay for medical treatment. Interestingly, this is undermined towards the series’ climax, when he reveals that his criminal actions were more or less freely willed.
This paper begins a consideration of these ostensibly beset male figures in terms of how masculinity and violence are constructed when they are seen as the product of ineluctable forces. One question asked is whether the apparently determining forces shaping their behaviour in fact offer a way in which the protagonists can avoid moral responsibility for their behaviour. A complex matrix of determinism, masculinity and violence underlies and is explored in these three TV series. This paper represents an initial attempt to explore some of the implications of the relationships constructed in these matrices.