Forming Communities through Filmic Seriality: Approaches to Loneliness in Popular TV Series

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:30
Oral Presentation
Denis NEWIAK, Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg, Germany
Serial entertainment formats—especially those provided through new distribution channels like “Netflix” and “Amazon Video”—have gained more and more popularity in the last decade, but why? The expansion of series like Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, and 13 Reasons Why coincides with the development of increasingly complex media technologies: Since the beginning of the 21st century, new mass media systems like ‘social networks’ and intelligent virtual assistants provide extensive virtual communicative communities, but at the same time, they generate a sense of being abandoned in front of the media surfaces, the feeling of a ‘nihilistic solitude’ which Nietzsche predicted for our postmodern ‘demoralized’ era when he declared “God’s Death” 130 years ago.

This torture of loneliness seems to be the main topic of popular TV series: Formats like The Office and Scrubs as well as Hannibal and Bates Motel generate their entertainment value by transforming their painful solitudes to fictional communities through complex and yearlong lasting dramaturgies. Especially “sit-coms” like Two and a Half Men, Mike & Molly, and The Big Bang Theory live on their discourse on loneliness through narration and enactment: The focus of those apparently endless dramaturgies lies in the characters’ individual strategies of coping with their inability to form viable (pair) communities. Equally, successful serial movie franchises like James Bond, Twilight, and Spider Man must be seen in this perspective.

Based on latest film theory and selected examples from contemporary television, I want to demonstrate how the situation of separated TV reception generates a substitutional conversation with an imaginary telemedial community, producing a common reference and sign system of life in a highly diversified society—both on the screen and in front of it. However, television does not neutrally ‘mirror’ social trends of individualization, but is indeed actively involved in this general societal development of increasing isolation.