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Melodramatic and moral readings of gay conversion therapy in A Place to Call Home
Alley-Young Gordon R.

A Place to Call Home is a televised serial family drama set in post-WWII Australia (1950s–1960s) that chronicles the lives of the Bligh family from the fictional rural town of Inverness, New South Wales, Australia. A key storyline of the series is that of eldest son James who has returned from England with his new bride while hiding his homosexuality. James ultimately attempts to change his sexual orientation, also called sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), at a private clinic. This chapter critically examines the televisual depiction of James’s SOCE through several lenses that draw upon critical scholarship about melodrama and period drama as media genres for depicting LGBTQ+ histories, studies of post-WWII family and society (e.g., the rise of science/medicine as a cure-all for perceived social ills), and postcolonial theories of race and sexuality (e.g., the propagation of the white European heteronormative family). Depictions of James’s SOCE experience are read through historical accounts of individuals who have survived SOCE to address issues of realism and how televisual frames change how we understand SOCE, specifically how the elements of melodrama are used to accentuate affective and psychological aspects of James’s experience to elicit audience empathy/sympathy and thus social acceptance of homosexuality. The chapter considers the impact that the series could have had on Australia’s same-sex marriage debate and plebiscite that were occurring as James’s storyline was playing out on Australian television.

in Diagnosing history
African American physicians in television period dramas
Kevin McQueeney

This chapter looks at American period dramas’ portrayal of Black physicians on five shows: CBS’s M*A*S*H*; BBC America’s Copper; Showtime’s Masters of Sex; Cinemax’s The Knick; and PBS’s Mercy Street. It examines how these shows have depicted African American doctors: whether these characters are historically accurate; whether they are nuanced or stereotypical; and how they have contributed to or helped to challenge entrenched historical myths and misconceptions of Black doctors.

Analysis reveals the characters are largely complex and historically accurate. Through these characters, based on real-life figures, viewers can learn about obstacles that African Americans faced in becoming doctors, including rejection by white peers and patients and everyday racism and violence. The shows also detail the courage that was required to challenge these limitations and hints at their roles as community leaders and activists. However, there are problems with some of the portrayals. The characters follow some of the tropes of the Black professional seen in contemporary medical dramas: the exceptional, brilliant, ambitious individual achieving success through personal dedication and hard work. The characters are all men, reflective of the continued underrepresentation of Black women in television shows. Additionally, the characters are primarily significant individuals in an ensemble, but not the main characters in the shows, who are all white; The Knick is the sole exception. Finally, the roles of Black doctors as leaders in the Black freedom movement is largely absent, and instead, the shows focus primarily on the characters’ singular struggles against oppression.

in Diagnosing history
Open Access (free)
Beckett and television technologies
Jonathan Bignell

This chapter analyses the aesthetics of Beckett’s dramas for TV, in relation to theorisations of the significance of texture in television and film, and histories of television production and reception technologies. It compares Walter Asmus’s 1986 television version of Was Wo [What Where] with his 2013 reworking of the same drama for the screen. The earlier version was broadcast in 625-line video, limiting contrasts between light and dark, whereas the 2013 What Where is in HD digital format, enhancing image clarity but stretching the limits of TV technology for the representation of black. These technical and aesthetic comparisons are placed in the context of Beckett’s earlier screen dramas of the 1960s and 1970s, which also exploited and challenged the video and film technologies used to produce them. By focusing on black, the chapter explores the significance of unlit space and texture in Beckett’s screen work. It argues that Beckett’s TV work uses the apparent nullity of black to draw attention to the representational capabilities of the TV screen, and links visual style to the materiality of television technologies.

in Beckett and media
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Medicine in television period drama

This collection examines the representation of medicine and medical practices in period drama on television. It explores the fascination that the genre has with the history of illness and the medical profession, which is apparent in the huge number of shows which have medicine as either their narrative focus or as important subplots. Chapter topics are interdisciplinary in nature and range from the professionalisation of medicine in Poldark to the representation of mental illness in Peaky Blinders. This volume reflects on the ways popular culture has constructed and considered the frailty of the human body, the progress – or otherwise – of science, the intersection of medicine, race, class, and gender, and the provision of public healthcare. These dramas do not only reveal much about how we view our corporeal past, however. All these issues are still pertinent today, and frequently they also function as a commentary on, and often a critique of, the issues surrounding medicine in the present day – in particular debates around public health provision, the politics of reproduction, genetic testing and research, and global pandemics.

Nicholas Johnson

This chapter examines the intermedial performance history of Samuel Beckett’s 1963 Play, with a focus on the emergence of digital technologies and the evolving role of the director. Beginning with attention to the play’s ‘first wave’ of adaptations to radio and film in the 1960s, all of which proceeded with Beckett’s involvement and approval, the chapter demonstrates the flexibility and experimentalism inherent in Play’s algorithmic structure. It argues that a ‘second wave’ of Play’s performance and reception, involving digital and cybernetic technologies, has emerged since the 1990s, ranging from robotically controlled theatre lighting to ‘gamification’ of narrative in virtual and augmented reality. The directorial process for the author’s work with Play over a ten-year period is documented and analysed, including presentations of Play within Ethica (2012–13), Intermedial Play (2017), Virtual Play (2017–19) and Augmented Play (2018–19). Ultimately, this chapter suggests that while activating (and altering) Beckett’s text in newly available media may at first appear to be a radical break, such practice actually fits within a robust experimental tradition, highlighting both the openness of Play’s dramaturgy and its surprising continuity over time.

in Beckett and media
Towards a digital Complete Works Edition
Dirk Van Hulle

This chapter is a plea for a digital edition of Samuel Beckett’s complete works. Apart from the published works, the corpus for such an edition includes the manuscripts, typescripts and proofs of all of these works, as well as notebooks with reading notes that were used in the drafting process and unfinished works. In addition to the integration of Beckett’s digitised personal library, the editorial model includes a reconstruction of the virtual library. The aim of such a digital complete works edition is to respect the complexity of Beckett’s oeuvre and present it as both a product and a process, without abandoning readers in the chaos of manuscripts. Digital media provide us with the means to design the tools that enable readers to explore this complexity, characterised by its dialectic of completion and incompletion.

in Beckett and media
Open Access (free)
Beckett’s media mysticism in and beyond Rough for Theatre II
Balazs Rapcsak

With a focus on Fragment de Théâtre II (1958), this chapter explores Beckett’s artistic experimentation with symbolic logic, Boolean algebra, alternating currents, electric switches and incandescent light bulbs, linking it to the history of digital technology to inquire into Beckett’s engagement with the nexus between literary representation and electronic data processing. The chapter discusses the role of bird speech and the divine language in Théâtre II and elsewhere in Beckett’s search for the other of signification and his increasingly radical attempts to bring the game of literature to an end. The chapter argues that the notion of currents travelling (and staying) inside circuits offered Beckett a model radically different from that of intersubjective or intrasubjective dialogue. By reimagining the stage as a switching circuit, Beckett makes a step towards the media-technological realisation of non-representational drama.

in Beckett and media
The lady physician in the American western
Antonovich Jacqueline D.

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman became must-see TV for many families in 1990s America. The show featured a woman physician practising medicine in the American West, while simultaneously bringing ‘civility’ to the frontier. Dr. Quinn followed in the footsteps of several novels, plays, TV shows, and films produced throughout the twentieth century that used the figure of the western woman physician to explore shifting sex and gender norms. This chapter examines fictionalised women physicians in three distinct periods. The Progressive Era (1900–1920) explores how feminist writers and silent filmmakers created contrasting depictions of women physicians in the American West. While feminists characterised them as guiding lights of morality and modernity, filmmakers depicted them as comically subverting traditional gender and sexual mores. The second period, mid-century (1950s–1970s), examines women physicians during the heyday of the television western. Amid the Cold War, westerns became a new vehicle for exploring masculinity, violence, and shifting political climates, with women physicians relegated to background characters. Finally, this chapter traces the re-emergence of the western woman physician as a feminist symbol in the closing decades of the twentieth century (1980s–1990s). Following the rise of women’s history, female physicians underwent a reappraisal from both feminist scholars and popular culture, culminating in the television show, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. In emphasising maternalism and progressive politics, the show embodied the goals of first-wave feminism, while also embracing a distinct 1990s multiculturalism that elided the racial politics of actual women physicians in the region at the turn of the century.

in Diagnosing history
Portraying medicine, poverty, and the bubonic plague in La Peste
Ragas José, Palma Patricia, and González-Donoso Guillermo

With a ten-million-euro budget and 400 extras on set, La Peste (The Plague) – a ten-episode TV show produced by Spanish communication conglomerate Movistar and aired in January 2018 – became not only the most ambitious production in Spanish television history but also an overnight sensation among viewers and critics. This chapter examines how La Peste combines historical accuracy and fiction to portray the role of medicine, health agents, and population around a late sixteenth-century epidemic outbreak. Its release coincided with the centennial of the Spanish flu that killed twenty to fifty million people around the globe. In placing the epidemic at the core of the narrative, the show unveils the multiple yet contradictory ways people from various social groups and backgrounds reacted to the pandemic: either to save their own lives, procure a cure for others, or to take advantage of the crisis.

The chapter highlights what makes La Peste a relevant case to study. As part of its marketing campaign, the production team deliberately sought to trespass the screen and insert the narrative into people’s daily lives. This team designed in advance of the TV series an interactive website with digital resources on the history of medicine and historical sites. Furthermore, in the days prior to the launch, several golden rats appeared in the streets of Seville to announce the show. While some viewers expressed their discomfort with the crude scenes depicting poor living conditions, others engaged with the campaign. As a result of this, La Peste constitutes a fascinating example of the possibilities offered by TV shows as vehicles for disseminating historical medical knowledge to a vast audience.

in Diagnosing history
Katherine Byrne

Call the Midwife is one of the BBC’s most popular and most long-running series. It sets out to construct the NHS as part of British heritage, reminding the modern viewer of the importance of free healthcare at a time when it has been under attack by austerity politics. In doing so, however, it has courted controversy, inviting debates about the politics of fertility through contraception and abortion plots which have received mixed reviews from feminists and conservatives alike. In addition, as this chapter will discuss, with its emphasis on the ‘heroic’ natural birth and the courageous ‘labour’ of women, it reflects the position of the midwifery profession in regard to their championing of vaginal delivery (Takeshita, 2017). Birth has long been a much-contested area (Mander and Murphy-Lawless, 2013) and the Royal College of Midwives in Britain has been at the centre of controversy in the last few years concerning the relationship between their anti-intervention position and birth complications and mortality. The show does appear to have done much to redeem a profession that has historically been vilified or side-lined, partly because it is female-dominated, and it reminds the audience of the value and importance of its contribution to society. The problem remains, however, that it is largely unwilling to challenge midwifery’s continuing assertion that natural is best, even if that means long-term physical or emotional implications for mothers who do not manage to – or even wish to – achieve a ‘heroic’ birth.

in Diagnosing history