Men with Stakes examines the ways in which the gothic mode is deployed specifically to call into question televisual realism and, with it, conventional depictions of masculinity, especially in relation to agency, power, and legitimated forms of knowledge (science in particular). In this context, it discusses in some depth seven series from the last two decades: American Gothic (CBS, 1995-1996), Millennium (Fox, 1996-1999), Angel (WB, 1999-2004), Carnivàle (HBO, 2003, 2005), Point Pleasant (Fox, 2005-2006), Supernatural (WB, 2005-2006; CW, 2006- ), and American Horror Story (FX, 2011- ). Instead of considering gothic television in terms of its adaptation of gothic literary precedents (another significant thread in gothic film and television studies), this study considers these series in light of gothic studies’ conclusions about the mode itself—from Edmund Burke’s idea of obscurity to the organization of the gothic around different gender questions, and from its allusiveness and challenge to verisimilitude to its emphasis on simulation and fakery.
This chapter lays out the history of US gothic television in relation to the study’s concern with masculinity. It begins by challenging the critical emphasis on televisual realism as the test which gothic fails by exploring gothic television’s critiques of realist assumptions. It then turns to a general history of gothic television in terms of an ongoing concern with, and interrogation of, contemporary gender norms.
Angel, Point Pleasant, and American Gothic all explore in some depth the social and cultural power of paternal authority, and that is the subject of this chapter. While Angel depicts fathers as oppressive task-masters who make their sons feel inadequate, American Gothic and Point Pleasant use controlling fathers to address social dysfunction, particularly gendered violence and competing masculinist ethics. Conventional gothic patriarchs, the fathers discussed here are less flawed characters than vehicles for a larger interrogation of cultural norms and practices.
This chapter focusses on three series in which fathers have a larger-than-life impact because of their absence. On the simple level of plot, this often involves a focus on the quest to find the father, but this chapter is more concerned with what the missing father represents—the power of history, of genealogy, of the divine, or of the domestic as the building block of social order. Fathers here are deflections, distracting us from a messy reality with the simplifying force of myth. The conservative domestic ideal in particular is revealed to be a fantastic surface that deflects attention from complicated social problems.
The horrors of class in Eric Kripke’s Supernatural
Julia M. Wright
This chapter focusses on Supernatural as a series that, in its early seasons, repeatedly calls attention to class and specifically the heroes’ alienation from the norms of televisual realism: a clean and spacious home with an enormous kitchen (somehow available to nearly every tv family this century) that reflects a stable home-life and financial ease. As in an earlier movie by the show’s creator, Eric Kripke, a lower-class background instantiates a deep vulnerability and uncertainty—an alienation from the Leave-It-to-Beaver conventions that televisual realism insists are both "normal" and desirable.
"The Pest House," "Hell House," and "The Murder House"
Julia M. Wright
This chapter traces gothic television’s suspicion of three grounds for the empirical certainty depicted through realism: science, media, and Hollywood itself. In two episodes of Millennium, for instance, scientific profiling fails, and Supernatural’s early seasons return again and again to popular media as a vehicle that produces, rather than represents, the material world. The chapter concludes with the first season of American Horror Story, where the darker history of Hollywood constantly erupts into what is in many respects a conventional narrative of domestic gothic. All of the episodes at the centre of this chapter focus on, or are named for, houses, but as public institutions rather than domestic spaces.
The conclusion examines the gothic conspiracy as a figure for, and vehicle of, interference with free will and, simultaneously, the hidden machinery of history that drives it forward in less-than-providential directions. The conspiracies in the series discussed here mark the failure of masculine autonomy through the power of patriarchy writ large. As an episode title of Lost puts it, "All the Best Cowboys have Daddy Issues": the gothic account of masculinity pits the fantasy of individual masculine power (the hero) against the social reality that only a small elite holds power.