No. 17 (2018): Issue No. 17, October 2018 - Main Topic: Television Series

On the cover: Provisonal SALTA Ensemble, Simulation of the frame (Breaking Bad or The Wire or Wormwood), 2018

In the last two decades, television series have grown extremely popular. This popularity rises from the phenomenon called complex television, which was made possible thanks to what media theoreticians, among the first of which was Jason Mittell, call narrative complexity. Narrative complexity developed thanks to the technological transformation of production, broadcasting and especially of the ways of watching television programs. The term revolution in watching is used to denote this transformation, made possible especially by DVDs and downloading. The narrative complexity of television series can be seen within the broader context of the contemporary digital revolution, globalization, neoliberalism, consumerism, media imperialism and narrative imperialism.

The main characteristic of these TV series is hybridity: they are usually realized as a mixture of ‘a series’ and ‘a serial’, as well as by mixing various genres. Some theoreticians, as well as the makers of the series, directly connect the narrative complexity of the TV series with the complexity of novels by writers such as Dickens, Trollope and Zola (Brett Martin, David Simon). Another points to the fact that the TV series have drawn from the already developed literary genres within which they operate (Jean-Pierre Esquenazi).  Others, like Mittell, insist that these TV series and serials are an inherently television genre and that they should be considered as such.

Narrative complexity can also be considered within the context of the commercialization and appropriation of avant-garde strategies by the creative industries. As a consequence of this appropriation, television audiences are used to watching complex audio-visual media representations and narrativizations. Therefore, it is no surprise that audiences of the TV series now enjoy, not only the story told, but also, and even more, trying to understand the way the story is constructed. This creative mechanics has been labeled  metareflexive by Jeffrey Sconce, while Mittell writes of narrative special effects, and Neil Harris writes of operational aesthetics.

The TV series enter into dialogue with contemporary political, economic, social, and cultural tendencies (the economic crisis, the war on terrorism, the decline of the welfare state, the function of mass media in the process of the normalization of contemporary political tendencies, global politics, the decay of medical insurance and all levels of education, along with the culture in general, of drugs and crime, racism and misogyny, violence, and so on). There is some debate, however, about who is genuinely criticizing elements of neoliberalism in these series. Many theoreticians like Fredrick Jameson and Slavoj Žižek have written about the engagement and criticism towards the many aspects of neoliberalism in television serials like The Wire, while others like Liam Kennedy and Stephen Shapiro question whether there is a complicity in their advocacy, which should itself  be criticized.

These television series provoke us to think about the narrative mechanics by which they are constructed, as well as about the way they represent globalization, neoliberalism, post-feminism, etc.

guest issue editor: Dubravka Đurić

Published: 15.10.2018

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