Contemporary television series such as The Sopranos (HBO, 1999 – 2007), The Wire (2002 – 2008) and Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013) have generated substantial critical and academic interest. Yet only a limited amount of studies have explored the ways in which viewers relate to television characters. The aim of my PhD research project is to investigate how viewers engage with television characters on a cognitive level. Drawing from various fields of study, for example, cognitive media theory, television studies, literary studies, psychology, sociology, and neuroscience, I will examine various aspects of character engagement with television characters such as empathy, sympathy, and identification.
In particular, I will examine how aspects that are emblematic for television narration such as serial storytelling and the open-endedness of many television series affect how viewers engage with television characters. However, I am not interested in merely applying cognitive film theory to television narratives since I believe this is a shortcoming of many already existing television theories. Instead, I will draw from different theories on engagement with fictional characters from various fields of study and examine them within a television studies context in order to develop a theory of engagement with television characters that is inherently tied to the television medium. The main part of my research project will be an analysis of different forms of engagement with television characters across a wide range of television genres and formats. For example, I will investigate engaging with morally ambiguous characters in Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011 – ) and Sons of Anarchy (FX, 2008 – ), engaging with protagonists that suffer from mental health issues in Homeland (Showtime, 2011 – ) and The Bridge (FX, 2013 – ), and engaging with non-fictional television characters in The Only Way is Essex (ITV2, 2010 – ) and Geordie Shore (MTV, 2011 – ). Across these case studies, I will explore questions such as: How do television narratives align viewers with a character? Does being aligned with a character affect how viewers perceive other characters within the narrative or understand the narrative as a whole? How much do viewers need to know about a television character in order to form an allegiance with her? What happens if viewers switch their allegiance in the course of the narrative? Does serial storytelling affect how viewers engage with television characters? Do viewers engage differently with non-fictional television characters as opposed to fictional ones?
- Kroener, Oliver. “Breaking Narrative - Narrative Complexity in Contemporary Television.” Critical Reflections on Audience and Narrativity New Connections, New Perspectives. Ed. Bianca Mitu, Silvia Branea, and Valentina Marinescu. Stuttgart: ibidem, 2014. 77–89. Print.
- CONGRESS 2013, FILM STUDIES ASSOCIATION OF CANADA, THE UNIVERSITY OF VICTORIA, VICTORIA, CANADA, JUNE 2013
- Paper: “Breaking Narrative — Narrative Complexity in Contemporary Television.”
- ENDNOTES 2012, THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA, VANCOUVER, CANADA, MAY 2012
- Paper: “Made In America — The American Dream in Contemporary Television Drama.”
- GUEST LECTURE (WITH DR. LISA COULTHARD), EMILY CARR UNIVERSITY OF ART AND DESIGN, VANCOUVER, CANADA, MARCH 2012
- Paper: “Made In America — The American Dream in HBO’s The Wire.”