Fathers of the nation: U.S. gender history, racial capitalism and white fatherhood in contemporary American TV series (2001-2016)

Sandra Becker

    Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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    From ‘Founding Fathers’ to ‘Homeland Security’ and ‘Daddy Trump’ – U.S. political discourses have a long tradition of patriarchal family rhetoric.

    Quality TV drama series – the ‘pre-eminent narrative medium of our time’ (Dean J. DeFino) – have likewise been dominated by portrayals of families and their white patriarchs, whether they be meth-cooking teachers (Breaking Bad), zombie apocalypse survivors (The Walking Dead), or callboys (Hung).

    Drawing upon Raymond Williams’ concept of the ‘structure of feeling’, I contend in my dissertation that these series operate and reflect on a similar affectively experienced cultural zeitgeist in the United States – which is at once characteristic of this troubled period marked by the gendered twin crises of 9/11 and the Great Recession, but also forms part of a continuing, cyclic nostalgic desire in times of change and uncertainty.

    My project combines approaches from cultural studies, gender studies, and American cultural history with research and methodologies from film and television studies. By analyzing how heterosexual, white fathers play central roles in contemporary American television drama series, I identify values and idea(l)s mobilized in the portrayals of white fatherhood in the individual shows and read these against the longer cultural history of the United States.

    I thereby argue that earlier ideals of U.S. masculinity such as the ‘self-made man’ (Michael Kimmel) have been substituted over the course of the twentieth century by the white, heterosexual breadwinner, who becomes the center for addressing socio-cultural changes and struggles in neoliberal capitalism at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • Strandvad, Sara, Supervisor
    • Hassler-Forest, D.A., Co-supervisor, External person
    • Jelfs, Timothy, Co-supervisor
    Award date2-Feb-2023
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Publication statusPublished - 2023


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