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The Gothic As Soap Opera: Dark Shadows and Uncanny Domesticity

We continue our 6-week course on classic American horror television with Mario DeGiglio-Bellemare’s course on Dan Curtis’ gothic soap opera DARK SHADOWS. For a show with over 1100 episodes, this is sure to be a great historical primer as well as a rousing theoretical discussion. Admission $7.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013, 7:00pm-10:00pm
The Gothic As Soap Opera: Dark Shadows and Uncanny Domesticity
Instructors: Mario DeGiglio-Bellemare and Anne Golden

From 1966-1971, ABC-TV broadcast a 30 minute daytime Gothic soap opera called Dark Shadows. Produced by an “auteur” of television horror, Dan Curtis, the show began as a brooding gothic tale in the style of Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë), and quickly established itself as a vehicle for ghosts, witches, vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein-like creatures. Dark Shadows brought into the living rooms of millions of Americans elements that have come to be associated with the 18th century Gothic, such as supernatural beings, malevolent aristocrats, orphaned daughters, family dishonour, old castles, craggy rocks, stormy weather, hidden passageways, persecuted romance, wanderers and uncanny doubles, and above all, an excess of tragic romance that only a soap opera could deliver. As Richard Davenport-Hines argues, the Gothic and the soap opera have much in common: “confused paternities, improbable coincidences, melodrama, sudden death, cheap ideas, trivially stereotypical characters, [the] television soap opera provides the twentieth century equivalent of the gothic novels.”

But more importantly, the Gothic and the soap opera have traditionally been associated with women and the domesticity. This section of the course will trace the evolution of Dark Shadows as a show that was radically uncanny (unheimlich), precisely because it fuelled anxieties around domestic space, where the boundaries between the public and private collapse. In this uncanny ambiguity arises subversions to the patriarchal family: powerful matriarchs, hysterical males, “queer” characters, youth with agency, powerful witches, parodic  portrayals of the gothic ingenue, a reluctant vampire, etc. Because it was a daytime soap opera, the Gothic was not only presented in simply temporal categories (a return to the past), but as an invasion of domestic quotidian space.

Reading: Wheatley, Helen. 2006. Gothic Television. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press (pp. 146-160).

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