Crossing Over: Interactions with(in) the Permeable Screen
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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Within American culture, the television is arguably one of the more common modes of social discourse and entertainment. However, there are a number of literary responses to the medium (as well as other screen devices) that aim to reflect upon the overwhelming and psychically damaging nature of viewership. The purpose of this project is to investigate a number of plays and novels alongside television and digital media to examine the effects of the screen (TV and computer) in relation to the embodiment of its viewer/user. Chapter One focuses on Jean-Claude van Itallie’s TV and Eat Cake, two plays that posit a televised image that has corporeal weight and influence over social reality. Chapter Two examines how Suzan-Lori Parks’ The America Play expounds upon a similar idea to that of Chapter One, focusing on an image that leaves the screen only to problematize the realm of the real. Chapter Three examines Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Ray Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian” as a form of comparison to demonstrate that, though the television series and the short story (respectively) are separated by over 50 years, similar concerns appear in American culture in both, namely the idea that death can be made manifest in the screen. Both emphasize the passivity of the viewer as well as the captive nature of the screen, reconfiguring both the social coordinates of its viewers and cultural memory, especially in relation to the deconstructed binary of life and death. Chapter Four moves away from television screens to examine digital spaces more closely in Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge. The reason for this shift in medium is precisely because television and the Internet are more closely entwined with each other now, and similar concerns from the earlier media arise in this one as well. I conclude that these various discourses demonstrate a need to reflect on the screen as a device capable of modifying the social sphere as well as our conception of embodiment. Though the screen itself is a powerful mechanism, I suggest an examination of its placement in American culture and self-reflection by its viewers/users to understand its effects and to prevent the problems demonstrated by these varying media: full immersion in the image as a new form inseparable from reality.