Culture Wars in Gothic Mode: The Example of HBO’s Miniseries Sharp Objects
Keywords:Southern Gothic, American culture wars, HBO
Cultural and political polarization in The United States has been a prominent topic both in social sciences and the media since the beginning of the 1990s. Whether the polarization is understood as a deep moral divide among Americans, i.e., as the culture war between liberals and conservatives, or as a superficially maintained political hostility, i.e., as party sorting between Democrats and Republicans, most scholars agree that the media sphere is deeply polarized, especially since 2016 when Donald Trump emerged as a political figure and then the U.S. president. HBO, known for its progressive cultural capital and liberal ethos, distinguishes itself in the daring narrative productions which often tackle polarizing themes of race, gender, sexuality, etc. Gothic mode or genre is among the often-employed narrative styles of its productions. American gothic, also the subject of increasing academic interest in recent decades, has been largely considered within its cultural and historical context and interpreted as a site where the nation’s historical benighted ghosts disrupt and challenge official enlightened national narratives. As HBO’s original production told in a gothic mode, Sharp Objects (2018) will be contextualized within the U.S. culture wars and analyzed as a Southern Gothic tale told from the liberal progressive perspective. The show’s narrative will be seen as a gothic journey deep into the South by a liberal heroine haunted by her conservative ghosts, who attempts to face and settle them. The paper explores the thesis that the gothic disruptive potential is of a conditional and limited impact on liberal America’s Enlightenment narrative.
Akass, Kim, and Janet McCabe. 2018. “HBO and the Aristocracy of Contemporary TV Culture: Affiliations and Legitimatising Television Culture, Post-2007.” Mise au point [Online], no. 10. http://journals.openedition.org/map/2472.
Bianculli, David. 2008. “True Blood,” Tasty New TV From Alan Ball And HBO. NPR September 5, 2008. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94320825.
Bowman, Carl Desportes. 2010. “The Myth of a Non-Polarized America.” The Hedgehog Review, 12(3): 65-77. https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/does-religious-pluralism-require-secularism/articles/the-myth-of-a-non-polarized-america.
Bramen, Carrie Tirado. 2017. “Introduction: American Niceness and the Democratic Personality.” In American Niceness: A Cultural History. Cambridge – London: Harvard University Press. Kindle.
Campbell, Bradley and Jason Manning. 2018. The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. E-book.
Castillo Street, Susan and Charles L. Crow. 2016. “Introduction: Down at the Crossroads.” In The Palgrave Handbook of the Southern Gothic, edited by Susan Castillo Street and Charles L. Crow, 1-6. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Cherry, Brigid. 2016. “Shadows on the Small Screen: The Televisuality and Generic Hybridity of Southern Gothic.” In The Palgrave Handbook of the Southern Gothic, edited by Susan Castillo Street and Charles L. Crow, 461-472. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
DiMaggio, Paul, John Evans, and Bethany Bryson. 1996. “Have Americans’ Social Attitudes Become More Polarized?” American Journal of Sociology, 102(3): 690-755. https://doi.org/10.1086/230995.
Edgerton, Gary R., and Jeffrey P. Jones, eds. 2008. The Essential HBO Reader. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.
Fiedler, Leslie A. 1960. Love and Death in the American Novel. New York: Criterion Books.
Fiorina, Morris P., with Samuel J. Abrams, and Jeremy C. Pope. 2005. Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America. New York: Pearson Longman.
Fiorina, Morris P. 2017. Unstable Majorities: Polarization, Party Sorting, and Political Stalemate. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press.
Foster, Emily. 2018. “Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects: Re-Writing The Woman in White.” Politics / Letters, December 20, 2018. http://quarterly.politicsslashletters.org/gillian-flynns-sharp-objects-re-writing-the-woman-in-white/.
Garvin, Glenn. 2018. “HBO's Creaky Adaptation of Sharp Objects Will Make You Want to Stab Yourself.” Reason July 6, 2018. https://reason.com/2018/07/06/hbos-creaky-adaptation-of-sharp-objects.
Gelfand, Michele, Joshua Conrad Jackson, and Jesse R. Harrington. 2016. “Trump Culture: Threat, Fear and the Tightening of the American Mind.” The Conversation April 27, 2016. https://theconversation.com/trump-culture-threat-fear-and-the-tightening-of-the-american-mind-57866.
Gilbert, Sophie. 2018. “Is Television Ready for Angry Women?” The Atlantic June 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/marti-noxon/559115.
Gilbert, Sophie. 2018a. “The Twisted, Enthralling Rot of Sharp Objects.” The Atlantic July 7, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/07/sharp-objects-review-hbo/564524/?utm_source=feed.
Goddu, Teresa A. 1997. Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation. New York: Columbia University Press.
Graham, Allison. 2007. “The South in Popular Culture.” In A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American South, edited by Richard Gray and Owen Robinson, 335-351. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.
Griffin, Larry J. and Don Harrison Doyle. 1995. “Introduction.” In The South as an American Problem, edited by Larry J. Griffin and Don Harrison Doyle, 1-9. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Griffin, Larry J. 1995. “Why Was the South a Problem to America?” In The South as an American Problem, edited by Larry J. Griffin and Don Harrison Doyle, 10-32. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Holter, Lauren. 2016. “5 Times John Oliver Changed the World (Kinda).” Bustle February 08, 2016. https://www.bustle.com/articles/140358-5-times-john-oliver-made-a-real-impact-proved-that-late-night-shows-arent-all-fun.
Howe, Daniel Walker. 1997. Making the American Self: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Hunter, James Davison. 1991. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York: BasicBooks.
Hunter, James Davison and Alan Wolfe. 2006. Is There a Culture War? A Dialogue on Values and American Public Life. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center Brookings Institution Press.
Jung, Berenike and Lukas R.A. Wilde. 2020. “Unraveling the ‘Trump Shock,’ or the intertwined threat communication of ‘Post-11/9’.” In Threat Communication and the US Order after 9/11: Medial Reflections, edited by Vanessa Ossa, David Scheu, and Lukas R. A. Wilde, 156-175. London: Routledge.
Lelkes, Yphtach. 2016. “Mass Polarization: Manifestations and Measurements.” Public Opinion Quarterly, 80(S1): 392–410. https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfw005.
Lloyd, Christopher. 2015. “The Region and Beyond: From the South to the Postsouth.” In Rooting Memory, Rooting Place: Regionalism in the Twenty-First-Century American South. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lloyd-Smith, Allan. 2004. American Gothic Fiction: An Introduction. New York – London: Continuum.
Luckerson, Victor. 2015. “The John Oliver Effect: The HBO Host’s Real-World Impact.” Time January 20, 2015. http://time.com/3674807/john-oliver-net-neutrality-civil-forfeiture-miss-america.
McFarland, Melanie. 2018. “Women's Anger Is Not to Be Ignored: Lessons from HBO's ‘Sharp Objects’.” Salon July 7, 2018. https://www.salon.com/2018/07/07/hbos-sharp-objects-why-womens-anger-is-not-to-be-ignored.
Munford, R. 2012. “Family.” In The Encyclopedia of the Gothic, edited by William Hughes, David Punter, and Andrew Smith. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118398500.wbeotgf001.
Ortner, Sherry B. 2013. “Not a History Lesson: The Erasure of Politics in American Cinema.” Visual Anthropology Review 29(2): 77–88. DOI: 10.1111/var.12006.
Oyler, Lauren. 2018. “Gillian Flynn Peers Into the Dark Side of Femininity.” The New York Times Magazine November 8, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/08/magazine/gillian-flynn-women.html.
Parmett, Helen Morgan. 2016. “It's HBO: Passionate Engagement, TV Branding, and Tourism in the Postbroadcast Era.” Communication and Critical / Cultural Studies 13(1): 3-22. https://doi.org/10.1080/14791420.2015.1068431.
Poniewozik, James. 2018. “‘Sharp Objects,’ a Mesmerizing Southern Thriller, Cuts Slow but Deep.” The New York Times July 5, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/05/arts/television/sharp-objects-review-amy-adams-hbo.html.
Rosa, Jonathan and Yarimar Bonilla. 2017. “Deprovincializing Trump, Decolonizing Diversity, and Unsettling Anthropology.” American Ethnologist 44(2): 1–8. DOI: 10.1111/amet.12468.
Rothkopf, Joanna. 2012. “The Anti–Lisbeth Salanders: Gillian Flynn's Tough Heroines.” The Atlantic September 12, 2012. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/09/the-anti-lisbeth-salanders-gillian-flynns-tough-heroines/262103.
Savoy, Eric. 1998. “The Face of the Tenant: A Theory of American Gothic.” In American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative, edited by Robert K. Martin and Eric Savoy, 3-19. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
Seidel, Kathryn L. 1977. “The Southern Belle as an Antebellum Ideal.” Southern Quarterly 15(4) (Jul 01): 387-401.
Soltysik Monnet, Agnieszka. 2010. The Poetics and Politics of the American Gothic: Gender and Slavery in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Surrey: Ashgate.
Spears, Kate. 2011. “Anatomy of a Southern Belle.” Deep South Magazine June 2, 2011. https://deepsouthmag.com/2011/06/02/anatomy-of-a-southern-belle/.
Wickberg, Daniel. 1998. The Senses of Humor: Self and Laughter in Modern America. Ithaca – London: Cornell University Press.
Wilkinson, Alissa. 2019. “5 Years in, HBO’s Last Week Tonight Is a Lot More Than ‘Just Comedy’”. Vox February 17, 2019. https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/2/14/18213228/last-week-tonight-john-oliver-hbo-season-six.
Wolfe, Alan. 1998. One Nation, After All. What Middle-Class Americans Really Think About: God, Country, Family, Racism, Welfare, Immigration, Homosexuality, Work, the Right, the Left, and Each Other. New York: Penguin Books.
How to Cite
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.