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The Moral Spectator: Engagement in Morally Transgressive Characters in the Television Series Dexter, The Sopranos and The Wire

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How come we as spectators fail to sympathize with morally transgressive antagonists, but may sympathize with morally transgressive protagonists? This project will combine 1) philosophical study of a) existing empirical research in media psychology and b) writings on the puzzle of imaginative resistance in philosophy, with 2) textual analysis of the contemporary American TV-series The Sopranos, Dexter and The Wire. I will thus explore spectator moral psychology, and narrative techniques in television serie s with morally transgressive main characters. What separates the 'good' characters from the 'bad' - morally and/or narratively - in recent television series? I hypothesize that both moral feelings and narrative techniques guide the spectator's engagement in television series with morally transgressive main characters and/or complex sympathy structures. Are there some essential features as to what makes a character sympathetic/protagonistic or antipathetic/antagonistic, or are some actions and attitudes a ntagonistic in one given story, and protagonistic in another, simply due to story conventions? If so, textual analysis of the television series will reveal what kind of narrative techniques can be used to make the spectator engage in perspectives, actions or attitudes that would be deemed immoral in another narrative setting. Through this study, I want to address the specificity of sympathy construction in recent television narratives. I hypothesize that long narrational arcs combined with episodic varia tions allow for exploration of sympathy for different characters at different times. Are the theoretical conceptualizations of spectator engagement taken from film theory, sufficient to describe spectator engagement in television series, or are other noti ons needed?


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