Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Rachel Dubrofsky, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Aisha Durham, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Chris McRae, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Amy Rust, Ph.D.


gender, horror, performance, prestige TV, race, violence


This dissertation examines contemporary horror TV, dissecting the ways it works both to subvert and uphold contemporary social standards about race, gender, class, and ability. This work attends to the moments in horror TV where graphic displays of violence and monstrous characters open up possibilities for innovative and progressive representation of historically marginalized people, as well as those instances that foreclose such potential. Horror TV shows blur the definitions of monster and human, suggesting that humans can be monstrous and that monsters can have humanity. Horror TV is a platform through which we see the coming together of a traditional logic about what is and what is supposed to be with a radical suggestion that, perhaps, things could be another way. This dissertation closely examines two seasons of American Horror Story – Coven and Freakshow – along with Hannibal and Penny Dreadful, as symptomatic texts of a dynamic sociopolitical moment in the United States where progressive and conservative worldviews sometimes violently clash.

This dissertation examines the role of performance in horror TV, literal and figurative theater spaces that frame action in ways that disrupt hetero-patriarchal epistemologies. Order and chaos, reason and emotion, the natural and the supernatural often “crash” together in violent ways on the stages of horror TV, sometimes inviting something alternative to emerge. These often-violent performances serve as microcosms for the larger set of narratives and images we see in horror TV.

This dissertation examines the figure of the dandy, who emerges in all the horror TV shows included in this work. The dandy is a contradictory character, at once queering social conventions of white masculinity, while also recuperating a traditional and dominant social position through violence. The dandy’s violent behavior is a kind of consumption: the taking of bodies and lives to satisfy their boredom. The horror TV dandy may be villainous, but is also the embodiment of the contemporary, good, white citizen who puts consuming above all else.

This dissertation also attends to the ways that horror TV is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the product of a white imagination. Horror TV masks the ways that it forwards a white worldview by portraying stories about racial difference and racism, while narratively confining the material implications of racism to the past. Some horror TV shows further center whiteness by suggesting that “horror” (the weird, the macabre, and the terrifying) comes from a distant and exotic place – specifically the Dark Continent of Africa or the Exotic East of Japan and India.

Contemporary horror TV, however, presents some of the most innovative portrayals of (mostly white) women in lead roles through the figure of the antihero. The women antiheroes of horror TV act via their relationship to cultural and political oppression, often in the form of violence. As a result of the traumas they have experienced, the women of horror TV embody both heroic and villainous qualities. The antihero women speak to contemporary cultural attitudes about women’s changing position in the United States, and that we only see white leading antihero women on horror TV points to the fact that women of color are not afforded the same multifaceted representation.

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