Feel-Sad TV: Sadness Pornography in Contemporary Serials

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This article develops a theory of sadness pornographies in contemporary feel-sad television. Under the sad porn category, the essay explores a key sub-genre in contemporary serial dramas: trauma porn. The article is anchored in an affective analysis of two contemporary serials: Amazon's Transparent and NBC's This Is Us, both of which center multigenerational, familial trauma. Through a combined Berlantian and Spinozist optic, the essay attends to various episodes from the two serials to illuminate the phenomenon of trauma porn in current feel-sad media. In this reading, the essay considers how Spinoza's understandings of the temporality of affect relate to the particular temporalities of traumatic TV in its streaming and broadcast formats. In the analytic process, the article constructs a speculative spectator, who craves feel-sad media to affectively self-reproduce - to emotionally endure - in the face of current workspaces' managed non-catharsis. The essay concludes with a theory of sad-joy, framed by Spinoza's affective schema, to dramatize a singularly contemporary mode of purgation, one which succeeds classical and modern theories of cathartic tragedy.






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Beaver, Blake (2019). Feel-Sad TV: Sadness Pornography in Contemporary Serials. disClosure, 28. pp. 1–12. 10.13023/disclosure.28.01 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/20519.

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Blake Beaver


Blake Karsten Beaver is a PhD candidate in the interdisciplinary Program in Literature at Duke University and a scholar of media history, theory, and criticism. His research addresses the intermedial relations between 20th- and 21st-century audiovisual media, with a particular focus on television and the medium’s positioning within our broader thinking around technology, politics, genre, gender, and sexuality. His dissertation, Residues of the Televisual Family: Technological Allegory in the U.S. Family Drama, 2001-2023, examines the complex relationships between technological change and cultural ideals of the family in the United States since the digital turn. Focusing on Six Feet UnderBrothers & SistersFriday Night Lights, and Succession, Blake argues that the changing technologies of television distribution produce new cultural imaginaries of the American family. More generally, Blake's interests include television, new media, gender & sexuality, and genre studies (drama, reality TV, soap opera, and telenovela). 

Before beginning his graduate career, Blake worked as a media practitioner, planning and buying print, TV, and digital media at advertising agencies in New York and Chicago on behalf of telecom, building materials, and insurance brands.

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