Pleasures of the spectatorium : young people, classrooms and horror films
This thesis is an ethnographic study of Year 9 school pupils' responses to horror films, and, in particular, The Company of Wolves (Jordan, 1984). It employs social semiotic theory to analyse both film texts and audience engagements with such texts, exploring how such engagements involve transformations of subjectivity, particular kinds of competence in reading visual codes, and certain types of affective response to horror texts. It explores, briefly, histories of elements of the horror genre, especially the figures of the werewolf and the folktale heroine, in the period from the Enlightenment to the present day. The thesis develops a theory of textual pleasure in relation to horror films, drawing on Bakhtin's theory of carnival, Freud's theories of pleasure, and Bourdieu's theory of taste. It argues that fear and pleasure are related in this context; that such pleasures are socially situated; and that they relate to forms of textual identification. A theory of the sublime is also developed in the context of the social semiotics of film, exploring the history of the sublime from Kant and Burke to postmodernist theory. It is argued that sublime images operate through a dialectic of revelation and concealment, and that audiences replicate this mechanism in their viewing, and in the social sites in which they spectate. These structures are associated, furthermore, with socially-determined structures of aesthetic taste, and ways in which these in turn determine texts as popular or elite (or a hybrid of the two). Finally, the thesis addresses the pedagogies of English and Media Studies, arguing that classrooms need to become spectatorial spaces, open to new literacies of the visual, and equipped with the texts, technologies, and practices adequate to these new competences.