Horror Begins at Home: Family Trauma in Paranormal Reality TV
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This dissertation argues that paranormal reality television is a form of what some have referred to as “trauma television,” a site of struggle between meanings of family and the violence often found in the hegemonic nuclear family ideal. Programs such as A Haunting and Paranormal State articulate family violence and trauma through a paranormal presence in the heteronormative family home, working to make strange and unfamiliar the domestic and familial milieus in which their episodes take place. Although ghosts, demons, and other entities stand in for violence and trauma taking place in the family, the subgenre’s narratives continue to suggest an oppressive situation and leave the hegemonic family ideal open to critique. Paranormal reality television draws on narrative conventions associated with the paranormal family horror film of the 1970s and early 1980s, particularly The Amityville Horror, The Shining, and Poltergeist, which also articulated family trauma following increased attention to family violence during those decades. Presenting forms of difference (race, sexuality, class, etc.) as threatening, recuperative, or absent in relation to the heteronormative family and privileging the “ghost hunter,” paranormal reality marks a powerful convergence of genres and modes, marking it as a site for articulating violence and trauma in the family.