War stories TV tells : genre, gender and post-9/11 television
Since 2003, the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have been present on television in ways that are distinct from previous conflicts, yet media studies have only begun to examine how these contemporary war narratives are becoming more commonplace on entertainment television. This study is an examination of television series that have depicted US conflicts abroad since the 2003 invasion of Iraq in order to survey the popularization of wartime narratives as they are seen across a wide range of programming. Jeanine Basinger and other scholars like Susan Jeffords have posited that war narratives and their reproductions are inherently gendered texts that tend to privilege men in combat while excluding women on the homefront. This exclusion functions to emphasize, celebrate, and restore traditional notions of masculinity tied up in the homosocial nature of war. This study then asks how entertainment television addresses war as a domestic medium that takes part in gendered formulas. Looking at and beyond dramatizations of ground combat so often invoked in limited series like Off to War (2005) and Generation Kill (2008), this study also highlights the proliferation of war themes in more “feminine” genres like the soap opera. What do female audiences and melodrama posit that more traditional combat genres cannot? And why do we insist that one informs more than the other? Looking closely at three series -- Taking Fire, a reality TV combat series on Discovery Channel; Army Wives, a Lifetime primetime soap; and Homeland, a “quality” spy drama with a female lead -- this study examines how genre and gender are negotiated on the small screen as they relate to contemporary US conflicts. Shannon argues that television’s assimilation of contemporary war is informed not by the nature of the conflicts themselves, but rather by gendered divisions embedded in TV programming and the generic formulas set forth by traditional combat films.