• Bringing Imperial Trauma Home: Taboo as Gothic Historical Drama

    Derek Johnston (see profile)
    Cultural Studies, Television Studies
    Public history, Television programs, Television program genres, Historical television programs, Gothic fiction
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    European Popular Culture Conference 2023: The Darkness Within
    Conf. Org.:
    European Popular Culture Association
    Conf. Loc.:
    University of Stirling, Stirling, Scotland
    Conf. Date:
    3-5 July 2023
    Television aesthetics, Gothic television, British Colonialism, Regency England, British Television
    Permanent URL:
    Television historical dramas take on a number of different modes, which inflect how they are interpreted. The Gothic mode, signalled in part by aesthetics and a focus on trauma, encourages audiences to engage with the past as a place of horror and darkness. Through intentional anachronism and the presentation of contemporary parallels, these productions can also encourage an understanding of how the issues and traumas presented within these dramas are still active today.   This paper will examine one such drama: the first season of Taboo (BBC, 2017), drawing on theorisations of aspects of the Gothic in order to understand how presentation in this mode may influence the way the drama is interpreted. This series acts in many ways as an anti-heritage drama (per Higson’s concept and its developments), incorporating elements that may be expected from British Regency-set costume dramas, such as the handsome and mysterious traveller returned with wealth from distant lands, a ball, an inheritance, a duel. But it does so in a grimy and Gothic way that emphasises that the wealth and power that underlies these narratives and tropes comes from trauma: the trauma of capitalist imperialism in particular. Its playing with and breaching the expectations of Regency period drama helps to encourage the recognition of these traumas and their resulting wounds as still having current relevance, including the political and economic basis of past British power in slavery, violence and exploitation. The series thereby questions ideas of a proud national past, and so the nostalgia for this past that contributes to modern nationalisms.
    This is the script of the presentation, which may vary from what was actually delivered.
    Last Updated:
    7 months ago


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