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Consensus narratives on the state of exception in American TV shows Open Access


Other title
the George W. Bush Administration
the state of exception
September 11, 2001
TV shows
Giorgio Agamben
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Kim, Young Hoon
Supervisor and department
Simpson, Mark (Department of English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Anselmi, William (Monder Languages and Cultural Studies)
Schmid, David (Department of English, the State University of New York at Buffalo)
Quamen, Harvey (Department of English and Film Studies)
Watson, Garry (Department of English and Film Studies)
Department of English and Film Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The TV show is a central focus of American life, one that not only reflects but also produces social imaginaries for the American audience that support the way people interact and engage with reality. It is the nation’s most influential storyteller, which dominates the nation’s imagination and understanding of reality. This dissertation explores the political and cultural meanings of four TV shows from the George W. Bush era: The West Wing (1999-2007), Deadwood (2004-06), The Wire (2002-08) and Heroes (2006-10). In examining these TV shows, this dissertation aims to shed light on both the origins of the state of exception, its conduct, its purpose, and the possibility of meaningful critique of or resistance to the state of exception. Chapter I discusses The West Wing, focusing on President Bartlet’s decision-making process regarding the assassination of Abdul Shareef, so as to elucidate the decisive actions of a sovereign figure in a state of exception. Chapter II explores Deadwood’s resurrection of the nineteenth-century mining camp in our twenty-first century, in terms of the capitalist state of exception. In discussing the show’s portrayal of the conflicts among the main characters, this chapter reveals that the same sovereign logic of exception is innate in the expansion of capitalism. Chapter III examines The Wire’s depiction of rebellious petty-sovereigns such as Major Colvin, Detectives McNulty and Freamon. According to The Wire, the claims of equality are deeply urgent in the bleak reality of contemporary America. With their commitment to equality and justice, the petty-sovereigns intervene in the bleak reality in their subversive ways. Chapter IV explores Heroes’s rendering of the main characters’ struggles against a fictional national emergency, the Company’s conspiracy to blow up half of New York City. In this chapter, I argue that Heroes portrays a political subject that attempts to constitute itself outside biopolitical sovereign power—what Hardt and Negri would call the advent of the multitude. While explicating the struggles of the main characters, I argue that its limitation in envisioning a new world underscores how contemporary critics fail to see past sovereign politics when they imagine another world.
License granted by Young Hoon Kim ( on 2011-04-13T16:13:01Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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