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Overlooking the Evidence: Gender, Genre and the Female Detective in Hollywood Film and Television

Murray, Kathleen (2014) Overlooking the Evidence: Gender, Genre and the Female Detective in Hollywood Film and Television. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The investigating woman, the female detective, or the lady crime solver has poses a productive problem throughout the history of Hollywood film and television. Investigating women fundamentally disrupt the scopic and narrative regimes upon which Hollywood genre films depend. I argue that the investigating woman changes the way that the detective genre operates in four distinct modalities: the Adventurer, the Avenger, the Comedic and the Affective. Each mode articulates the figure through sometimes unlikely generic combinations. And in each mode the investigator performs femininity with a different valence. The female investigator thus becomes a space to explore gender’s transformative effect on genre, different kinds of looking, and gender as performance.

I examine what happens when films fail to evoke what Barry Langford calls the “generic unconscious.” Genres only work if they are recognized as genres, if they exist with a productive feedback loop between producers, texts and audiences. Films featuring women detectives do not activate the semantic and syntactic markers of the detective film. They are burdened with the adjectival. They are “women” detective films. And the “woman” part moves these films, sometimes forcibly, into other generic terrains: the woman’s picture, melodrama, horror, comedy, romance, adventure.

Each chapter investigates a mode through close reading several transhistoric texts ranging from Sherlock, Jr. to Zero Dark Thirty that serve to illustrate the possibilities held within the modality. In my conclusion, I test my taxonomy in the laboratory of television where the figure moves through several modes in a single program, sometimes a single episode. From 1957’s Decoy to Veronica Mars, this fluidity is both the strength of investigating women in a genre that is powered by novelty, and a sign of the abiding lack of ease a woman who looks creates manifested on the level of genre. These modes do not solve the problem of the investigating woman in film, but rather make the problem explicit. The modes serve to expose the contours of the problem through the films’ failed attempts to resolve it.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairFeuer, Janescorpio@pitt.eduSCORPIO
Committee MemberAnderson, Mark Lynnandersml@pitt.eduANDERSML
Committee MemberLowenstein, Adamalowen@pitt.eduALOWEN
Committee MemberMalin, Brentbmalin@pitt.eduBMALIN
Date: 24 September 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 23 April 2014
Approval Date: 24 September 2014
Submission Date: 9 June 2014
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 311
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Genre, gender, female detective, woman detective, female investigation, melodrama, comedy, adventure, thriller, serial killer, horror, feminist film theory, woman's picture
Date Deposited: 24 Sep 2014 16:10
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:22

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  • Overlooking the Evidence: Gender, Genre and the Female Detective in Hollywood Film and Television. (deposited 24 Sep 2014 16:10) [Currently Displayed]


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