For Research. For Berlin.

Frank Kelleter

Since 2013 Frank Kelleter conducts his research as an Einstein Professor on American TV Shows at the Freie Universität Berlin. Before he hold an professorship at the Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen, Germany. Frank Kelleter is one of the best known German specialist in American studies. His habilitation thesis "Amerikanische Aufklärung: Sprachen der Rationalität im Zeitalter der Revolution" became a standard reading. 

»Series demand commitment«

Are series a contemporary phenomenon?
When we hear the word “series” today, we immediately think of TV series. Television has become the defining medium of the serial form. But ever since people have told stories, they have done it in episodes. With the dawn of indus- trial manufacturing in the early 19th century, serial storytelling emerged as a dominant narrative format for entire societies. In our research unit “Popular Seriality – Aesthetics and Practice”, in addition to television series and 19th-century feuilleton novels, we also study films and computer games. Our work in the past years has been instrumental in re-evaluating our understanding of seriality as a category of observation.

What draws you to serial forms of narration?
Series are confronted with one of the most difficult tasks of storytelling: they need to walk the line between innovation and familiarity. We all know that a “happy ending” generates a certain amount of satisfaction – when our protagonists end up tying the knot or the murderer gets caught. What we rarely recognise is the satisfaction that comes with repetition. My hypothesis is that series make an important contribution to our identity as modern societies. They generate trust, because although there is a steady stream of new episodes and events, the underlying communicative structures remain the same. They generate excitement again and again, but do it reliably. Especially a country like the United States, with its immense diversity and geographical size, is faced with the question of how its many different inhabitants can view themselves as members of the same society. Modern media and serial narratives play an enormous role in providing answers.

Do you also enjoy watching series in your free time?
It is difficult to make the distinction between what I watch for work and what I watch for pleasure. Even when I’m sitting in front of the television in the evening with my wife, I am often taking notes. It’s hard to switch off those thoughts. The decision to watch a series in a family has implications. Series demand a certain amount of commitment. As in life, you don’t just suddenly switch the family dentist you have been going to for years. We can also be very forgiving with our series in the hopes that they will soon get better. We often incorporate them as rituals in our daily lives. The best example would have to be the crime series Tatort, which is a recognised institution. Sunday evenings in Germany wouldn’t be the same without it.

Photo: Pablo Castagnola