Agent + Image: How the Television Image Estabilizes Identity in TV Spy Series

Alias

Alias

This thesis explores the intersection of the television image with the presentation of self-identity. I examine two TV series in the spy genre—Alias (2001 – 2006) and The Prisoner (1967 – 1968)—discussing how each employs strategies of visual representation to present its protagonist as decentered or unfixed; in so doing, these programs complicate and problematize within their narratives the terms by which “subject” and “agency” have been traditionally understood and represented to popular TV audiences. This problematizing in turn opens up possibilities for detecting new modes of subject formation. This paper argues that television, communication tool and historical and cultural artifact, must be regarded equally as a visual medium. In fact, the TV image brings the enacted identity theorized by Judith Butler into direct contact with Henri Bergson’s formulations of memory and image, creating characters and spaces within TV stories that vividly illustrate the limitations to and potentials for creativity within the domains of action and identity. In addition to Butler and Bergson, this paper turns additionally to Gilles Deleuze for an understanding of cinematic image and time, and to the concept of masquerade developed within feminist theory. In The Prisoner, a modern hero must make sense of a landscape of discontinuities and repetitions that challenge his ability to act, react, move, and escape. In Alias, a postmodern heroine must master the art of changing selves in order to move across spaces that, like her own identity, are conditional and are never what they initially appear. In both series, the television image, freed from an obligation to represent only one thing while ruling out others and made multiple by the TV episode format, assumes a resonance over its duration that creates the conditions for the depiction of fluid and changeable spaces and characters. In both cases, the TV image repeated enables a paradigm shift where the depiction of a decentered protagonist, once exceptional, now becomes a normative subject on television.

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