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Theatre of thrills: the culture of suspense

Autor: Frank Krutnik
Revista: New Review of Film and Television Studies Nº 11 (1)
Link: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17400309.2012.741502#.VUjK0_ntlHw

This paper examines the suspense-oriented media forms that proliferated in the USA through the 1940s and 1950s. Coinciding with, and inspired by, the success of the distinguished CBS radio series Suspense and the output of Alfred Hitchcock, this broader culture of suspense included films, radio and television series, live entertainments, electro-mechanical amusements, and books, magazines, and comic books.

Exploring how such media forms deploy and negotiate suspense as an attraction, as a production value, and as trigger for sensation, the paper interrogates traditional critical assumptions regarding its role as a technique of narrative.

The paper argues, instead, that suspense is a vital and more widespread feature of popular commercial culture's affective modalities. With its capacity to stir and to stimulate, suspense has frequently been treated by cultural guardians with suspicion, and demonized as inauthentic, degraded, or even dangerous.

While the CBS programme and Hitchcock's films deliberately set out to upgrade the cultural status of suspense, the paper argues that other contemporaneous forms that relied upon it – certain radio thrillers, comic books, and pinball machines, for example – provoked intense moral censure.