The Patriarchal Construction of Hysteria: Examining the Possessed Woman in the Paranormal Activity Franchise

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Abstract

This article contends that despite the resurrection recently seen among popular horror genres, a number of concerns arguably remain consistent including problematic notions about the home, marriage and the family. In these films, normality is invariably destabilized by the figure of the monster that is often coded as the Other. In a more precise sense, the conflict between normality and the Other constitutes an expression of Western society’s fear of difference. In the American horror film, it is often the case that this encounter between normality and the Other is communicated via the social and historical construction of gender identity within Western society. In particular, these films are frequently concerned with femininity’s uncomfortable position within patriarchal structures of dominance. This article will examine the Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007 – on-going) franchise with reference to gendered representations within the horror genre (and ensuing subcategories of the genre) with specific focus on hysteria and the domestic space. Furthermore, I locate the female protagonists of the series as part of the horror genre’s wider anxieties surrounding the position of women within the patriarchal order and psychological understandings of hysteria. The franchise came about as a result of the surprising success of the original made in 2007. Produced for $15,000, Paranormal Activity went on to gross over $107,000,000 worldwide. Since then, the films have become a regular part of the Halloween season with one released consecutively for the past two years and a fourth scheduled for 2012. Unlike many critics, I consider the Paranormal Activity franchise as a complex metaphor for Freud’s theory of hysteria. In particular, I argue that the series engages with what Andrew Britton has labelled the ‘Freudian-Feminist melodrama.’
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
JournalMonsters and the Monstrous
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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