Carnivàle and the American Grotesque

Critical Essays on the HBO Series


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About the Book

HBO’s Carnivàle was a critically-acclaimed, elaborate period narrative set in Depression-era America that set the stage for the current explosion of cinematic storytelling on television. Despite an ambitious and unusual storyline, remarkable production design and stellar cast, the show was cancelled after only two seasons. No other television series has been so steeped in history, spirituality and occultism, and years later it retains a cult-like following. This collection of fresh essays explores the series through a diverse array of topics, from visual aesthetics to tarot symbolism to sexuality to the portrayal of deformity.

About the Author(s)

Peg Aloi teaches film and media studies at SUNY New Paltz. She is a published poet, a freelance film critic, and a traditional singer. She lives in upstate New York.

Hannah E. Johnston has recently published a monograph on children in paganism and works as an independent scholar, musician and blogger. She lives in the United Kingdom.

Bibliographic Details

Edited by Peg Aloi and Hannah E. Johnston

Foreword by Daniel Knauf

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 204
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-4816-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1912-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Foreword (Daniel Knauf) 1
Introduction (Peg Aloi and Hannah E. Johnston) 7
The Sensuous Cinematics of Carnivàle (Tammy A. Kinsey) 17
The World, the Flesh and the Devil: Historical and Cultural Context in the Opening Credit Sequence (Peg Aloi) 29
The Visual Rhetoric and Multimodal Style of Carnivàle (Moe Folk) 41
Magic and Loss: Style, Progression and the “Ending” of Carnivàle (Sérgio Dias Branco) 57
Magic and Supernatural Themes in Carnivàle (Jenny Butler) 73
Songs of Innocence and Experience: Sexual Expression and Character (Lindsay Coleman) 98
Female ­Truth-Tellers in the Occult World of Carnivàle (Hannah E. Johnston) 114
“I don’t appreciate getting shanghaied by a pack of freaks”: Teratological Humanity (Robert G. Weiner) 128
An American Freak Show, an American Grotesque (Cynthia Burkhead) 142
The Equilibrium Between Order, Chaos, the Dreaming and the Romantic Soul (José Hernández-Riwes Cruz and Ernesto Acosta Sandoval) 152
“The cards are unclear”: Tarot as Character Catalyst (Peg Aloi) 168
About the Contributors 189
Bibliography 191
Index 195