I am happy to report that the panel “Behind Bars: Global Mediated Representations of Incarcerated Women” I submitted together with Lauren DeCarvalho and Emily Hiltz was accepted by the organizing committee of Console-ing Passions 2017, which will take place on July 27-29, 2017 in Greenville, NC.
At this conference, I will be speaking about “Hinter Gittern – Der Frauenknast,” a popular German television show from the 1990s:
Mundane Life Behind Bars: The Subversion of Domesticity and Femininity in Hinter Gittern – Der Frauenknast (Behind Bars – The Women’s Pen)
For a decade, the television series Hinter Gittern – Der Frauenknast (Behind Bars – The Women’s Pen, 1997-2007) was an established name in German television, with steady ratings and a dedicated fan base. While scholars have mostly ignored it as trash TV in the past, this paper argues that the show deserves serious consideration for the ways it employed the repetitive (that is, the serial) structure of prison life, and the spatial restrictions of the prison environment to push the narrative structure of the classic soap opera genre to its extreme. The show used the prison setting to establish a stable framework within which characters and plots could develop without ever breaking the basic narrative premise: prison served as the microcosm showing a condensed, intensified version of everyday, mundane life. At the same time, the relocation of the female-oriented, often romance- and domesticity-focused soap opera genre into the ‘tough’ prison world allowed for the subversion of soap clichés, in particular the representation of female characters, including their motivations, backstories, and relationships. For example, Hinter Gittern offered complex representations of lesbian love and sexuality at a time when the mere acknowledgment of homosexuality in mainstream popular culture was still a rarity. Within the transnational context of this panel, Hinter Gittern is of interest also because it illustrates the typical combination of domestic normalization and romanticizing that characterizes German popular representations of prisoners – thus demonstrating the relationship between specific national penal systems and the cultural fantasies of prison life developing from these contexts.