Perverse Spectators

The Practices of Film Reception

248 pages

July, 2000

ISBN: 9780814781395



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Janet Staiger teaches cultural, gender, sexuality, and media studies at The University of Texas at Austin. Her recent books are Perverse Spectators: The Practices of Film Reception and Blockbuster TV: Must-See Sitcoms in the Network Era (both available from NYU Press).

All books by Janet Staiger

Film and television have never been more prevalent or watched than they are now, yet we still have little understanding of how people process and make use of what they see. And though we acknowledge the enormous role the media plays in our culture, we have only a vague sense of how it actually influences our attitudes and desires.

In Perverse Spectators, Janet Staiger argues that studying the interpretive methods of spectators within their historical contexts is both possible and necessary to understand the role media plays in culture and in our personal lives. This analytical approach is applied to topics such as depictions of violence, the role of ratings codes, the horror and suspense genre, historical accuracy in film, and sexual identities, and then demonstrated through works like JFK, The Silence of the Lambs, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Psycho, and A Clockwork Orange. Each chapter shows a different approach to reconstructing audience responses to films, consistently and ingeniously finding traces of what would otherwise appear to be unrecoverable information.

Using vivid examples, charting key concepts, and offering useful syntheses of long-standing debates, Perverse Spectators constitutes a compelling case for a reconsideration of the assumptions about film reception which underlie contemporary scholarship in media studies.

Taking on widely influential theories and scholars, Perverse Spectators is certain to spark controversy and help redefine the study of film as it enters the new millennium.


  • "One of the best contemporary American film scholars over the past decade. Perverse Spectators points towards new directions which the study of cinema must consider in the coming years."

    —Henry Jenkins, MIT

  • "Janet Staiger tackles the most perplexing issues in film theory and aesthetics. She builds on her pioneering work in reception studies with applications of psychoanalytic theory and historical materialist analysis. Perverse Spectators will continue to shift critical interest toward that neglected factor in film studies—the audience—and toward the modes of address and reception that differentiate one set of spectators from another."

    —Donald Crafton, University of Notre Dame

  • "A brief survey cannot do justice to Staiger's rich, rewarding work. The writing style is refreshingly lucid, even while she negotiates complicated ideas and diverse spectator positions."