Ambal (J.), Favard (F.)

Where the physical world meets the digital world

Representations of power structures and cyberspace in television series set in New York

Revue TV Series, Dossier n°18 (Séries et espace), Septembre 2020.

15 septembre 2020 / Articles scientifiques

"Nous nous proposons d’explorer, au sein des séries des années 2000 et 2010, des confrontations et rapports de pouvoirs structurés autour du secret, de l’intime et du privé, marqués par la renégociation constante d’une structure dyadique : celle qui articule le monde physique au monde numérique. Peut-on encore cacher un secret, couvrir un délit ou un crime, vivre hors du système, a fortiori dans une mégalopole tentaculaire ?
Cet article se focalise sur quatre séries aux genres, chaînes et publics variés, qui possèdent deux points communs : elles mettent en avant cette renégociation au cœur de leur matrice, et se déroulent toutes dans une même ville iconique, riche d’un imaginaire puissant, international, imbibé par la pensée capitaliste : New York. Le corpus se compose de : Person of Interest (CBS, 2011-2016) et sa surveillance de masse orchestrée par une intelligence artificielle ; Gossip Girl (The CW, 2007-2012), qui confronte la jeunesse dorée de l’Upper East Side à la mystérieuse bloggeuse éponyme ; Mr Robot (USA Network, 2015-2019), qui s’impose comme une héritière du genre cyberpunk ; et enfin Elementary (CBS, 2012-2019), qui confronte Holmes et Watson à un New York fragmenté au sein duquel toutes les couches sociales ont pour terreau commun une empreinte numérique dans laquelle le duo d’enquêteur va souvent s’immerger.
Au travers de la comparaison de ces quatre œuvres, nous entendons mener, à travers une approche politico-spatiale du monde fictionnel, une réflexion sur la représentation des rapports contemporains entre les mondes physique et numérique."

"Following a succession of establishing shots over New York City, the camera gives us a close-up of a young, blonde woman sitting on a train arriving at Grand Central Station. A mysterious voice-over starts as she goes through the crowded building :

GOSSIP GIRL. Hey, Upper East Siders, Gossip Girl here. And I have the biggest news ever. One of my many sources, Melanie91, sends us this : “Spotted at Grand Central, bags in hand, Serena van der Woodsen”.

Another young woman crosses Serena’s path and takes a photo of her with her phone. Gossip Girl continues :

GOSSIP GIRL. Was it only a year ago our “it-girl” mysteriously disappeared for “boarding school” ? And just as suddenly, she’s back. Don’t believe me ? See for yourselves. Lucky for us, Melanie91 sent proof. Thanks for the photo, Mel.

Gossip Girl (The CW, 2007-2012), a television series focused on the Upper East Side golden youth, makes it clear from its first opening scene that no protagonist can escape the grasp of the eponymous blogger and their [1] network of informers looking for the latest gossip. It also illustrates a gradual shift in storytelling, as devices such as smartphones and computers are becoming a common property, and as the digital world is taking up increasing space in our daily lives through internet, and especially social media. Contemporary works of fiction must deal with the same, dramatic evolution we face in the real world, mainly the fact that we are now all equipped with high resolution cameras and microphones and have access to unlimited knowledge [2] and entertainment, while at the same time our private lives are more threatened than ever before through state-sponsored mass surveillance and obscure use of our data by private companies every time we visit a website or use an app. In a fascinating and chilling twist, the world we live in and the stories we tell about it have come to match the one envisioned by a subgenre of science fiction emerging in the 1960s and 1970s, namely cyberpunk, questioning, in near-futures, the correlation between high- technology, virtual environments, cyberspace, artificial intelligence on the one hand, and social inequality, corporationism and dystopia on the other. The digital world is slowly infiltrating the physical world, with inevitable and irreversible effects on our culture, politics and economy."

[1] While Gossip Girl’s blog posts are eventually attributed to a man, Dan Humphrey, we chose to addres (...)

[2] How I met Your Mother (CBS, 2005-2014), another television series set in New York City, turns it in (...)


1/ Narrative configurations

  • 1.1 Episodic and serialized storyworlds
  • 1.2 Dyadic and hybrid storyworlds

2/ Hiding in plain sight : mass surveillance in Elementary and Person of Interest

  • 2.1 Elementary
  • 2.2 Person of Interest

3/ The powerful and the powerless : Gossip Girl and Mr. Robot

  • 3.1 Gossip Girl
  • 3.2 Mr. Robot

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