Media scholars write about media products for a limited number of reasons. They may see a way to apply a well-liked theory to a movie, TV show, radio show, advertising campaign, website, blog, music video, newspaper, etc. Another common reason for their choice is that the media product upsets them. They disagree with the preferred interpretation and want to build an argument against that reading. Scholars also choose a subject because of its rich symbolism. They perceive many layers in a story, for example, and are intrigued. They like the challenge of digging down and sorting out what it all means. Some media products are attractive to researchers because they are puzzling. Don’t we all like a mystery waiting to be solved? Other media products simply make researchers curious. They enjoy watching and want to spell out why. The product is not upsetting, there is no deep symbolism, and nothing stands out as being mysterious. Instead, the media product is engaging and often creative, but there is no specific question that arises, theory that fits, or criticism to be made. This explains my interest in a new show I am watching, called BrainDead.
BrainDead is the story of a young, slightly naïve woman, Laurel, who is convinced to return to Washington D.C. by her father. She takes a job with her brother, who is a US Senator. While working with constituents, she comes to realize that bugs are entering people’s ears, forcing out part of their brains, and taking control of them. Viewers be warned that this is a work of fiction! The plot unfolds rapidly. We learn more about these creatures each week, and at the same time, we learn more about the political games being played. The show sounds like it fits into the horror or science fiction genre, and it has elements of both of those genres, but it is perhaps better classified as a dark comedy. It is entertaining and makes me curious.
It’s probably too soon to start conducting research on the show. The plot unwinds like a cheap watch. Its fast pace is what makes it entertaining, but there’s not a great deal of depth or symbolism yet. One potentially fruitful research topic may have to do with how the show represents the political process. How people’s relationships figure into policy decisions could be involved in this area to explore. People in this show play multiple roles. Beloved figures are infected. Secrets are shared. What the bugs symbolize will be something that needs to be considered. What is infecting our political system? Who are the half-brains? When should secrets be revealed? The show is relatively bipartisan–the bugs seem to prefer conflict in the hosts no matter who starts it.
Anotherarea for research may be how Laurel handles her relationships. She starts off being naïve, but she has an inner strength. She dates an FBI agent who gets infected and soon thereafter he attacks her. She has an ongoing relationship with the chief-of-staff of her brother’s political rival, named Gareth. They have their first sexual encounter as a means of preventing her from getting infected by the bugs. The bugs do not like strong emotion. Gareth thinks her story of the alien bugs is crazy, but even though he initially used her, he later begins helping her.
Another area that looks promising for research concerns how science is represented. The main character develops friendships with two scientists who, at first seem a bit paranoid, but later provide insights into how to detect and control the bugs. There’s some holes in the science, but the two friends rescue Laurel using knowledge and various homemade technologies.
To researchers, I predict watching the show will be like finding a good river for panning for gold. From the surface, it looks like spending some time could produce a payday. But the show needs to run a while longer. It flows quickly, but because of this, lacks depth. The time will come, I suspect, when wading in and doing some panning will produce gold. I can see some gold flecks from the banks. But time will tell. In the meantime, check it out. Hope you are curious too.