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Scott Higgins (Wesleyan University)

Short Bio

Scott Higgins is chair of the College of Film and the Moving Image at Wesleyan University. His books include Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow (2007) and Rudolf Arnheim for Film and Media Studies (2011). He is completing the book Matinee Melodrama: Play and the Art of Formula in the Sound Serial for Rutgers University Press. 


Abstract: "Operational Psychologies: Sound Serial Characters and Ludic Portability" 

Sound serials, which emphasize action and physical process in tightly paced chapters, devote few resources to character development or psychology. Rather than posing a critical liability, this lack of characterization reinforces the sound serial's "play value". Drawing on Shane Denson's and Ruth Mayer's discussion of serial figures, Peter Brooks' analysis of "the melodrama of psychology" and observations about the nature of toys from the field of play studies, this paper explores the basis and functionality of character in 1930s American serials. Figural characterizations could be ported to almost any ludic scenario involving moral opposition; they were designed for flexible repurposing. Formulaic consistency meant that situations from one serial were open to re-enactment with characters from another. In this way, sound serials rendered character psychology in operational terms, and modelled inhabitable roles for audiences.