According to most US economists, the 2008 recession officially ended in June 2009. That’s when the US Gross Domestic Product and Gross Domestic Income collectively began to rise again, however incrementally. Yet for those of us still struggling and watching loved ones struggle, the Great Recession is not over. Rather, it feels like the New Normal. Economic precarity continues to be a structuring discourse for many of us in media production and media studies. Sadly, this means that our essays in Cinema Journal’s “In Focus” collection on “Gender and Labor in Recession-Era Media and Media Studies” may remain timely for quite some time. MOOCs have even greater institutional purchase now than they did when Vicki Callahan wrote her essay last winter. The gendered representations of labor in reality television that Diane Negra outlines have scarcely changed; in fact, Gold Rush Alaska has inspired a slew copy-cat productions that perpetuate similar patriarchal visions of masculinity.
A troubling spate of recent horror movies is also refiguring the fiscal vulnerability of the middle class as a crisis in modern masculinity and casting women and children as collateral damage. As Robin Wood has so ably demonstrated of 1970s horror, economic downturns can easily transform into demons, cannibals, and serial killers as filmmakers offer catharsis for social anxieties. Stuart Rosenbeg’s The Amityville Horror (1979) finds George Lutz (James Brolin) possessed by the horrible history of American colonialism and machismo as the house he bought to please his new wife and family turns out to be more of a psychic and financial burden than he can handle. The Amityville Horror sympathizes with Lutz as a victim of gender ideology, but contemporary patriarchs-in-peril receive no such compassion. 1990s icon Ethan Hawke has distinguished himself as the archetype of failed authority for the new iteration of this subgenre. In both Scott Derrickson’s Sinister (2012) and James DeMonaco’s The Purge (2013), Hawke’s characters find their privilege offers no protection when suburbia comes under siege. Indeed the films blame fathers for failing to safeguard their wives and children, characters whom the films infantilize in equal measure.
Qua horror movies, though, these films can teach us one important lesson: fear thrives on isolation. It is only by creating coalition—across disciplines, across industries, and across genders—that we can improve labor conditions for media workers.