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Hofer, S. (2017). Out of the Box: Television, Documentary Fiction, and the Art of Healing. Am. Imago, 74(1):41-73.

(2017). American Imago, 74(1):41-73

Out of the Box: Television, Documentary Fiction, and the Art of Healing

Stefanie Hofer

I have not really shared with anybody what a sense of relief it provided me knowing that my husband Jamie and I finished watching the television series Northern Exposure (1990-1995) on DVD, just the weekend before he was murdered. He was killed during the Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, 2007. It feels embarrassing, compared to the horrific circumstances, that such a mundane occasion as finishing watching a TV series together would give me a feeling of closure—something that was so opposed to other aspects in our relationship due to Jamie's unforeseen death. Watching TV series on DVD was our way to relax after a busy day of work, letting the images and the plot pull us into an alternative reality. The “reality” of Northern Exposure was a playful, offbeat, and occasionally surreal re-creation of rural Alaska as a utopia where cultural gaps—based on ethnicity, gender, ideology, class, or simply lifestyle choices—could be overcome. As the series moves forward, events become more fantastical, pushing the series from quirky into the realm of magical realism.1

Mid-April is the time in the semester when the end of the academic year, with its deadlines and examinations in early May, is looming over students and faculty, leaving the majority on campus both busy and stressed. The year 2007 was no exception. It was, therefore, a particular treat that Jamie and I, both employed in the Foreign Languages and Literatures Department at Virginia Tech, did not even get dressed that cloudy Saturday morning but only made ourselves a cup of tea and curled up in bed again. Sitting against pillows propped up at the end of the bed, laptop on the bed sheet in front of us, we put in the last DVD of Northern Exposure. The final season had mainly been a disappointment. Much of the series’ appeal had so far been to witness how the main character, Dr.

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