UNPACKING THE HOUSE:
Images of Heroism against the Regulatory State
Sara R. Jordan and Phillip W. Gray
Gregory House, M.D., is not the type of doctor most people would want to meet. He is rude, condescending, and curmudgeonly—not the type of man anyone would want for a colleague, either. His general view of humanity is straightforward—“everyone lies”—and his favorite term for others is “moron.” Yet this unattractive central character of the popular television show House, M.D. attracts millions of viewers. Whether viewers tune in to House weekly, record it via DVR, or purchase the series on DVD, the show appears to have a dedicated viewer population.1 In this chapter we attempt to ascertain what accounts for the series’ dedicated viewership.
Communications and media researchers advance a number of hypotheses on the psychological appeal of television dramas. Here we advance another, based on the political-psychological effects of this particular drama and its genre. Without delving into an empirical assessment of its appeal, which is beyond the scope of this chapter, we argue that the appeal of House originates from a desire for professionals to escape the confines of the regulatory state. What millions of health care professionals and representatives of various other professions cannot do, House does. The attitude that so many people hide behind their e-mail and professional personae is the public image he cultivates. House has intuitive psychological appeal to an audience whose psyches are entangled in red tape. We do not argue that the creators of the character designed House as a purposeful emblem of rebellion against the regulatory state—the character’s exoteric appeal is his unique antisocial genius charm. We argue that the esoteric