The damaged male and the contemporary American war film: masochism, ethics, and spectatorship

Straw, Mark Christopher (2011). The damaged male and the contemporary American war film: masochism, ethics, and spectatorship. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.


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This thesis is about the depiction of the damaged male in contemporary American war films in the period 1990 to 2010. All the films in this thesis deploy complex strategies but induce simple and readily accessible pleasures in order to mask, disavow or displace the operations of US imperialism.
It is my argument that the premier emotive trope for emblematising and offering up the damaged male as spectacle and political tool is the American war film. I also argue that masochistic subjectivity (and spectatorship) is exploited in these films, sometimes through using it as a radical transformative tool in order to uncover the contradictions and abuses in US imperial power, but mostly through utilizing its distinct narrative and aesthetic qualities in order to make available to spectators the pleasures of consuming these images, and also to portray the damaged male as a seductive and desirable subjectivity to adopt.
The contemporary war film offers up fantasies of imperilled male psychologies and then projects these traumatic (or “weak”/“victimised”) states into the white domestic and suburban space of the US. Accordingly this enables identification with the damaged male, and all his attendant narratives of dispossession, innocence, and victimhood, and then doubles and reinforces this identification by threatening the sanctity and security of the US homeland.
My argument builds towards addressing ethical questions of spectatorial passivity and culpability that surround our engagement with global media, and mass visual culture in the context of war. I ultimately identify ethical spectatorship of contemporary war films as bolstering a neo-liberal project advancing the “turn to the self”, and hence audiences could unwittingly be engaged in shoring up white male ethno-centricity and the attendant forces of US cultural and geopolitical imperialism.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D501 World War I
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
E History America > E11 America (General)
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D731 World War II


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