Date of Degree

9-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor

George Fragopoulos

Subject Categories

American Film Studies | American Politics | American Popular Culture | American Studies | Critical and Cultural Studies | Film and Media Studies | Sociology of Culture

Keywords

Superhero, Post 9/11, Capitalist Realism, Empire, Imperialism, Necropolitics

Abstract

In the last two decades, superhero films have accounted for some of the most popular and financially lucrative films of all time. This thesis analyzes some of the aesthetic and ideological dimensions of various superhero films following their post 9/11 boom. Beginning with America’s response to the events of 9/11 and a subsequent retreat into a Manichean world of good versus evil, I introduce the term “empirical reality” in order to account for the ways daily American life is shielded from the worst effects of U.S. foreign policy. On screen this manifests by perpetuating the myth of the “clean war” through depictions of mass destruction without civilian casualties. Next, building on Achille Mbembe’s concept of “necropolitics,” I introduce the term “digital Others” to assess for the ways these films’ enemies are routinely digitized and dehumanized, rendered only to be killed. However, beyond the aesthetics of death, I investigate the narratives of post 9/11 superhero villains, often portrayed as aspiring conquerors bent on world domination. This imperial shadow, I argue, is simultaneously both a rejection and a projection of colonial guilt, with America imagining itself as the necropolitical target of its own policies. However, post 9/11 superhero films are also filled with ideological tensions. Occasionally, these films present critiques of institutions like the military industrial complex, but more often than not, such critiques often fall to the wayside by the end of the film. As a means to understand such contradictions, I turn to Mark Fisher’s concept of “capitalist realism” in order to trace how post 9/11 superhero films cannot imagine alternatives outside of empire and its capitalist hegemony. This thesis ends by examining two post 9/11 superhero films that come the closest towards refusing the status quo of empire.

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