Terminal Indifference: The Hollywood War Film Post-September 11

Kim Toffoletti, Victoria Grace

Abstract


Speaking about the state of the Hollywood film industry at the 2008 Academy Awards, the Oscars’ host – comedian Jon Stewart – made the following wry assessment: ‘Not all films did as well as Juno obviously. The films that were made about the Iraq War, let’s face it, did not do as well. But I’m telling you, if we stay the course and keep these movies in the theatres we can turn this around. I don’t care if it takes 100 years. Withdrawing the Iraq movies would only embolden the audience. We cannot let the audience win.’ The films he is referring to include Home of the Brave (2006), In the Valley of Elah (2007) and Stop-Loss (2008) – all of which focus on the personal cost to American soldiers on their return to civilian life, as well as exposing the failure of the US invasion of Iraq at home and abroad. Despite their topical subject matter, these movies were, for the most part, commercial failures. This article seeks to investigate audience indifference (Jean Baudrillard claims a certain indifference is a fundamental consequence of the Western globalising ideology) to mainstream cinematic depictions of the post September 11 invasion of Iraq, via a consideration of the trauma and abjection depicted in these films. Baudrillard’s hypotheses on terrorism – as a symbolic challenge put forth by terrorism (embodied by the attack on the Twin Towers) – and the West’s incapacity to respond to it, forms the basis for our investigation of the limits of these films to incite and engage viewers. His writings offer a lens through which to consider how ‘terrorism’ operates symbolically, and fundamentally, the dilemmas this raises for a Western psyche grappling with how the ‘terrorist threat’ might be answered, engaged with, responded to.

Keywords


Baudrillard; Iraq War

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