Power, culture, and society

This book interrogates the interplay of cultural and political aspects of contemporary Hollywood movies. Using ‘security’ films dealing with public order and disorder (Part I), romantic comedies and other movies presenting intimate relationalities (Part II), socially engaged films offering overtly critical messages (Part III), and analysis of Hollywood’s global reach and impact (Part IV), it articulates and illustrates an original cultural politics approach to film. The book employs an expanded conception of ‘the political’ to enquire into power relations in public, private, and policy arenas in order to advance a new framework and methodology for cultural politics. It demonstrates how movies both reflect and produce political myths that largely uphold the status quo as they shape our dreams, identities, and selves.

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The cultural politics of popular film

This chapter outlines the rationale, scope, and key terms employed throughout the book. Offering an overview of the book as a whole, we argue that cultural politics investigates popular cultural forms not simply as entertainment or art, but rather as ‘political technologies’. The key question we address is: how are Hollywood movies political?

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
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In this chapter, we introduce the two main frames deployed throughout the book. The first is conceptual, focusing on political myths and the forms they take in Hollywood film. The nature of such myths is that they are uncritical and provide supposedly timeless explanations. The second framework is historical, identifying the key characteristics of Hollywood eras in order to locate and contextualise their emergent political myths. We use these two frames to show how political mythologies arise from and change in Hollywood movies over time.

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
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Order and disorder

In this chapter we examine the role Hollywood movies play in maintaining and representing national security. Our aim is to provide an outline of the category we label ‘security films’ and to sketch out some of the major divisions within that category. Security films – with their stories about society, nation, and community – alert us to how power relations concerning the government of nations and citizens are articulated. Here (and in the next three chapters), our attention turns to representations of security as either comforting (order) or as threatening and frightening (disorder/fear).

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
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One of the most pervasive myths reiterated in Hollywood movies is the narrative of virtuous and hence legitimate order – the story of the good nation, the good society, and legitimate leadership and authority. Films which focus on order, on ‘us’, elicit a sense of identification with ‘home’, linking not only self and collective but also citizen and nation in positive, active constructions of security. In this chapter, we narrow the scope of ‘security’ to demonstrate how political myths concerning security, social collectivity, and government play out in cinematic treatments of war.

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
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Within the notion of security, order and disorder are twin concepts. When the emphasis is on security as order (as in war movies), the antagonist or enemy is rarely represented in any detail. By contrast, the movies explored in this chapter attend to order’s necessary counterpoint: security as disorder. The focus shifts to that which generates fear, the scary ‘them’ or ‘it’. This chapter introduces ‘fear films’ to illustrate how movies not usually considered to be ‘political’ address power relations through their representations of threat and its containment. We discuss the history and meaning of ‘fear films’ across three sources of disorder: strangers, disasters, and monsters.

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
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In this chapter we flesh out the political significance of one of the three categories of ‘fear films’: the monster category. The chapter focuses on zombies – that is, monsters who highlight fear films’ characteristic blurring of safety and danger, the familiar and unfamiliar. Because zombies give expression to uncertainties about the stability and worth of the social order, they provide an apposite instance for considering the cultural politics of (in)security and fear.

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film

In Part II of this book, we turn our attention from state–citizen relations to citizen-to-citizen political relationalities. Here, we explore movies that foreground more intimate forms of power relations in the private realm, focusing on gender relations, sexuality, and associated identity categories. In chapter 7, our focus is on gender. Hollywood’s ‘patriarchal legacy’ continues in the virtual exclusion of women from key creative roles, and in the derogation of ‘chick flicks’ – namely, movies supposed to appeal to women. In addition, we identify myths reiterated in romantic movies. Like fear films, romance films are rarely viewed as ‘political’. However, they are gendered and gendering – that is, they both reflect and produce gendered power relations.

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
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This chapter continues to explore intimate relationalities on screen by investigating the politics of social interconnection in terms of desire, love, and romance. We focus on rom-coms in particular. These mobilise political myths that naturalise and police heteronormative and hypermonogamous imperatives: gender polarisation and complementarity are reinforced, love’s mechanisms are represented as inevitable, and the search for love is elevated as any human being’s greatest quest.

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
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The final chapter in Part II of the book attending to analysis of citizen-to-citizen relationalities concerns fraternity, or masculine homosociality, and its significance in ‘bromance’. It is commonplace, indeed ubiquitous, in Hollywood films to foreground men and their interactions. However, the attention given to intimate relationality between men in bromance movies distinguishes them from the usual representations of men and male-to-male friendships and links them with ‘chick flicks’ and romantic comedies. This chapter continues our exploration of gender, intimacy, and heteronormativity to demonstrate that the realm of the personal is politically salient for men as well as women.

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film