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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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Chris Beasley and Heather Brook

outline the many and various competing theories regarding film, nor do we discuss the technical aspects of contemporary filmmaking in any detail. Rather, our object of analysis is the conceptual and contextual intersection of Hollywood mythology in the cultural politics of contemporary film. Popular film and political myths As prefigured in the previous chapter, our focus on the cultural politics of contemporary popular film lends itself to an interest in film as 18 The cultural politics of Hollywood film implicated in soft power and the cultural production of

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
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Chris Beasley and Heather Brook

suggest, can be explored alongside Joseph Nye’s (2004) analysis of national interest secured through the ‘softpower’ workings of beguiling cultural forms. Cinematic representations of fraternity as a mythologised, normative community (the ‘us’, as against outsiders) demonstrate Pateman’s analysis of the invisible yet fundamental limits of fraternity, while also enabling recognition of how that fraternal polity can be trafficked to market the nation-state in attractive terms. In this way, the mythology of fraternity is intimately connected in Hollywood film with the

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
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The cultural politics of popular film
Chris Beasley and Heather Brook

– some, for example, are focused on political 2 The cultural politics of Hollywood film figures, events, or themes. Movies about presidents, for example, have obviously political connotations (Primary Colors, 1998; Frost/Nixon, 2008; Lincoln, 2012). Similarly, where real-life events such as the Boston marathon bombing (Patriots Day, 2016), or the capture/killing of Osama Bin Laden (Zero Dark Thirty, 2012) are fodder for film plots, political weights are clearly attached to how those events are represented. Less directly, political themes that extend beyond an

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
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The ‘metropole’ and peripheral ‘others’
Chris Beasley and Heather Brook

12 The big picture: the ‘metropole’ and peripheral ‘others’ In this book we locate Hollywood films as a form of ‘political technology’ – a technology that generates and manipulates ideas, individual and collective identities, inter-relational bodies, and fictionalised flows by giving cinematic flesh to certain myths, characters, and narratives. Our intention is to challenge any attempt to cocoon culture from power and the political. We raise connections here to Joseph Nye’s (2004) focus on rendering state power attractive by the use of cultural forms at some

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
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Order and disorder
Chris Beasley and Heather Brook

culture and its forms, [p]opular culture is the way of life in which and by which most people in any society live. In a democracy … it is the voice of the people—their likes and dislikes—that form the lifeblood of daily existence, of a way of life … It is our heroes, icons, rituals, everyday actions, psychology, and religion—our total life picture. It is the way of living we inherit, practice and modify as we please, and how we do it. It is the dreams we dream while asleep. (Browne, 2002) In this context, it is crucial to note that Hollywood film (which patently is not

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
Chris Beasley and Heather Brook

fundamentally positive terms. Global Hollywood’s champions tend to render the values disseminated through the global influence of American movies as ‘universal’ (rather than specifically American). For example, the poster-boy of global Hollywood, director Steven Spielberg, has explicitly insisted that Hollywood’s global supremacy ‘is not domination by American cinema. It is just the magic of storytelling and it unites the world’ (1993: 62). On many occasions Spielberg has unequivocally reiterated his account of Hollywood film as nationally/ culturally neutral ‘magic’. These

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
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Socially critical movies
Chris Beasley and Heather Brook

10 Against the grain? Socially critical movies In this book, we offer a broad understanding of the political, asserting that mass-cultural products like Hollywood film are necessarily political in one way or another. Our perspective, in this sense, is somewhat novel. As we argued in the Introduction to this book, the more usual approach is to consider as ‘political’ only those films overtly about politicians, current events, or politically controversial movies, and to consider them on an individual basis. Even where the domain of the political is extended to

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
Abstract only
Chris Beasley and Heather Brook

threats to national/cultural sovereignty. They unambiguously evoke identification with a national collectivity, with patriotism, national leadership, national defences, and the military. As such, they offer the most useful shorthand guide to the history of security concerns in Hollywood film, as well as to the degree of alignment between these concerns and those of national government. What is a war film? War films, for our purposes, can be defined as Hollywood movies whose central narrative concerns the activities of uniformed American military personnel in conflict

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film
Chris Beasley and Heather Brook

politically irrelevant (for example, feminism as a social movement); or, perhaps, so self-evident as to obviate any need for critical examination (for example, that terrorism is not a matter for social interrogation because terrorists are simply the ‘bad guys’). All of these elements of the socially critical category may be viewed in combination as delineating the shape or configuration of ‘the political’ in Hollywood film. However, dealing with social issues on film also brings to the forefront a didactic message-orientation – the proffering of lessons – which is made

in The cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood film