This blog is part of the courses on film, art, literature, and media
given by Dr.
Hudson Moura, Toronto, Canada.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Political Apocalyptic Hollywood

Review of chapter 21: "Social Apocalypse in Contemporary Hollywood Film," Douglas Kellner. Routledge Companion to Cinema and Politics, ed. by Yannis Tzioumakis and Claire Molloy

by Sanjot Sandhu

Films have a powerful way to mirror the harsh realities of modern society. In the 2000’s, the rise of social apocalypse seen in contemporary Hollywood films was linked to the fear and anxiety of the Bush-Cheney administration. These movies give a negative insight into the catastrophic government policies concerning the environment, corporate globalization, and involvement in wars. The increase in the social apocalypse genre was addressed by showing the demise of humanity, nature, and civilization as people were depicted evolving into savages when society began crumbling. The growth of the dystopian genre in the 2000’s also emphasizes the inequality between the wealthy and poor as the underprivileged citizens pay the ultimate price for the actions of the upper class. These films inflict fear and pain as they show audiences real concerns that are happening around the world through environmental destruction or war. The Bush era created distress in Americans through the financial crisis where millions of people lost their jobs, homes, and savings. This pain became worse after 9/11 where the Bush administration started wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The purpose of Douglas Kellner’s writing is to argue that contemporary Hollywood films exhibit fears of apocalyptic crisis and collapse in areas ranging from the environment to the political, economic and societal order. Douglas Kellner obtained his philosophy Ph.D. from Columbia University and has numerous respectable books and articles published such as Philosophy, Psychoanalysis and Emancipation Vol5, Media/Cultural Studies: Critical Approaches and Barack Obama and Celebrity Spectacle . His main themes when writing include media culture, globalization and postmodern theories (Kellner, 2009).  Similar work by David Christopher’s The Capitalist and Cultural work of Apocalypse and Dystopian Films argues that the recent surge in dystopian cinema “appears to criticize the damaging effects of self-indulgent capitalism while positing fantasies of class integration” (Christopher, 2015). Like Kellner, he discusses that dystopian fantasies and post-apocalyptic narratives in Hollywood closely reflect aspects of reality.  Additionally, Mateos-Aparicio analyzes that the horror movie Cube addresses social, political and economic anxieties and consequences of modern day society much like Kellner describes in his work (Mateos-Aparicio, 1997). While Kellner’s insight analyzes specific and significant research connecting to the rise of the apocalyptic genre, it fails to include other reasons for this increase such as box office success or simply the audience’s love for watching destruction and chaos. Thus, in the chapter “Political Hollywood: Social Apocalypse in Contemporary Hollywood Film” by Douglas Kellner the social, economic and political turmoil of the Bush/Cheney administration is portrayed by contemporary Hollywood films and is shown through eco-disasters, evil corporation’s taking over and through societal collapse.

This article begins with Kellner explaining the negative policies and catastrophes that came from the Bush/Cheney administration. He argues “their policies of deregulation privileged oil, gas, energy, weapons and related industries that pose a serious threat to the environment, while rolling back environmental protections and policies put in place by previous administrations” (Kellner, 2016). This fear of environmental deterioration is exemplified through Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow (2004). This film shows audiences the dangers of ignoring climate change while giving spectators an insight on the lack of attention the Bush government gave to the ecological disasters happening all over the world such as oil spills. The movie portrays the state as mindless idiots who are unconvinced about the dangers caused by climate change until it is too late and the world experiences another ice age. Interestingly, this movie is also relevant in the Trump era where his governing team is full of global warming deniers. Like Bush; the Trump administration is also ignoring government policies for eco-sustainability. Moreover, the movie depicts the president as cowardly as he flees when danger arises which is a perception of how Americans view their leader. The use of natural disasters destroying American national landmarks adds a level of patriarchy and sadness for the state of their country as it is led by incompetent fools like Bush or Trump. Moreover, Kellner also uses the indie film, The Last Winter (2006) to shown audiences the detrimental effects of climate change on the Arctic such as the ice caps melting which parallels reality. This film explores the dangers of drilling oil on the eco-system which was a common topic in politics at the time, with many conservative politicians like Sarah Palin encouraging the drilling of oil.  However, the evidence cited in the article does not fully support the overall conclusion that these eco-disaster movies are made just to advocate for the importance of caring for the environment; but for money making. For instance, The Day After Tomorrow grossed over 544.3 million USD at the box office as people genuinely enjoyed watching things get destroyed by tsunamis and earthquakes. Nevertheless, Kellner made valid arguments relating real eco-disasters to movies. Hence, the Bush/Cheney governments complete disregard for environmental issues directly parallels and connects into movies produced during this time such as The Day After Tomorrow and The Last Winter.

This article by Douglas Kellner sheds light on the social, economic and political turmoil of the Bush/Cheney administration through the portrayal of evil corporations destroying the world. The greed and selfishness of these companies is shown through lying and manipulating politicians. This reoccurring theme shows the negative effects of having an egotistical, power consumed government. Interestingly, these selfish politicians are usually played by wealthy, white males which parallel reality as most politicians making decisions in America are rich, white and privileged. This corporate greed and government corruption are displayed in the Resident Evil films through the Umbrella Company which controls homes, technology, healthcare and daily life in America but is actually funding military technology and illegal genetic experiments. This displays the feeling of distrust with the Bush/Cheney government and American citizens. According to Kellner: “Resident Evil articulates fear of evil corporations and biotechnology getting out of control, as well as technology coming to dominate human beings and outbreaks of deadly biochemical plagues…following the 9/11 terror attacks whose representation and impact on Hollywood cinema and US culture was a dominant force of the era (Kellner, 2016). Although I agree with Kellner about Resident Evil paralleling tensions and mistrust in the United States government, the conclusion that this is the sole reason for the franchise's success is based on some degree of misinterpretation as movies like these are successful for entertainment purposes also. Audiences enjoy watching genetically superior women fight zombies, monsters, and corrupt corporations. Moreover, similar to Resident Evil, Mad Max (2015) also depicts a future of hopelessness because of corrupt and greedy people in power which can be connected to the present-day through the Trump organization. Documentaries also increased during the Bush/Cheney era such as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. This fantastic piece of work showed the unfavorable and detestable moments from Bush’s time in office. Moore’s use of horrific and haunting imagery of 9/11 and the war that came after it showed audiences the repercussions of having a corrupt government. Thus, the common theme of evil corporations taking over can be explained by the mistrust and corruption of the Bush/Cheney and Trump/Pence government. 

In the chapter “Political Hollywood: Social Apocalypse in Contemporary Hollywood Film” by Douglas Kellner, the chaos of the Bush/Cheney administration is portrayed through films about societal collapse. Kellner uses excellent film examples such as 28 Days Later (2003) to show catastrophe at the hands of science gone wrong. This movie was disturbingly closely related to events that were taking place in the world at the time such as hoof-and-mouth disease in England and the outbreak of SARS. The dangers and anxieties of these pandemics were a reflection of the state of the world. 28 Days Later also analyzes consequences of giving the military too much control of science and technology “thus positing the audience against male predatory militarism” (Keller, 2016). The sequel, 28 Weeks Later (2007) shows the military shooting zombies which was very similar to the United States Army in Iraq after 9/11.  Both movies use jittery camera movements which create a sense of chaos and anxiety in the audience as they put themselves in the perspective of the characters. Another film used to show the common theme of societal collapse and chaos is Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men (2006). This film demonstrates the failure of the political system as the world transforms into a dystopian age of fascism. Cuaron uses settings similar to present day which gives the movie a dark and gloomy feel. Moreover, this film portrays a very accurate future where the world turns its back on refugees; much like the Trump era. In the film, refugees that come to England are subjected to concentration camps, making audiences connect to the unjust treatment of the Syrian refugees by the Trump administration. In Kellner’s words: “this plot-line provides the occasion for a stunning montage of a police state, terrorism, refugee internment camps, and accelerating social disintegration, intensifying tendencies of the present moment and providing a cautionary warning tale that if things are not drastically changed we are sliding into social apocalypse and the collapse of civilization” (Kellner, 2016). This movie also shows media images of Islamic terrorist while portraying right-wing and conservative imagery which can cause audiences to feel negative about an innocent group of people. This movie is disturbingly similar to Trump’s way of thinking as he views immigrants as terrorists rather than innocent citizens needing shelter. These movies shed light on the negative idea of Darwinism under conservative and right-wing leadership. Therefore, Kellner gives readers an insight into the rise of films about societal collapse using examples such as 28 Days Later and Children of Men.

Kellner’s article began by emphasizing the correlation between apocalyptic movies in Hollywood with the current state of the world such as the Bush/Cheney administration policies. He continued by connecting the disastrous policies imposed by the government to the increase in eco-apocalypse films made. For instance films like The Day After Tomorrow and The Last Winter gives audiences a glimpse into the catastrophes created by ignoring global warming. Furthermore, the Bush/Cheney administration is portrayed by contemporary Hollywood films through films like Resident Evil and Mad Max and documentaries like Fahrenheit 9/11where evil corporations have destroyed democracy through greed. Similarly, Kellner uses films about societal collapse such as 28 Days Later and Children of Men to shown audiences the adverse effects of military power on science and technology as well as negative conservative views about refugees and immigrants. Overall, Kellner’s writing about the social apocalypse in Hollywood films is a refreshing and enjoyable read. The parallels and connections between dystopian films and present day society are both depressing and worrisome. The depiction of presidents as weak, cowardly and selfish is extremely closely related to both Bush and Trump as their conservative way of thinking has created hate and hostility in American society. Moreover, he educates readers on the importance of choosing responsible leadership as well as the dangers of science and technology through environmental disasters.  Films can alter the minds of audiences and show them worlds beyond possible imaginations while having the power to educate audiences on threats and dangers to society.

Christopher, D. (2015). The Capitalist and Cultural Work of Apocalypse and Dystopia Films. Canadian Business & Current Affairs Database, 56-67.
Kellner, D. (2009). Douglas Kellner. Retrieved March 12, 2017, from Douglas Kellner:
Kellner, D. (2016). Social Apocalypse in Contemporary Hollywood Film. In Tzioumakis, Yannis, Molloy, & Claire, The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Politics (p. 10). London: Routledge.
Mateos-Aparicio, Á. (1997). The Symbolism of Synthetic Space in the Cube . Postmodern SF Film as Consensual Hallucination, 14.

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