Traumatized masculinity and American national identity in Hollywood's Gulf War

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Abstract:

The main question of this article is how traumatic male subjectivity and American national identity are rendered explicitly in contemporary Hollywood war films, the latter through encounter with the enemy, who is inevitably figured as other. I deal with this question by referring to an emergent critical discourse surrounding the aesthetics and technologies (and politics/economics) involved in constructing millennial or 1990s American cinema; what Jon Lewis has described as the end of cinema. This form of cinema contains persistent themes of trauma, memory, nostalgia, endings, terminations, death and apocalyptic images. I use this and contemporary theorizations of masculinity and film in order to look at Hollywood Gulf War films such as Courage Under Fire (Edward Zwick 1996) and The Jacket (John Maybury 2005). I argue that encounters with the usually abstract and obscured enemy appear to present a challenge to American dominance and paternalism, a challenge which has to be worked through and rebuffed if the film is to be successful in achieving what Marita Sturken has dubbed making way for the next war. Contemporary Hollywood cinema is crucial in this regard, since the conservative ideology of making way for the next war in order to reinforce and fortify US foreign policy, becomes fraught with ambiguities. I also argue that contemporary war films which engage with recent US foreign policy exhibit many slippages and imbrications regarding identity and memory, and hence national identity is formulated in an inter-subjective and inter-relational manner. The value of this exploration is that it shows how recent US foreign policy is worked through in the context of contemporary cinema, and how American national identity is founded upon mythical constructions of victimhood, perceived emasculation and the centralization of male crisis in representation.

Keywords: Gulf War; Hollywood cinema; masculinity; memory; trauma; whiteness

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/ncin.6.2.127_1

Affiliations: Department of American and Canadian Studies, University of Birmingham.

Publication date: September 22, 2008

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  • The journal aims to provide a platform for the study of new forms of cinematic practice and fresh approaches to cinemas hitherto neglected in western scholarship. It particularly welcomes scholarship that does not take existing paradigms and theoretical conceptualisations as given; rather, it anticipates submissions that are refreshing in approach and exhibit a willingness to tackle cinematic practices that are still in the process of development into something new.  
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