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Posted June 1, 2012

Congress 2012

Popular action films play to post-911 anxieties

Waterloo - The Hollywood comic-book-character action films that have become popular in the last decade play off post-911 anxieties, says a Concordia University film expert - Evangelos Tziallas.

He argues that Hollywood does more than just play to our fears: He says it cultivates them to make money. And he says that that the film genre ultimately legitimizes surveillance of our private lives.

Tziallas was intrigued when he noticed that Hollywood has in recent years produced a series blockbuster hits featuring action heroes that got their start in comic books. Think Batman, Spiderman and assorted similar characters. He began an analysis of the films with an eye to seeing what common themes might emerge, and is presenting his findings at the 2012 Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Because the genre took off with Spiderman in 2002, Tziallas started with the assumption that the films fed off post-911 anxiety. But he says it’s gone beyond that now.

“I’m arguing that not only are they responding to fears and anxieties after 911, but that they are trying to legitimize a police state,” he says.

Tziallas says the films have a lot in common with the 1980s action movies genre (Rambo, Die Hard and The Terminator, for example), which generally feature a straight white male saving the world through vigilante action. But instead of being old-style vigilantes, today’s comic-book action heroes are ‘Big Brother’ types who see all – often thanks to fancy technology – and intervene to save the day after seeing something bad happening.

Tziallas says the films end up legitimizing surveillance that is part of the post-911 world by creating the idea that “if you want to feel safe, you need to have someone watching over you all the time.”Oh, and that it’s OK to break the law if you’re saving lives.

“Special effects seduce us into believing that this is how things should be in the 21st century,” adds Tziallas. “Although the action heroes break the law, they do it for our own safety and security.” Tziallas says it’s important to note that Hollywood pumps millions of dollars into these films, whose target audience is teens and young adults – people who are at an age when their worldview is being shaped.

The films are also generally packaged into a marketable bundle that includes video games and other merchandize items, all of this has turned into a money-making machine for Hollywood.

“Part of making money is to continue to keep people anxious,” he says. “Hollywood is actively trying to keep anxiety going.”

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