Hollywood, Superheroes and IR: The Crisis of Security Concepts and Why Metropolis and Gotham Are Not Lost Yet

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1 Hollywood, Superheroes and IR: The Crisis of Security Concepts and Why Metropolis and Gotham Are Not Lost Yet - Julian Schmid, University of Vienna Film in international politics Whether and how popular culture including the analysis of moving and motionless images is important for political science is still a highly contested debate within the discipline. Especially the mainstream of International Relations (IR) theory would maintain the opinion that popular culture is rather a footnote and a mere mirror of political events in the real world. More critical approaches of IR seem to have opened up a space for the analysis of film and other cultural products to show its impact on the discipline. With my project I want to demonstrate how film and its underlying ideological aspects are influencing international politics and should be included in the analysis of the international realm. Hollywood has always been a system of film production that was highly susceptible to political crisis and disruptions. 9/11 and the war on terror, as political events, have evidently influenced the film industry in the US, while at the same time cinema was used to produce a certain narrative of the same events shaping collective memory and, by doing so, creating a real narrative on its own. Thus, we could say that contemporary Hollywood cinema can be read as a contest of representations and a contested terrain that reproduces existing social struggles and transcodes the political discourses of the era. 1 One recurring theme in Hollywood films and IR is the issue of security. Film produces a particular narrative of an issue, such as security, by using certain symbols and codes to create a specific narrative in the recipient s mind. New, more contemporary narratives are being combined with older ones quite often taken from the time of the Cold War to create an image of danger, control and order. 2 It has to be said that, for political science, it does not seem important whether films have a clear political content or not; it is rather that our understanding of categories such as society, politics, gender or the military can be shaped by all kinds of films, directly political or not. Analyzing the rise of science-fiction, utopian and superhero films after the 9/11 attacks and the portrayal of Islamic religion and 1 Kellner 2010 p.2 2 cp. Nilges 2010 p.24

2 terrorism through them, Kord/Krimmer argue that even films that are not concerned with the specifics of islamist extremism influence our perception of contemporary politics. 3 Thus, films co-constitute identities, which have political relevance. Hollywood has always been influenced by elites and institutions of the government. The Pentagon, for example, has a long history of censoring and financing Hollywood films by providing military equipment or military experts for film productions. 4 The way Hollywood has been influenced while creating narratives that more often than not merge with reality reveals that, in the end, film is the site where battles are fought for the control of society. 5 Superheroes and Security Regarding the importance of film, it seems quite remarkable that in the years since 2001, Hollywood has revived the genre of the comic-superhero film, with a subsequent increase in productions that are displaying comic-superheroes as main characters. 6 At the same time, we can observe more or less new phenomena arising within security discourses, such as the development of new surveillance regimes or the increasing privatization of security complexes. It is the question of how threats to security and solutions to it are being developed that belong to the core of my project. The solution to problems of security that film offers is not confined to the screen; it actually legitimizes actions (e.g. military actions) in the real world, since millions of viewers worldwide are being exposed to and, subsequently, come to identify with the solutions favored by the films. Superhero films are particularly interesting, as they demonstrate responses to crisis. They model leadership styles and visualize the proper relation between the leader and his people and between the individual and his community. Finally, they define notions of sacrifice and service and explore the possibility of agency against a backdrop of fate and determination. 7 Films become a very intriguing field of study for scholars of international politics, especially when we turn to critical approaches of IR. I do not perceive a clear-cut difference between mainstream and critical approaches, since it is more about the question whether a certain approach or theory is open to include rather critical forms of analysis such as the analysis of underlying structures of power or of popular culture -, than whether an approach 3 Kord/Krimmer 2011 p.87 4 cp. Robb Kellner 1995 p.35 6 cp. Tyree Kord/Krimmer 2011 p. 88

3 presents itself as critical or not. Peoples/Vaughan-Williams, for example, place the approaches of post-structuralism, feminism, post-colonialism and securitization theory in the center of their introduction to critical security studies. 8 I would agree with the authors that these are indeed important critical approaches in which popular culture can find its space, because [i]n terms of emerging challenges, the field has seen increasing scholarly attention given to issues formerly marginalised. 9 And even though I perceive the criticism of these approaches as highly necessary, too, I perceive them as interesting approaches to work with. Securitization theory, for example, offers an interesting framework that can be connected to the superhero films. The process of securitization means that a certain political issue is being shifted from a non-politicized state to a politicized state of public debate. If in the process it is determined that there exists an existential threat to a referent the issue becomes securitized, which justifies responses that go beyond normal political practices. 10 Thus, the analysis of discourses of security also includes the process of securitization, since this is the move that takes politics beyond the established rules of the game and frames the issue either as a special kind of politics or as above politics. 11 The same counts for the superhero films. The superhero represents an actor, reacting to a situation that poses an existential threat to a referent object, trying to create security by force. In this discourse, it is important to reveal which notions of self/other, processes of inclusion and exclusion and justification and legitimization for the use of force come into being. Security - and the politics of security - is highly relevant issues for basically all of us: scholars, but also wide circles of the population, since the age of the war on terror and the rise of new security and surveillance regimes mean that no one can escape the logics inherent in contemporary security discourses. Furthermore, these real life events have to be put into the frame of a certain narrative, since political events have to be narrativized to be understood. 12 Edkins would also argue that in order to be thought, reality must be fictionalized. This narrativization and fictionalization also holds true for 9/11, the war on terror and the security discourses deriving from it. Film has shaped and continues to shape 8 cp. Peoples/Vaughan-Williams ibid p.3 10 Ibid. p Buzan/Waever/de Wilde 1998 p Edkins 2013 p

4 our understanding of security, and) by doing so, the difference between reality and fiction becomes blurred. What I demonstrate in my project is that films are important for security studies and IR theory and that including film, as well as popular culture in general into its analysis can be a great gain in knowledge on how discourses and narratives are being constituted. The crucial thing to observe here is that political events are not only legitimized through their projection on a cinema s big screen in a particular way but furthermore by the fact that millions are watching Batman and Superman justifying their actions in a certain way. Hassler-Forrest calls this the synoptic process. While in the Panopticon the mechanism of control works on the basis of a few watching the many, in the Synopticon the mechanism of legitimization works on the basis of many watching the few, the latter corresponding with millions of recipients watching a character on the cinema screens. 13 The challenge for us as scholars is to find the determining forces that drive the militarized and masculinized nature of contemporary security discourses. By including film into the analysis we can not only see how and why these discourses are shaped the way they are, but actually find a chance to develop alternative approaches towards discourses of security, safety and survival within IR theory. 13 cp. Hassler-Forrest 2012 p.163

5 Literature: Buzan, Barry/Waever, Ole/de Wilde, Jaap (1998) Security. A New Framework for Analysis. Lynne Rienner. Boulder/London Edkins, Jenny (2013) Novel writing in international relations. Openings for a creative practice. Security Dialogue. 44/4. S Hassler-Forest, Dan (2012) Capitalist Superheroes. Caped Crusaders in the Neoliberal Age. Zero Books. Washington/Winchester Kellner, Douglas (1995) Media Culture. Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics between the Modern and the Postmodern. Routledge. London/New York Kellner, Douglas (2010) Cinema Wars. Hollywood Films and Politics in the Bush- Cheney Era. Wiley-Blackwell. Oxford Kord, Susanne/Krimmer, Elisabeth (2011) Contemporary Hollywood Masculinities. Gender, Genre and Politics. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke Nilges, Mathias (2010) The Aesthetics of Destruction. Cintemporary US Cinema and TV Culture. In: Birkenstein, Jeff/Froula, Anna/Randell, Karen (Hg.) (2010) Reframing 9/11. Film, Popular Culture and the War on Terror. Continuum. New York. S Peoples, Columba/Vaughan-Williams, Nick (2010) Critical Security Studies. An Introduction. Routledge. London/New York Robb, David L. (2004) Operation Hollywood. How the Pentagon shapes and censors the Movies. Pometheus. New York Tyree, J.M. (2009) American Heroes. Film Quarterly. 62/3. S

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