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Nothing Is True; Everything Is Permitted: The War on Terror’s Factual Fictions

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Abstract:

In this paper I unpack the politics of cinematic visual representation at a time when war and culture have become deeply imbricated. I argue that culture has been a principal location in which the politics, ethics, and legacies of the ‘War on Terror’ have been worked through and that this is perhaps most clearly visible in contemporary U.S. cinema. Many feature-length fictional films that take the ‘War on Terror’ as their subject are based on factual sources— Green Zone (2009), The Hurt Locker (2008)—or are fictionalized reconstructions of heavily reported actual events—The Battle for Haditha (2007). At the same time, a number of high profile documentaries—Restrepo (2010), Standard Operating Procedure (2008)—were released alongside companion volumes of journalistic reportage.

These facts necessitate a consideration of the relationship between such texts and their sources. This is not a case of establishing how ‘accurate’ or ‘true-to-life’ any particular film may be, or of evaluating how far it strays from its source material, but of understanding how the perceived ‘realities’ of the ‘War on Terror’ gain currency through cinematic representation. In one of the most secretive periods in U.S. political history, cinema has become (or is perceived to be) a valuable source of information about the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps more importantly, government censorship of photographs and news footage from the combat zone means that cinema has become the primary visual medium through which the U.S. public get to ‘see’ these conflicts. The common use of non-professional actors (such as soldiers and minor government officials) and the new phenomenon of the embedded journalist further blur the boundaries between fact and fiction, between current events and Hollywood cinema. Moreover, while much has been made in the tributary media of the factual sources for many of these films, they also rely on a common series of nationalistic tropes through which they gain much of their cultural relevancy and which form a vital aspect of their meaning.

The immediacy and perceived realism of these cinematic texts derives not only from their reliance on journalistic accounts or factual events but also from their powerful visual and cinematic vocabularies. The use of handheld cameras, frenetic editing, realistic diegetic sound, minimalist soundtracks, and fake ‘found footage’ all augment the realism of these films. As such, I analyze the relationship between narrative (both cultural and textual), visual imagery, and cinematic form. I argue that, through the interweaving of traditional narrative tropes and new visual and cinematic vocabularies, these films both codify the new exceptionalism of the ‘War on Terror’ and offer a vital location for its working through.
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Association:
Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p508469_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Carroll, Hamilton. "Nothing Is True; Everything Is Permitted: The War on Terror’s Factual Fictions" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p508469_index.html>

APA Citation:

Carroll, H. "Nothing Is True; Everything Is Permitted: The War on Terror’s Factual Fictions" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p508469_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: In this paper I unpack the politics of cinematic visual representation at a time when war and culture have become deeply imbricated. I argue that culture has been a principal location in which the politics, ethics, and legacies of the ‘War on Terror’ have been worked through and that this is perhaps most clearly visible in contemporary U.S. cinema. Many feature-length fictional films that take the ‘War on Terror’ as their subject are based on factual sources— Green Zone (2009), The Hurt Locker (2008)—or are fictionalized reconstructions of heavily reported actual events—The Battle for Haditha (2007). At the same time, a number of high profile documentaries—Restrepo (2010), Standard Operating Procedure (2008)—were released alongside companion volumes of journalistic reportage.

These facts necessitate a consideration of the relationship between such texts and their sources. This is not a case of establishing how ‘accurate’ or ‘true-to-life’ any particular film may be, or of evaluating how far it strays from its source material, but of understanding how the perceived ‘realities’ of the ‘War on Terror’ gain currency through cinematic representation. In one of the most secretive periods in U.S. political history, cinema has become (or is perceived to be) a valuable source of information about the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps more importantly, government censorship of photographs and news footage from the combat zone means that cinema has become the primary visual medium through which the U.S. public get to ‘see’ these conflicts. The common use of non-professional actors (such as soldiers and minor government officials) and the new phenomenon of the embedded journalist further blur the boundaries between fact and fiction, between current events and Hollywood cinema. Moreover, while much has been made in the tributary media of the factual sources for many of these films, they also rely on a common series of nationalistic tropes through which they gain much of their cultural relevancy and which form a vital aspect of their meaning.

The immediacy and perceived realism of these cinematic texts derives not only from their reliance on journalistic accounts or factual events but also from their powerful visual and cinematic vocabularies. The use of handheld cameras, frenetic editing, realistic diegetic sound, minimalist soundtracks, and fake ‘found footage’ all augment the realism of these films. As such, I analyze the relationship between narrative (both cultural and textual), visual imagery, and cinematic form. I argue that, through the interweaving of traditional narrative tropes and new visual and cinematic vocabularies, these films both codify the new exceptionalism of the ‘War on Terror’ and offer a vital location for its working through.


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Crime, Sex, and Gore: Reading America's Post-September 11 Geopolitics of Terror through Pulp Fiction Novels


 
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