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The Cultural Politics of the Post-9/11 Superhero Film (2002-2019)

OSMAN, SALADDIN,RAHIM (2022) The Cultural Politics of the Post-9/11 Superhero Film (2002-2019). Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 07 October 2024.


This thesis situates the contemporary superhero film within the context of 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror. Whereas much commentary and scholarship has tended to read the genre’s contemporary resurgence as mirroring the ambivalence and uncertainty that characterises this period of recent US history, or indeed as directly participating in the aggressive, reactionary discourses that framed the War on Terror, my project proposes an extensive reappraisal of the form’s cultural politics. It highlights, the ways in which key texts of the superhero film’s contemporary “renaissance” come to perform a dissenting function with regard to the US’s pursuance of global counterterrorism following 9/11. My argument is based on a foundation of the analysis of three franchises that represent some of the period’s most well-known and salient examples of the genre’s contemporary resurgence: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007), Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012) and selected films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU (2008-2019). The analysis interrogates the genre’s entanglement with the political climate of militarisation and xenophobia that characterised the post-9/11 period. While texts from the post-9/11 resurgence of the genre undoubtedly exhibit certain reactionary elements, both consciously and otherwise, I foreground the fact that they also feature fully-fledged, even polemical reckonings with the excesses and consequences of the USA’s counterterrorism strategies and the broader legacies of systemic racism inflamed in the post-9/11 period.

While the superhero genre is one of the most lucrative in contemporary Hollywood cinema, it has simultaneously (and perhaps paradoxically) become a form through which the USA’s geopolitical dominance and its problematic, traumatic histories have been confronted. In a broader sense, this project therefore aims to explore the compelling and surprising capacity of popular culture to not only reflect the antagonisms of the recent past and present but also to confront and critique them.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:9/11 Studies; Film Criticism; Literary Criticism; Cultural History
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:13 Oct 2022 10:00

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