Call for papers

International Conference
Thursday 9 – Saturday 11 September 2010
Centre for Media & Culture Research, London South Bank University

Deadline for abstracts (200 words): 11 June 2010.
Submit proposals to Phil.Hammond@lsbu.ac.uk

Following the 11 September 2001 attacks, the US government announced that it was engaged in ‘a new kind of war’. At least part of what was thought to be new was the war’s ideological importance: it would be a global battle for hearts and minds comparable to the Cold War. In an effort to ‘re-brand’ US foreign policy, Washington consulted with the advertising and PR industries and within days of 9/11 – itself often described as being ‘like a movie’ – also consulted Hollywood. At the time, it was widely expected that the film and television industries would help out with the ‘war on terror’ declared by the Bush administration after 9/11. Nearly ten years on, this conference examines whether those initial expectations have been borne out. It asks:

  • How far have the film & TV industries been supportive of the ‘war on terror’ and how far have they been critical of it?
  • How have film and TV dramas and documentaries represented terrorism, terrorists and 9/11?
  • How has the war film genre developed since 9/11?
So far, appraisals have been contradictory and the evidence apparently mixed. The TV drama 24 has been accused of directly encouraging the abuse of ‘enemy combatants’ at Guantanamo, and of supporting a broader legitimation of torture. Yet films such as Rendition (2007) have offered a much more critical appraisal of such practices, and have not shied away from depicting war crimes committed by coalition forces (Redacted (2007), Battle for Haditha (2007)). Some critics have contrasted the way that mainstream news coverage positions the audience as ‘innocents and idiots’, with the presumption of audience sophistication and knowingness in films such as Syriana(2005). Others, however, have argued that films about 9/11 itself – United 93 (2006), and World Trade Center (2006) – ‘obliterate the historical context’ of the events they depict, discouraging critical thought and understanding.

Films about Iraq or Afghanistan have mostly failed to attract large audiences, leading some to suggest that there is little public appetite for a critical view of ongoing conflicts. Yet some film and TV documentaries taking a critical view of the war on terror – 
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), The Power of Nightmares (2004) – have been hits. Post-9/11 war films have sometimes explicitly sought to question media myth-making about war, yet their largely post-heroic portrayal of war is arguably one in which the Western soldier is the main victim, thereby limiting any wider political critique. This conference will offer an opportunity to take stock and to assess the overall shape and significance of the post-9/11 cultural moment.

Screens of Terror 
is an international and trans-disciplinary conference, bringing together European and North American scholars in Politics and International Relations with those working in Film / Media / Communications / Cultural Studies and cognate disciplines. Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The extent of support/criticism of the ‘war on terror’ in film & TV drama/documentary
  • The portrayal of 9/11, acts of terrorism and terrorists
  • The portrayal of coalition military and politicians
  • The portrayal of Muslims and Arabs
  • Documentary accounts of war and terrorism
  • Representations of heroism
  • Audience reception of ‘war on terror’ films, dramas and documentaries
  • The development of the war film genre
  • Readings of individual films/documentaries or groups of films/documentaries
The conference is planned for September 2010, with selected papers to be published in September 2011 to coincide with the tenth anniversary of 9/11.