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Specters of War: Hollywood's Engagement with Military Conflictby Elisabeth Bronfen
Synopses & Reviews
Matthew Weiner’s Emmy-winning series Mad Men has earned wide critical acclaim in its seven seasons. What is it about these impeccably dressed men and women of mid-century Madison Avenue that fascinates us? Decades later, when Weiner’s iconic characters seem as much a thing of the past as the workday martini, why is it so easy for modern viewers to commiserate with the reserved but ambitious Peggy Olson, to jeer at Pete Campbell, and to cheer on Don Draper in his often indecorous struggles?
We are drawn to Mad Men’s dapper cast of characters, argues Elisabeth Bronfen, because, although the series has drawn praise for its depiction of the 1960s and ’70s, it speaks equally well to cultural concerns of the present. The prototypical con man, Don makes a precarious journey from poverty to fame and prosperity that maps to the pursuit of moral perfectionism that features prominently throughout American cultural history. Yet a lingering sense of dissatisfaction hints that the lifestyle Don strives for may be a mere manifestation of the illusory American dream—cemented in the same collective desires Don draws on to advertise cigarettes and luxury cars by day.
Mad Men takes readers through the cultural fantasies that underlie characters’ motivations in this sophisticated and immensely popular television series, showing how—then as now—we turn to fantasy in the face of conflicts that cannot be resolved in political reality. Fascinating and full of accessible insights, the book will appeal to the show’s many fans, as well as anyone interested in American studies, media studies, or cultural history.
Specters of War: Hollywoodandrsquo;s Engagement with Military Conflict looks at the way war has been brought to the screen in various genres and at different historical moments throughout the twentieth century. Elisabeth Bronfen asserts that Hollywood has emerged as a place where national narratives are created and circulated so that audiences can engage with fantasies, ideologies, and anxieties that take hold at a given time, only to change with the political climate.
In war films, the portrayal of deep friendships between men is commonplace. Given the sexually anxious nature of the American imagination, such bonds are often interpreted as carrying a homoerotic subtext. In Armed Forces , Robert Eberwein argues that an expanded conception of masculinity and sexuality is necessary in order to understand more fully the intricacy of these intense and emotional human relationships. Drawing on a range of examples from silent films such as What Price Glory and Wings to sound era works like The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Three Kings, and Pearl Harbor , he shows how close readings of war films, particularly in relation to their cultural contexts, demonstrate that depictions of heterosexual love, including those in romantic triangles, actually help to define and clarify the nonsexual nature of male love. The book also explores the problematic aspects of masculinity and sexuality when threatened by wounds, as in The Best Years of Our Lives, and considers the complex and persistent analogy between weapons and the male body, as in Full Metal Jacket and Saving Private Ryan .
Specters of War looks at the way war has been brought to the screen in various genres and at different historical moments throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Elisabeth Bronfen asserts that Hollywood has emerged as a place where national narratives are created and circulated so that audiences can engage with fantasies, ideologies, and anxieties that take hold at a given time, only to change with the political climate.
Such cultural reflection is particularly poignant when it deals with Americaandrsquo;s traumatic history of war. The nation has no direct access to war as a horrific experience of carnage and human destruction; we understand our relation to it through images and narratives that transmit and interpret it for us. Bronfen does not discuss actual conflicts but the films by which we have come to know and remember them, including All Quiet on the Western Front, The Best Years of Our Lives, Miracle at St. Anna, The Deer Hunter, and Flags of Our Fathers. Battles and campaigns, the home front and women-who-wait narratives, war correspondents, and court martials are also explored as instruments of cultural memory. Bronfen argues that we are haunted by past wars and by cinematic re-conceptualizations of them, and reveals a national iconography of redemptive violence from which we seem unable to escape.
About the Author
ELISABETH BRONFEN is a professor of English and American studies at the University of Zurich. She is the author of Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic; The Knotted
Table of Contents
1. Unfinished Business of the Civil War
2. Home and Its Discontent
3. War Entertainment
4. Choreography of Battle
5. Reporting the War
6. Court-Martial Drama
7. Warandrsquo;s Sustained Haunting
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Arts and Entertainment » Film and Television » Film History and Theory