Trigger warning: This project contains violent images and other content that may be disturbing.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines terrorism, in its most common contemporary usage, as "[t]he unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims; (originally) such practices used by a government or ruling group (frequently through paramilitary or informal armed groups) in order to maintain its control over a population; (now usually) such practices used by a clandestine or expatriate organization as a means of furthering its aims. Cf. terrorist n. 1b[,]" (OED). In short, terrorism is best understood as the unsanctioned use of violence by governments or groups to terrorize and intimidate for ideological or political purposes. Popular preconceptions about post-9/11 terrorism and "the terrorist other," however, are less informed by historical data and/or authoritative analysis, and more by the discursive production of images and ideas about terrorism in the mass media.
Since September 11, 2001 ("9/11"), the global mass media spectacle of terrorism has become a dominant factor in global militarism, international human rights legislation, laws governing individual rights and state security, and the foreign and domestic policies of nations all over the world. This is largely due to the fact that 9/11, because it took place in the "hyperreal" context of a major American city (amongst other locations in the U.S.), and was the most filmed and photographed event in history, "happened" not just in the U.S., but simultaneously via mass media for onlookers around the globe. What this demonstrated is that the symbolic violence of the "media event" of terrorism--what Jean Baudrillard, referring to 9/11, lkened to a disaster movie--is arguably, in many ways, more powerful and impactful than the actual physical violence done to buildings and people during terrorist attacks.
In short, terrorism now happens in mass media. In the same way that, as Mark Deuze provocatively suggests, our lives are now "lived in, rather than with, media" (Deuze Media Life 2), contemporary terrorism is a part of the media sphere in which its global spectacle takes place. Likewise, the global mass media sphere is the site in which the discursive meanings of terrorism are now negotiated, and from which some of its most far-reaching effects emanate. In Canada, a particularly dominant node within this mass media sphere driving the discoursive construction of "terrorism" is cinematic media.
While Canadian cinema represents a relatively small proportion of the total cinematic content available to Canadians, Canadian cinema reflects the ways in which Canadian film makers are responding, from uniquely Canadian perspectives, to global terrorism. While some Canadian post-9/11 cinematic depictions have largely focused on the Islamophobic stereotype of "Jihadist" terrorism, other Canadian films have dealt with the topic in much more complex and nuanced ways, for example, by exploding Islamophobic stereotypes, and/or dealing with a wider range of issues including contemporary misogynist terrorism, white supremacist terrorism, and anti-LGBTQ terrorism. Thus, one aspect of this project is archiving examples of Canadian cinematic depictions of terrorism and "the terrorist other," and analyzing that content. Another aspect of the project, however, will be to explore the ways in which mass media marketing and distribution of Canadian cinema, in various mediums and across multiple platforms, circulates a seeming diversity of Canadian cinematic images and messages about terrorism and "the terrorist other" in strategically targetted ways, to algorythmically segmented groups of consumers, according to those consumers' viewing patterns and pre-profiled political leanings. In other words, we will investigate whether or not mass media structures and "big data" technologies are in effect pre-empting public debate about these films, by turning what Marshall McLuhan once imagined as a kind of utopic mass media "commons" of shared opinions, ideas, and free speech, into a highly managed and segmented media sphere in which potentially groundbreaking Canadian cinematic content with the ability to foster public debate, improve cultural understanding, and effect deradicalization, are instead--via mass media structures and "big data" targetting of specific audiences, much like a Netflix viewer profile--distributed in such a way that they effect little more than "preaching to the choir," and re-inforce the already long-held ideological positions of their target audiences.
The Terrorizing Cinema in Canada collaborative online project archives and interrogates contemporary Canadian cinematic representations of terrorism and “the terrorist other,” as well as the issues of distribution, advertising, and mass media structure effecting the circulation of cinematic materials, and the targetting of particular Canadian audiences with particular cinematic messages. The aim of the project is to improve media literacy about terrorism, and to encourage a better understanding of how these images and messages become such powerful influences on Canadian audiences, government policy, and on the proliferation of terrorism and militarism across the globe. We will also feature scholarly materials on these topics, collaborate with other digital humanities projects and online archives, and foster and encourage community outreach, engagement, and education.
If you have any questions or comments about the project, or if you are interested in contributing to it in some way, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Director: Dr. Don Moore
Project Manager: Megan Hutchison