Trigger warning: This project contains violent images and other content that may be disturbing.
Terrorism can be defined as the use of violence by governments or groups to terrorize and intimidate for ideological or political purposes. Since the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001 ("9/11"), however, a shift arguably occured in the predominant discourse of terrorism, manifesting in a stereotypically Islamophobic and Arab-centric global mass media discourse which 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 throughout the world. Another simultaneous shift (or intensification) occurred in the contemporary form of terrorism; in much the same way, as Mark Deuze argues, that life is now "lived in, rather than with, media" (Deuze Media Life 2), the idea of contemporary terrorism has become inextricable from its “hyperreal” global mass media-based phenomenon. For example, 9/11 "happened" not just in the U.S., but simultaneously via global mass media for onlookers around the globe--if in very different ways, and with a range of different impacts and implications. Thus, argues Jean Baudrillard, the symbolic violence of the "media event" of terrorism has become, since 9/11, in many ways more powerful and impactful than the actual physical violence done to buildings and people during terrorist attacks.
Terrorism now happens in mass media, and the mass media discurse of terrorism is part and parcel of its hyperreal event. Of key concern regarding the current mass media discourse of terrorism and "the terrorist other," however, are the ways in which this predominantly Islamophobic, anti-Arab discourse maps on to long-standing Western colonialist discourses of the Orientalist "other," thus distracting from other ways of understanding contemporary terrorist threats, such as the ongoing neocolonialist threat of state terrorism, the rampant recent rise in White supremacist terrorism, mysogenist terrorism, and terrorism against LGBTQ communities, to name a few. This project, therefore, seeks to gain a better understanding of what actually constitutes contemporary terrorist violence, by interrogating its most dominant current manifestations in mass media discourse, which fundamentally constitutes the imaginary relationship of individuals to real terrorist violence. One such example of mass media based culture contributing to the current discourses of terrorism and the terrorist other is Canadian cinema.
While Canadian cinematic media represents a relatively small proportion of the total media content available to Canadians, it nonetheless reflects the ways in which Canadian cinema producers are responding, from uniquely Canadian perspectives, to global terrorism. While some Canadian cinematic media depictions of terrorism and terrorists have largely focused on the Islamophobic stereotype of "Jihadist" terrorism, other Canadian films have dealt with the topic in other complex and nuanced ways. For example, some have sought to counter Islamophobic stereotypes, while others have questioned and reconceptualized the possible meanings of terrorist violence, for example, by refocusing on contemporary misogynist terrorism, White supremacist terrorism, and/or anti-LGBTQ terrorism.
Thus, one aspect of this project is archiving examples of Canadian cinematic depictions of terrorism and "the terrorist other," in order to reconsider the dominant discourse of terrorism and terrorist violence, and offer new possible definitions. Another aspect is an examination of the mass media siloing of ideologically-coded content; in other words, this project also considers the ways in which mass media marketing and distribution techniques use “Big Data" to target specific media consumers according to their pre-determined preferences, using algorithms and media habituation tactics like those of Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. Arguably, in a contemporary mass mediatized world, it is impossible to consider media content outside the media forms, infrastructures, and technologies that work to shape and distribute that content according to ideologically structured patterns and predeterminations. For example, a seeming diverse array of Canadian cinematic media content about terrorism is, nonetheless, distributed to media consumers according to their habituated viewing patterns and pre-profiled political leanings, arguably adding to the ideological segmentation of Canadians. As a result, potentially groundbreaking Canadian cinematic content that could foster public debate will potentially end up "preaching to the choir," and reinforcing the predisposed beliefs of its 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