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.
Indeed, 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, in many ways, now far more powerful and impactful than the actual physical violence done to buildings and people during terrorist attacks.
Today, mass media is a key site in which terrorism happens, its discursive meanings are negotiated, and from which its effects emanate. 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. For Canadians, a key aspect of this media sphere in which terrorism occurs and its discursive meanings are negotiated is cinematic media.
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 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 to archive examples of Canadian cinematic depictions of terrorism and "the terrorist other," and analyze that content. Another aspect of the project, however, will be to explore the ways in which mass media marketing and distribution of Canadian cinema across multiple platforms circulates this seeming diversity of Canadian cinematic images and messages about terrorism and "the terrorist other," and targets particular Canadians with those materials. More specifically, we will investigate whether or not mass media structures are creating less of an open public debate about these films, facilitated by what Marshall McLuhan once hoped would be a kind of utopic internet "commons" of shared ideas, and instead--as Wendy Hui Kyong Chun observes--tends to circulate Canadian cinematic content and advertising via an algorithmically networked media sphere which monitors and structures our lives, targetting us both individually and according to rigidly stratified populations with myopic messaging, limited choices of media content, and narrowly targeted political opinions, thus encouraging political polarization and stifling public debate. In other words, we will investigate the extent to which groundbreaking Canadian cinema with the potential to foster public debate, improved cultural understanding, and effect deradicalization, is instead--via mass media targetting of specific audiences with narrowly defined content, much like a Netflix viewer profile--effecting little more than "preaching to the choir" and entrenching political division.
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 email@example.com.
Director: Dr. Don Moore
Project Manager: Megan Hutchison