Contemporary Apocalyptics: crisis and revelation in the sphere of public imagination. Case-studies in journalism and popular culture in a post-September 11 environment.
My thesis examines a number of political, journalistic and popular culture texts in the context of what film maker Tom Tykwer (in Maher 2002) has called the “aesthetic memory” of September 11. These texts include, the speeches of President George W. Bush, elements of popular evangelical culture, daily news and investigative journalism, the television series 24 and several mainstream and independent films produced or released in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It explores the way these texts relate to deeply embedded Western cultural narratives of the apocalyptic and identifies some of the ways this apocalyptic myth is being reimagined in contemporary cultures and particularly how it has contributed to a new “war on terror” discourse.
The contemporary apocalyptic is a dynamic hybrid form that can best be understood as a set of dialectical relations across a number of cultural sites, forms and modes of representation and is most likely to emerge not as a stand alone mythic form but as part of a cluster of mythic stories. The apocalyptic is not merely a vision, myth or narrative form but it draws its evocative power from a unique interaction between its symbolic and material forms. The apocalyptic is “a network of discourses and practices in social and political use and circulation” (Stewart & Harding 1999: 290) and it is made visible in places and bodies.
This thesis argues that an apocalyptic “system” or set of political strategies is both the underpinning and product of apocalyptic mythic traditions and that both the apocalyptic vision and the apocalyptic system are constructed through particular symbolic and physical geographies or zones. This investigation is framed as an investigation of contemporary spheres of public imagination a term which acknowledges that the dynamics of contemporary mediascapes (Appadurai 1996) have moved beyond the purely rationalist Habermassian model of public discussion.
The hybrid, baroque structure of the apocalyptic calls for a particular approach to textual analysis: a nomadic reading (Braidotti 1994) that privileges intertextuality and connections across texts, genres and forms. Although the dynamics of the contemporary apocalyptic narrative and its connections to a war on terror discourse can most acutely be seen in the Bush era, the apocalyptic narrative remains a powerful part of contemporary media and political cultures in the post-Bush era. It remains both a way of thinking that is strategically deployed by a range of politicians, creative producers, and religious communities.