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Neil Narine

Neil Narine: Contemporary trauma films reflect increasing self-interest.

‘Trauma’ films celebrate private power: thesis

May 27, 2010

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The next time you watch a contemporary Hollywood film about a traumatic global event such as the Rwandan genocide or the Iraq war, think about how it’s shaping your ethics, says Neil Narine.

A communication PhD student, Narine just defended his thesis in which he argues today’s American trauma flicks encourage ethical selfishness rather than global sensitivity.

And he worries that the casting of prominent actors known as humanitarian celebrities, such as George Clooney in Syriana, promotes private solutions to public problems both on screen and off.

Narine defines trauma films as dramatizations of violent political and social events that are so horrific they defy human comprehension and any efforts to portray them in their totality.

In his thesis, he argues that contemporary trauma films reflect our increasing self-interest in a fearful, networked society.

He bases his argument on an analysis of 12 trauma films made primarily after 9-11, such as Syriana, Babel and Hotel Rwanda, which he demonstrates are strikingly similar in their plot development.

"They are concerned with complex global traumas in our age of globalization, including intensifying conflicts over dwindling resources, transnational weapons cartels and terrorist threats," says Narine.

"They have multi-layered, interconnected plots in which naive protagonists are initially ignorant of their interconnectedness but eventually are tragically altered upon recognizing it, and take action based on self interest rather than global welfare."

The celebrities in these films, such as Clooney, Angelina Jolie (Beyond Borders) and Brad Pitt (Babel), endorse private fundraising foundations and green products, suggesting that we should all practice our citizenship in the marketplace as private consumers.

"I think we should be concerned that modern American trauma films may indeed be discouraging the development of a global citizenry that uses its interconnectedness to solve global problems collectively.

"Instead, they are further entrenching North Americans’ tendency to isolate themselves from the wider world."

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