Hollywood at the Tipping Point: Blockbuster Cinema, Globalization, and the Cultural Logic of Ecology
Rust, Stephen A.
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Rust, Stephen A.
Twenty-first century American cinema is permeated by images of globalization and environmental change. Responding to what Yale researchers have described as a “sea change” in public perceptions of global warming occurring between 2004 and 2007, this dissertation provides the first extended examination of Hollywood’s response to the planet’s most pressing social and environmental challenge – global climate change. Among the most widely distributed and consumed forms of popular culture, Hollywood blockbuster films provide a unique textual window into the cultural logic of ecology during this important turning point in Americans’ perceptions of environmental risk. The term “cultural logic of ecology” is defined as the collective cultural expression of a society’s dominant perceptions and enactments of its relationships with other organisms and their shared bio-physical environments. Surveying the history of climate cinema, my second chapter examines the production and reception contexts of the two films most responsible for renewing public interest in global warming: The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and An Inconvenient Truth (2006). Despite their generic differences, both films combine the formal techniques of melodrama and realism to translate the science of global warming into a moral vernacular. In subsequent chapters, I further intertwine textual and historical analysis to examine other films released during the period that portray aspects of global warming. Considered a children’s film, Happy Feet (2006) employs digital animation to illustrate the ecological impacts of globalization on Antarctica, thus presenting viewers with a more accurate picture of the threats facing emperor penguins than did the documentary March of the Penguins (2005). I next analyze There Will Be Blood (2007) as a critique of patriarchy and natural resource exploitation that resonated with American filmgoers as oil prices were skyrocketing and President George W. Bush admitted “America is addicted to oil.” Consumed on Imax screens and iPods, and as toys, t-shirts, and video games, blockbusters leave massive cultural and carbon footprints. I conclude by arguing that ecocritical scholarship offers the most effective scholarly toolkit for understanding contemporary cinema as a cultural, textual, and material phenomenon.