A familiar villain: surveillance, ideology and popular cinema

Brown, Felicity Adair
Hope, Wayne
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Master of Communication Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis examines the representations of surveillance in mainstream cinema. Using ideology critique it will show how filmic illustrations of monitoring depoliticize the relationship between surveillance and structural relations of power.In order to provide a foundation for this inquiry, a political economy critique of surveillance will be undertaken in four areas. Focusing on the workplace, consumer surveillance, urban policing and intelligence gathering, this thesis will contextualise surveillance as historically relevant and intimately connected with modern constructs such as the nation-state, military power and capitalist economic organisation. In recent years, the role of surveillance has been intensified in response to the challenges posed by globalization, the restructuring of capitalism in the 1980's and 90's and the declining legitimacy of nation-state governments. These developments are both aided by, and in turn promote, pervasive networks of surveillance. Driven by risk management and other forms of economic reasoning as organisational logic, developments in information communication technologies accelerate surveillance capabilities rendering them more invasive and intense. In this way, surveillance can be conceived of as complicit with prevailing relations of power on a macro, sociological level.In order to show how mainstream cinematic representations of surveillance ideologically obscure this relationship, this thesis begins with an overview of 30 popular films. It then moves to a comparison of four recent Hollywood portrayals of surveillance with the four areas of political economy critique identified above. This analysis will reveal that these films have a tendency to focus on sentimental themes such as individual heroism, antagonist versus protagonist struggles and romantic subplots, in a way which deflects attention from collective experience with surveillance webs. More pertinently, the narrative structures of these films feature dichotomies between malevolent and benevolent monitoring, aligning legitimate and benign surveillance with the state. At the same time, the accompanying imagery of surveillance devices fetishizes monitoring, deterministically glorifying technology as a powerful and omniscient force. The overall effect is to depoliticize monitoring as a natural part of the fabric of everyday life.

Motion pictures - political aspects , Privacy, Right of , Power (Social sciences) , Intelligence service , Electronic surveillance , Communication studies
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