E61: A Cinema of Hopelessness (w/ Dr. Kendall R. Phillips)


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Look upon these films, ye mighty, and despair!

In this episode, we’re thrilled to welcome back Dr. Kendall R. Phillips, Professor of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at Syracuse University - this time, to discuss his hot-off-the-presses book, A Cinema of Hopelessness: The Rhetoric of Rage in 21st Century Popular Culture. In it, Kendall examines how some of the most emotionally-charged moments of 21st century U.S. public memory - from 9/11 to Occupy Wall Street to the presidential election of Donald Trump - have resonated in the biggest box office hits of popular cinema.

Within each of these conjunctures of hit movies and widely-felt cultural sentiments, Kendall incisively traces a common theme: “the rhetoric of refusal,” in which characters shout “no!” in the face of the powerful and seek societal destruction rather than reform. We discuss some of the topics and films covered in the book, from the influence of the Occupy movement on films like Snowpiercer, Cabin in the Woods, and The Purge, to Kendall’s unique reading of 2017’s Joker as a musical, to the themes of betrayal, loss, and nostalgic longing that have permeated both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and post-2016 U.S. national politics. We conclude with some thoughts on the collective, affective power of “movie magic,” as well as how nostalgia might be productively re:imagined to move our political culture forward.

Works and Concepts Referenced in this Episode

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rhetoric. In K. R. Phillips (ed.), Framing Public Memory (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press): pp. 212–247.

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Spinoza, B. (2009). The Ethics (R.H.M. Elwes, Trans.). Project Gutenberg. Retrieved from: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3800/3800-h/3800-h.htm (Original work published 1677).

Villadsen, L. (2017). “Bartleby the Scrivener”: Affect, agency, and the rhetorical trickster.” Presented at Rhetoric Society of Europe conference, Norwich, UK.

Williams, C. (2007). Thinking the political in the wake of Spinoza: Power, affect and imagination in the ethics. Contemporary Political Theory, 6(3), 349-369.

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