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Reel Vulnerability

Power, Pain, and Gender in Contemporary American Film and Television

Sarah Hagelin

Publication Year: 2013

Wonder women, G.I. Janes, and vampire slayers increasingly populate the American cultural landscape. What do these figures mean in the American cultural imagination? What can they tell us about the female body in action or in pain? Reel Vulnerability explores the way American popular culture thinks about vulnerability, arguing that our culture and our scholarship remain stubbornly invested in the myth of the helplessness of the female body.

The book examines the shifting constructions of vulnerability in the wake of the cultural upheavals of World War II, the Cold War, and 9/11, placing defenseless male bodies onscreen alongside representations of the female body in the military, in the interrogation room, and on the margins. Sarah Hagelin challenges the ways film theory and cultural studies confuse vulnerability and femaleness. Such films as G.I. Jane and Saving Private Ryan, as well as such post-9/11 television shows as Battlestar Galactica and Deadwood, present vulnerable men who demand our sympathy, abused women who don’t want our pity, and images of the body in pain that do not portray weakness.

Hagelin’s intent is to help scholarship catch up to the new iconographies emerging in theaters and in living rooms—images that offer viewers reactions to the suffering body beyond pity, identification with the bleeding body beyond masochism, and feminist images of the female body where we least expect to find them.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book is the result of a long intellectual collaboration with friends, mentors, colleagues, and family members without whom this work would not have been possible. I am deeply grateful to them for their insight, kindness, and fellow-feeling, and it is a great pleasure to be able to thank them publicly. ...

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Introduction: Unmaking Vulnerability

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pp. 1-20

In the first season of the Baltimore cop drama The Wire (HBO, 2002–2008), police officer Kima Greggs recalls her experience as a rookie cop. “You’re in your radio car alone, working your post. Most women aren’t getting out of that car—not without side partners showing up. They’re intimidated, physically.” ...

Part I: The Cinematic Construction of Vulnerability

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pp. 21-22

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1. The Furies, The Men, and the Method: Cinematic Languages of Vulnerability

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pp. 23-48

The Furies (Anthony Mann) and The Men (Fred Zinnemann), both released in 1950, mark an important moment in the construction of gendered vulnerability onscreen. The complex negotiation of genre conventions and gender representation in each film helps to define the cinematic languages of vulnerability that post–Cold War popular culture will critique and dismantle. ...

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2. Victimized, Violent, and Damned: Identification and Radical Vulnerability in The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, and Casualties of War

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pp. 49-68

By the time Brian De Palma released Casualties of War in 1989, the image of the American soldier was cast by popular culture as neither invulnerable nor heroic. Twenty years of Vietnam films from The Green Berets (1968) to Platoon (1986) had created a new genre; as early as 1980, Peter McInerney argued in Film Quarterly that there existed a “Vietnam genre” ...

Part II: Resistant Vulnerability after the Cold War

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pp. 69-70

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3. The Body at War: Sexual Politics and Resistant Vulnerability in Saving Private Ryan and G.I. Jane

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pp. 71-102

In August 1991, Vanity Fair hit newsstands with a cover of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore, shot by famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. Ghost (Jerry Zucker, 1990) had made Moore a bankable star, and at the time of the shoot she was pregnant with her second child. ...

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4. Matthew Shepard’s Body and the Politics of Queer Vulnerability in Boys Don’t Cry and The Laramie Project

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pp. 103-116

A year after Matthew Shepard’s murder in Laramie, Wyoming, in the fall of 1998, Andrew Sullivan unleashed a firestorm of controversy about what he termed the “marketing” of Matthew Shepard. Sullivan alleged that “the marketing of Shepard is . . . a damaging symbolic statement about who gay men still are in this culture.” ...

Part III: Vulnerability beyond the Body

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pp. 117-118

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5. The Violated Body after 9/11: Torture and the Legacy of Vulnerability in 24 and Battlestar Galactica

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pp. 119-141

When American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the production team behind Fox’s new program 24 had already filmed the show’s pilot, which includes a terrorist parachuting from an airplane full of passengers, which then explodes midair. ...

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6. Vulnerability by Proxy: Deadwood and the Future of Television Form

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pp. 142-158

In the second episode of David Milch’s HBO series Deadwood, Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), former sheriff, future hardware tycoon, and erstwhile protagonist, tries along with his partner Sol Star (John Hawkes) to purchase a lot of land from saloon owner, murderer, and pimp Al Swearengen (Ian McShane). ...

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Afterword: Female Power and Tarantino’s Basterds

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pp. 159-166

In the preceding chapters, we have seen the logic of female frailty dismantled, the iconography of dependence replaced, and the myth of the heroic individual challenged. In part, this work has depended on changing beauty standards that no longer figure muscle definition and femininity as opposites. ...


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pp. 167-192


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pp. 193-202


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pp. 203-212

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About the Author

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pp. 225-226

Sarah Hagelin is an assistant professor of English and director of film studies at the University of Colorado, Denver, where she specializes in film, television, and twentieth-century American literature and culture. She received her PhD from the University of Virginia ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813561059
E-ISBN-10: 0813561051
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813561042

Page Count: 226
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 859537565
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Reel Vulnerability

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Vulnerability (Personality trait) in motion pictures.
  • Power (Social sciences) in motion pictures.
  • Pain in motion pictures.
  • Sex role in motion pictures.
  • Motion pictures -- United States.
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