The Post 9/11 Blues or: How the West Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Situational Morality - Terrorism, Ethics and Creative Synthesis in the Post-Capitalist Thriller

Author: Patrick Lang

Lang, Patrick, 2017 The Post 9/11 Blues or: How the West Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Situational Morality - Terrorism, Ethics and Creative Synthesis in the Post-Capitalist Thriller, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have come to signify a critical turning point in the geo-political realities of the Western world. The United States of America suddenly found itself directly under attack on that day, and quickly overcommitted to a multitude of interlocking global conflicts of near Orwellian pervasiveness.

Cultural commentators have suggested that subsequent global events, bookended by 9/11 at one end and the Global Financial Crisis at the other, are indicative of a greater shift in traditional power structures. In short, many are arguing that we are witnessing the end of global capitalism.

As the notion of intelligence work began to permeate Western cultural discourse on September 12, screen industries oversaw a massive increase in espionage narratives. The humble spy story, formerly a relic of the Cold War, was suddenly centre stage again. This dissertation examines the shifts that have occurred in the classical spy narrative, post-9/11.

Most of the scholarship examining the genre in the post-9/11 world has focused on humanitarian approaches, as opposed to cultural and textural ones. I will first engage with theorists such as Slavoj Žižek and Jean Baudrillard and find the point where their respective theses on terror and globalism intersect with the work of economist Thomas Piketty to provide a broad overview of cultural shifts in the early part of the 21st century.

The second part of this dissertation will take the form of an in depth examination of the contemporary manifestation of the genre. This examination will be constructed through the establishment of a series of stylistic and industrial precedents, which are then deployed through both textual and cultural analysis focusing upon a survey of various screen-based media. In examining these media, I will argue that television-based drama represents the strongest embodiment of the post-9/11 espionage thriller, especially in regards to the key concepts of the contemporary thriller; situational morality and ideology. I will then propose a series of key tropes and thematic elements which define spy TV as a original genre which stands apart from its more classical 20th century incarnation.

The conclusions of this examination will then be synthesised into an original creative artefact to better demonstrate the aforementioned tropes. This will take the form of a series of screenplays for a contemporary espionage TV series, complemented by a ‘show bible’ – an industry document which provides an in depth overview of the ‘world’ of an original show.

By establishing the multi-faceted interplay of all the aforementioned factors, it is possible to analyse the numerous roles that screen-based espionage texts play, not just as artefacts of ‘entertainment’, but as complex works operating in a broader and more deeply resonant cultural context.

Keywords: terrorism, 9/11, post-9/11, thriller, ethics, morality, capitalism, post-capitalism, GFC, Global Financial Crisis, Žižek, Baudrillard, espionage, spies, spy, 24, Spooks

Subject: Screen Studies thesis, Humanities thesis, Creative Arts thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Dr. Nick Prescott