Agency in the Cinematic Conspiracy Thriller


As Peter Knight has argued, contemporary paranoia is “less an isolated reaction to an occasional abuse of power than the logical by-product of a routinized state of affairs….of seemingly benign corporate processes such as the gathering of consumer profiles via credit card purchases, website visits etc” (35). The “cultural turn” transformed what were previously considered psychopathologies—e.g. multiple personality and paranoia—into cultural phenomena. As I have argued elsewhere, doubling and multiple personality left the confines of the 19th-century illness model and gradually acquired a more general, philosophical, cultural or metaphorical meaning: over the last several decades Hollywood has been “borrowing” the symptomatic language of doubling and multiple personality—characterized by trauma, memory loss, and blackouts—to create what appears to be a new genre of films structured around multiple—stolen, assumed or mistaken—realities, identities or temporalities. Similarly, while clinical paranoia used to be an irrational response, cultural paranoia is increasingly seen either as inherent in the very structure of the new global economy or as a rational response, a “social practice” through which the disempowered subject attempts to position himself with respect to the social/political world (Pratt, 36). Contemporary geopolitical conspiracy thrillers “borrow” the symptomatic language of clinical paranoia to dramatize a new type of conspiracy, “structural conspiracy”: “conspiracy without conspiracy.”

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