The incredible disappearing soldier and other adventures in British military recruitment: How is masculine identity constructed by British military recruitment films in the decades 2000–2020?
AffiliationFaculty of Arts
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AbstractThe Incredible Disappearing Soldier is a practice-led enquiry which explores the visual and discursive construction of masculinities in British military recruitment and promotional films produced during the first two decades of this century. Its title alludes to the 1957 US film The Incredible Shrinking Man, in which the subject becomes smaller and smaller and eventually disappears from view. The study engages theoretical and practice-led applications to open up aesthetic and conceptual questions surrounding the body, identity and the gendered military subject. It explores a phenomenon where soldiers and enemy targets are often defocused, or they are absented from staged scenes of military action. Attention is often directed away from the heroic individual, away from representations of the sentient body and towards abstract themes of belonging where the self gives way to a collective identity. Heroic endeavour is sometimes visualised through the technologies of war and a destruction of landscapes, often replacing visual representations of the soldier subject. On the surface the films’ direct appeal to women, minority ethnic and sexual minority groups preclude traditional representations of heteronormative male stereotypes associated with a hegemonic military ideal. Yet in many respects such narratives are counter-positional to the realities of a soldier’s life: at the time of writing this study the British military remains an overwhelmingly homosocial institution. This study therefore proposes that beneath the surface of the ambiguous visual language of these promotional films, traditional hegemonic ideals associated with a gendered military identity are still present. The Incredible Disappearing Soldier takes an interdisciplinary approach in the examination of thirty short promotional films made across a twenty-year period. This coincided with the so-called ‘war on terror’, the US and Allied military campaign started after 9/11 in the United States. The study utilises deconstructed filmmaking practice combined with critical approaches including gender studies, post-structuralism and film theory to develop an enquiry into how British military masculinities are constructed, interpreted and understood. It is concerned with ethical and political implications associated with a visual blurring of the gendered subject in the mediated framing of state-controlled violence. It also asks why military recruitment in the UK is increasingly framed through a disavowal of the individual and the vulnerable body. Film analysis and practical responses are facilitated by a methodology which is conceptualised as blur. This concept relates to an undecidability surrounding meaning, the image and subjectivity and builds on work around deconstruction, particularly in respect of the writing by Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. Deconstruction here includes the material breaking of film texts and establishes a synthesis between making and interpreting, practice and theory. Blur also facilitates discussions around a visual and conceptual blurring of the gendered subject. Centrally, Butler’s considerations of gender construction, a relationship with the body and subjectivity are explored through practice in performance and film. Postproduction methods are also used to engage and examine themes of continuity and discontinuity, coherence and incoherence. A deconstructed methodology is interpreted as a provocation, whose aim is to open up critical and reflective spaces when examining the visual construction of gender subjectivity and the framing of war.
PublisherUniversity of Wolverhampton
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
SponsorsUniversity of Wolverhampton.
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