American Studies | U.S. Movements and Institutions / TOPIC : Cultural Paranoia and the Contemporary Hollywood Misdirection Film
A201 | 11537 | Seth Friedman


(3 cr. hrs.) A & H

M/Tu/Wed/Th/Fr 2:30PM - 3:20PM

Weekly film screenings 7:00 - 10:00 p.m. Tuesdays

Since the early 1990s, there has been a spate of Hollywood films
such as The Sixth Sense (1999), The Usual Suspects (1995), and Fight
Club (1999), which are renowned for their surprise endings. All
these films possess a similar narrative structure; they each contain
a revelation that encourages spectators to reinterpret
retrospectively all that has come before. Although these films can
be identified as belonging to other pre-existing industrially
recognized genres, this class will take the approach that they are
more appropriately categorized as constituents of the “misdirection”
genre. This is because the narrative revelation is the most
consistently referenced feature whenever people speak or write about
these films, regardless of the ways that the studios package them.

This class will investigate the reasons why this long-standing
narrative mode has proliferated in the U.S. over the past two
decades. It is significant that some U.S. audiences have been drawn
to films that demand greater interpretive work than what is
typically needed to decipher the standard Hollywood fare. To address
this apparent paradox, we will examine the socio-cultural and
industrial conditions that have made misdirection films attractive
to both Hollywood producers and some U.S. audiences over
approximately the past twenty years. We will attempt to determine
why an audience for these films has recently formed. Specifically,
we will address why films containing narratives that suggest that
the “truth” is being concealed from view have become so appealing to
a significant segment of U.S. spectators. We will focus on questions
such as the following: What relationship do films and other forms of
media have to the culture in which they are produced and consumed?
What can the popularity of contemporary misdirection films tell us
about the acceptability of different modes of interpretation in the
U.S. since the early 1990s? How do communities form from specific
interpretive practices? What can these films tell us about
contemporary racial and gender politics in the U.S.? What connection
do these films have to the development of new home-viewing
technologies, the rise of the Internet, and other recent changes
impacting the U.S. media industries? To help us respond to these
questions, we will read selections from a variety of disciplines
such as Anthropology, Film and Media Studies, History, Literary
Studies, and Political Science.

Films will likely include the following: Arlington Road (1999),
Fight Club (1999), Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Magnolia (1999), Memento
(2000), Mulholland Drive (2001), Primal Fear (1996), Psycho (1960),
The Shining (1980), The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), and
The Usual Suspects (1995).