Wednesday, 29 July 2015

How Is Religious Extremism Represented In The Films Four Lions And Red State?

I thought I would share parts of my thesis on here, full thesis is linked to here. Maybe some people could find it useful and help any of you in your research. Also any feed back would be greatly appreciated. 


In July 2012 a fourteen minute video entitled  Innocence of Muslims (Nakoula:2012) was uploaded to YouTube. The relatively low-budget film was poorly dubbed in Arabic with what were regarded as anti-Islamic slurs, causing a global controversy resulting in the death of 75 people. It also prompted a wide variety of responses from different governments; Pakistani minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour offered a reward for the death of the film’s producer and the American Government requested YouTube assess whether the video could be removed from their site.  Critics noted that the video was constructed to be inflammatory that it emphasised that films are ‘still associated with an idea- the idea of America’s global power and prestige’ (Guardian, 2010). Ironically, across the Atlantic the Westboro Baptist church continued to use the funerals (and subsequent news coverage) of soldiers that died fighting in wars against a religiously motivated force in the Middle East as a platform to promote homophobia and their  fundamentalist beliefs. What I found interesting was it appeared that an ideological war was being waged using the media and it had a lot to do with religion.  
The rebuttal to this cross media warfare came in the form of film. In particular Four Lions (Chris Morris, 2010) presented a refreshing break from the constant barrage of anti-Islamic rhetoric (Labidi,2010) this proved a controversial film because of its light-hearted approach to home grown terrorism and its aims of deconstructing fear. Kevin Smiths appeared to do the opposite, exploring the evolution of American Christian Fundamentalism to extremism in Red State (Kevin Smith, 2011).  As social commentary these films express a need to engage in discourse about religious extremism that might otherwise be left to the one dimensional news portrayal.
This thesis uses a semiotic analysis of the two afore mentioned films to argue that religious extremism is represented in film with relation to factual media representations and as such provides a varied portrayal.
The first chapter positions the research within the context of representation, religion in film and controversial film and satire, the reason for this is the lack of primary research done specifically in religious extremism and more so in direct representation of religious people (extreme or not) within in film.
The second chapter addresses methodological approach outlining the uses and limitations of a semiotic analysis and how the use of Barthes deconstruction of myth and the film language of Christian Metz has been utilized in this research. It indicates and explores previous research that has used a similar method to analyse film and highlights the uses and limitations of semiotic analysis.
After examining the background theory I present the findings of a semiotic analysis of Four Lions. It is broken down into three sub chapters regarding iconography, rhetorical devices and the deconstruction of otherness. Here the use of Barthes construction of myth table is used analyse the visual and audible association that link Muslims with terrorism; the following sections address how the director Morris challenges the rhetoric developed by news sensationalism in a social realist setting.
The forth chapter presents the findings of RedState using the analysis method outline above. It initially outlines the case for the films relation to the WestBoro Baptists church.  Referring again to Barthes method, it assess the link between demographic and fundamentalism. It concludes that Smith has used generic horror conventions and stereotypes to reinforce rural America and its practice of religious fundamentalism as an alien and backward practice that has the ability (as experienced in the film) to use the Bible as a foundation for exacting ‘justified’ murder. Again the research suggests these references are laced with intertextuality to real world representations portrayed in the news.
The fifth chapter is a comparison of the findings on the two films; comparing and contrasting the noted successes or failures. This chapter also expands on the other issues touched upon in the films. Namely that both films comment on wider socio-political issues suggesting that religious extremism is not a singular or isolated event in our society but part of a bigger chain of events.
To conclude, I suggest that religious extremism is an area that needs to be represented in film and in particular in satire. Outlined in the films I analysed, is not a black and white subject area and representations are complex. Furthermore the research in this area, although limited, is developing. A round up on the literature on religion in film and its practical uses and finally it addresses my own conclusive opinion.

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