Thursday, 11 June 2015


Waiting for Japanese master of horror, Takashi Miike

Watch the trailer for his film, Imprint

to direct, SAW BOW-WOW.


Background:  The compelling story of our little baby girl's SUDDEN ABDUCTION by a WIND-TURBINE SYSTEM (SAWS).  Our family tell the chilling tale to investigating police...We truly and honestly believe that our little baby girl was pulled into the WINDFARM

one tragic and spine-chilling night.

There had been several supernatural occurrences since we moved to 'town'.  We write a list of all these nasty symptoms, before the police come to interrogate us.  I get my wife to type it up on our computer, so it looks nice and professional:

We know it was the wind-turbine because we did the research using Google, Wikipedia and we used statements from the Liberal-National party and other experts.  Also, we had taken the following steps to protect our baby girl:
  • We installed that video monitoring system 
  • Fed her a life-affirming paleo-diet
  • Ran any former/potential pedophiles (and any homosexuals, to be sure, to be sure) out of town, before we bought at this tranquil rural location in Queensland's west
  • We made sure our baby girl didn't get vaccinated
The twist:

Our pet American Staffordshire Terrier named, Doggie Bow-Wow, goes bonkers rapid (and maybe develops superpowers?), as a result of the mindless Southern drawl of the cheap imported wind farm.  Imported from America, the parts were assembled by exploited factory workers in Indonesia, many of whom were crushed in the machines that assembled the turbine's parts.  As the tragedy unfolds, we realise the local manufacturing industry had been closed down years before, after the implementation of regional trade agreements made subsidies on goods manufactured in Australia totes illegal.

Here is a video of when the Opposition leader tried to save the manufacturing industry in Australia, using protectionist racist rhetoric:

The End.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Politics of Pleasure

In 'Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex' and 'Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinctions Between the Sexes', Freud claims to understand the body/sexuality/pleasure beyond culture and history (Laqueur 1990).  Freud's narrative, detaching sexuality from reproduction and problematising the notion of exclusive heterosexuality, ultimately does more to serve the primacy and value of both heterosexual relations and the conventions of the patriarchal organisation of the family (Appignanesi & Forrester 1993).

Freud accounts for the transition from the pleasure of the clitoris in younger women, to the primacy of the vagina, in adult females.  Prior to the 20th Century, medical and pornographic representations of women's orgasm were only clitoral (Laqueur 1990: 233).  Freud's mythology around the development of the healthy adult female asserted vaginal pleasure and an abandonment of clitoral pleasure.  Freud, as an authority on mind, body and normality, was a powerful figure, defining acceptable ways for middle class women to use their bodies.  The medical profession, emerging out of the Middle class, further defined acceptable/rational/healthy ways to use the body.  Internalised notions of normality became powerful forces, where individuals internalise ideas and shame, and label their bodies/pleasures/identities in relation to the sexual degradation of the Other, in this case the mentally disturbed and the lesser classes (Laquer 1990: 235).

In Freud (in Appignanesi & Forrester 1993: 419), women are "made capable of an erotic life based on the masculine type object-love, which can exist alongside the feminine proper, derived from is the baby that makes the transition from narcissistic self-love to object love possible". Freud's narrative, while problematising exclusive heterosexuality (and societal ideas about what women find pleasurable), ends in an adult female, like the homosexual male, defined as narcissistic.  She is able to transcend this authentic selfishness via reproduction and sexual practices/pleasures that are defined in relation to men, and to the penetration of the penis of the vagina.  The sordid complexity of Freud reveals/suggests the extent to which powerful men and dominant institutions consciously and unconsciously prescribed myths about bodies/pleasures/identities.  While Freud may have seen himself as beyond the conventional morality and irrationality of religion, the key organiser of bodies (and identities) before scientific disciplines (gained authority), it would be interesting to explore the extent to which Freud furthers the patriarchal organisation of gender and sexuality through complex modes of self-discipline.  Indeed many feminists have examined the extent to which Freud's theory and practice involved the dismissal of sexual abuse in childhood, explaining his/her patients' complaints of abuse as mere problems of development of the individual and his or her Oedipus Complex (Appignanesi & Forrester 1993: 472). This alludes to a history of the ways in which religion and its supposed anti-thesis science reproduced an existing sexual and gender order (in the modern West) which favoured the powerful, and the ambitions of a society dominated by the Gods of sexual reproduction and the power of men over women, of the middle class over the others, of normality over insanity, of rich over poor, of object over subject, of heterosexual over homosexual.


Appignanesi, L. & Forrester, J. (1993).  Freud's Women, Virago: London.

Freud, S. 1973, New Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis, Penguin: Harmondsworth.

Freud, S. 1977 (1923), 'Infantile genital organisation', in On Sexuality ed. Angela Richards, Penguin: Harmondsworth.

Freud, S. 1977 (1924), 'Disolution of the oedipus complex', in On Sexuality ed. Angela Richards, Penguin: Harmondsworth.

Freud, S. 1977 (1925), 'Some psychical consequences of the anatomical distinction between the sexes', in On Sexuality, ed. Angela Richards, Penguin: Harmondsworth.

Laqueur, T. (1990), Making Sex:  Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Cambridge:  MA.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Je Suis Ollie

The statistics are in and they tell me that stupid ape is going down.  The frenzy of likes on a facebook page I co-administer (Too Informed to Vote for Tony Abbott) provides evidence of the demise of your friend Tony Abbott.  After over a year of limited interest, the facebook page has become a veritible hotbed of populist rage.

As co-administrator of the page, perhaps I should be fullfilling my job, posting something witty and thought provoking, engaging with debates about the failure of the trickle down effect, tracing the parallels between the fundamentalism of the Coaltion and that of extremist terrorist groups, or postulising about whether ice or Tony Abbott is the true scourge of society.

Inevitably, I will be read as a green, nihilistic, homo-terrorist in an open relationship with a communist Staffodshire puppy dog.  In all my smug self-assurdness, I don't care so much about how tragic humans perceive me, however, I remain highly succeptible to anger managment issues that the Daily Telegraph would define as 'spiralling dangerously out of control'.

On Easter Sunday, a walk in the park descended into a battle between your innocent staffy loving commrad and the world of Lovejoy, and other human-centric 'people' that are so close to death that they really should know the joy of puppy-love.  Ollie (or Olive, as I like to call him) was "straying".  It's common for him to hang out behind the pack when in the woods.  The possibility of food, pats, dinner, shade, scratches, ball, love, eggs, puppies increases loitering likeliness.  I returned to the cafe where Ollie was performing.  I like to watch him entertain his peoples with his staffy antics.  He pretended to hug some some children while nudging toward their sandwiches.  They seemed to laugh at the way his ears perked up, pushed to the top of his head like a little girl with piggy tails.  They mimiced his snorting as he sniffed the ground while similtaneously peeing on the ice cream freezer.  He used his ninja moves and drew on a number of his favourite styles of walk, from the grapevine to the rocking-chair, conducting his own circus of joy.  In private this great magician is known as a "little lamb", "pie of the Ollie", "sweet Olive of Olliebama" and even "Bubby bearskin Rug", as he outstretches his body to form one line of delightfullness.

The naggy, know-it-all Anzac rattled me with a tone that exibited my lack of respect for my Christian elders.

"Your dog is being a pest".
"What's wrong with you", I asked, a statement demanding a list from the psychologist that he never realised he needed.
"There's nothing wrong with me".
"Shut up", I concluded.

"You just told MY father to shut up", another human pestering me unnecessarily in Ollie's favourite park.
"You're a stupid b***h".
I don't know what it was, maybe it was the frenzy of Erskineville Kings, the fact that it was Ollie's park, or that it was Christ's eternal birthday that made me react in such a manner.
Having made eye contact with the stupid bitch, I looked up and a couple of very stupid looking faces appeared shocked.  Murmers of disgust further fueled my outburst.
"Hey, watch your language.  There are kids around, you know", said the father whose wife was clearly flirting with Ollie, when I watched her from a distance.
"Just fuck off.  F-u-c-k off", I said.  My manner was abrupt as I placed Ollie on the lead.

My smug, narrcistitic grandiosity is only reinforced by the fact that I am bragging about this incident on my blog.  Amused by my own behaviour, most disappointed that I didn't add "Just fuck off...back to your trashy white suburbs you god fearing breeders".

The page I co-administer, why don't you click like on it?  You can be part of his downfall.  You can tell your grandchildren that you helped make the moment.  I might post something on there too, before I lose my job.  When you read it, remember that I wouldn't tell you how to fix your car, bring up your children, how to make Anzac cookies or that Jesus doesn't really love you.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Democratisation or Neo-liberalism: The role of Western powers in the Middle East

“After the events of 11 September, the US and the EU both looked at methods of promoting democracy in the region, but…only if it did not challenge their interests…The free flow of oil and gas, the movement of military/commercial traffic through the Suez Canal, commercial infrastructure construction contracts, the security of regional allies such as Israel, and cooperation on immigration, military, counter-terrorism…the expansion of free markets and free trade in a neoliberal modality…reduced democracy promotion to little more than a technology of US and EU external governance…The Obama administration initially attempted to replace “market driven modernisation” with “development driven modernisation”…in the aftermath of the 2011 revolutions, however, the Obama administration would increasingly come to see the Bush administration’s approach as the preferred policy agenda”.

(Ruth Santini and Oz Hassan 2012: 66-75)

At uni last week we looked at democratisation, specifically, the movement of individual states toward democracy from autocracy.  We touched on the role of external powers [Western democracies] in supporting/imposing democracy on developing countries. It isn’t until recently that there are more democracies than autocratic regimes. We also looked at different forms of democracy and academic debates about whether democracy is good for development. 

We also briefly discussed a range of other issues that challenge popular ideas about democracy (and led to significant insight into why autocratic regimes have persisted in many countries).  The formation of many developing states is largely born out of the borders imposed on areas, often under colonial rule, not natural formation, fails to address ethno/religious difference.  Significantly, modern Western democracies took 100s of years to be formed in their current state.  Movements toward democracy were often violent, and were often built on the exploitation of the rights of others within and between States (i.e. slavery, exploitative labour practices imposed on women).  Some authors acknowledge that the formation of the democratic modern nation-states (and their neo-liberal -philosophies, -policies,  -institutions) exemplify deep structural inequality, both within and between countries [See Nicholas (2012: 213) : “We can observe the formation of such institutionalized patterns of hierarchy not just among preexisting sovereign states but actually in the historical process of state formation.  Many contemporary European nation-states, most notably Britain and Spain, emerged out of struggles among adjacent kingdoms to impose authority over one another in conflicts uncategorizable as either domestic or international.  Outside Europe, many societies were inserted into the international system through the imposition of colonial authority and, on decolonization, inherited a set of state institutions designed to enable colonial administration.  Hierarchy amongst polities has often preceded and shaped the genesis of modern states”].

In the examination of democratisation, we briefly discussed that, throughout the twentieth century, Western liberal democracies have supported autocracies in the Middle East.  This has been for political, economic, security reasons.  Gilley (2013: 659) acknowledges the United States (U.S.) and European powers have a history of supporting authoritarian regimes.  A 2006-2008 Arab public opinion poll indicated that 65% did not believe the US was sincere about promoting democracy (Gilley 2013: 674).  In, 2010 another Arab opinion poll suggested that the majority of public (across Arab states) believed that of U.S. Foreign policy was to preserve regional and global dominance.  Only 3% of respondents believed that U.S. foreign policy was to promote democracy (Gilley 2013: 680).  Curiously, while Gilley acknowledges that other theorists, like Baroudi (in Gilley 2013: 676) believe that “democratization of the Arab world is far more likely to hinder the American agenda than to serve it”, Gilley (2013: 659) continues to conceptualise Bush’s “Freedom Agenda’ (659) as sincere in its objective of promoting in the Middle East.

While Gilley emphasises that democracy would have been more successful if it had been democracy in the hands of domestic actors (683), Santini and Hassan (2012) are more critical of the notion that Western powers support democratisation of the Middle East.  Of U.S. policy and its influence on international institutions, Santini and Hassan (2012: 75) argue that Obama initially attempted to replace market driven modernisation with development driven modernisation.  However, they argue that Obama increasingly applied Bush’s approach arguing that “the problem with the region was its “close economies” and that the region needed “trade” and “not just aid”; “investment” and “not just assistance” ; and that “protectionism must give way to openness”.  (Santini and Hassan 2012: 75). Santini and Hassan (2012) argue that European Union’s (EU) concept of democratisation is embodied in regional institutions and processes (e.g. the Barcelona Process, 2000 EU Common Strategy on the Mediterranean Region and 2004 Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East.   While, they acknowledge that the EU has been less prescriptive in tying economic liberalization with democracy, they conclude that both the U.S. and the EU need to learn to engage and support civil society more effectively, rather than defining freedom for the region in neoliberal economic terms (Santini and Hassan 2012: 79)

Strasheim and Fjelde (2012) look more closely at the role of interim governments in changes from autocratic rule to democracy.  These authors specifically look at the problems with intervention from Western powers (Strasheim and Fjelde 339-341).  With their analysis in mind, I think it would be interesting to examine the extent to which interim governments were installed in Afghanistan, examining the extent to which Western powers undermined peace and security in Afghanistan.  I think a lot of other interesting questions emerge from the readings:

By supporting movements toward democracy for late 'developing' countries, are Western democracies supporting democracy or neoliberalism?

To what extent do modern liberal democracies function as democracies?  Discuss the role of the media, treatment of minorities and informed citizenship as key elements of a democracy.

To what extent should Western states intervene (particularly unilaterally), in the Middle East? 

To what extent are interventions in the Middle East genuine interest in the rights of women or minority groups, or are human/women’s rights discourses used to justify interventions with more sinister motives?

To what extent are international institutions a product of the powerful States that formed and reform them?


Gilley, B. (2013) ‘Did Bush Democratize the Middle East?  The Effects of External-Internal Linkages’, Political Science Quarterly, 34(8): 1323-1338.

Lees, N. (2012) ‘The dimensions of the divide:  vertical differentiation, international inequality and North-South stratification in international relations theory’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 25(2): 209-230.

Santini, R. & Hassan, O. (2012) ‘Transatlantic democracy promotion and the Arab Spring’, The International Spectator:  Italian Journal of International Affairs, 47(3): 65-82.

Strasheim, J. & Fjelde, H. (2014) ‘Pre-designing democracy: institutional design of interim governments and democratization in 15 post-conflict societies’, Democratization, 21(2): 335-358.

Friday, 12 December 2014

What mainstream gendered war story does the film Zero Dark Thirty tell about the ‘War on Terror’?

To gain support for its militaristic, unilateral response in the ‘War on Terror’
(WOT), the United States (U.S.) government manufactured narratives of concern
for protecting the rights of Afghan women (Hunt 2010: 116).  The discursive
repackaging of 19th Century imperialist stories, an appropriation of both
feminism, and women’s rights, will be discussed here.  This essay will examine the
way the film, Zero Dark Thirty (ZD30), reinforces gendered war stories, justifying
US foreign policy and the normalising of militaristic responses to terrorism.  Using
a multidisciplinary analysis that draws on feminist international relations theory,
feminist cultural studies and post-colonial feminism, a deconstruction of the film
will be undertaken.

An examination of the representation of Maya, the film’s leading protagonist, will
reveal the post-feminist concern of ZD30.  To unpack the problematic dominant
framing of the film, an intersectional analysis will be undertaken, which examines
the connections between the film’s representations of gender, race, nationality
and religion.  Discussion will centre on the way binary oppositions in, and across,
these identity categories construct a liberated, white, American woman as
superior to a Middle-Eastern Other.  This Otherness is primarily manifested
through the representations of the veil, as a key symbol of the oppression of
Middle-Eastern women.  While an in-depth review of the literature on torture is
beyond the scope of this essay, it will be argued that the film provides women’s
consent for militarism, by framing torture as necessary in achieving equality for
women, further camouflaging other agendas, policies and politics that underpin
war (Hunt 2010: 116).

'…images of burqa-clad Afghan women represented as victims of
“barbaric, unshaven, cave-dwelling fundamentalists” dominated the
media and provided the basis for the Bush administration’s rhetoric
that this war would liberate Afghan women' (Hunt and Rygiel 2006: 9).

Gendered war stories about the WOT centre on the notion of Afghan, and other
Middle-Eastern, women being oppressed by Middle-Eastern men (Hunt and
Rygiel 2006: 2-3). Feminists have revealed the way these stories rely on binary
oppositions between masculine and feminine, West and Other, Christianity and
Islam, Western and Muslim, etcetera (Hunt and Rygiel 2006: 2-15).  Hunt (2010:
118) explains that these stories position white, Western women as liberated in
comparison to Afghan women. The ‘gendered logic of protection’ and ‘concern for
the rights and dignity of women’ were employed in these stories, in which
victimization was frequently signified by the veil (Hunt and Rygiel 2006; 16;
Young 2003).

Many feminist theorists have recognised the way gendered war stories since
September 11 have reproduced and repackaged racist, colonial stories about
saving “oppressed” women from, both their ‘backward’ culture and their
‘animalistic’ men (Hunt 2002: 117).  These stories featured complex interactions
of race, gender, sexuality and religion, and were used to justify imperial practices
of colonisation (Zine 2006: 27).  As part of a mission to civilise, women from
colonising countries were positioned to help rescue the victimized women of
colonised countries (Hunt 2006: 54).

Feminists have been critical in revealing the way gendered war stories
camouflage both the reality of, for example, attacks on women’s reproductive
rights in the U.S. and the increasing threats to security for Afghan women through
U.S. attacks (Hunt 2002: 121; Ayotte and Husain 2005: 112).  While there is
insufficient space to deal with the multitude of gendered war stories here, it is
worth emphasising that often these hide other undisclosed reasons for war, such
as imperialist expansion (Hunt 2010: 119). 

The film ZD30 tells the story of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) decade
long search for Osama Bin Laden.  The film is framed as a true story, opening with
the screen caption, “The following motion picture is based on first hand accounts
of actual events” (Bigelow 2012).  The text, “September 11, 2001” (Bigelow 2012),
then appears on the screen, accompanied by what seems like ‘real life’ dialogue
from various events surrounding the 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S..  Hasian
(2013) argues that the film presents itself as an authentic, historical
reconstruction.  Binary constructions around gender becomes an immediate
feature in framing the story, as the film opens with voices of women screaming
and sounding hysterical.  “I’m going to die aren’t I” (Bigelow 2012), one woman
says.  In the same scene, men are heard performing technical tasks associated
with conventional masculinity.  Like other mainstream Hollywood narratives, the
complex interaction of various elements of the film exemplified in the first few
minutes establishes and anticipates the film’s overall meaning (Hasian 2013). 

The film is largely a confusing collection of names of people and locations, the
dialogue is fast-paced and the use of abbreviations (for people, place names, and
intelligence operations) makes the plot difficult to follow.  The lack of narrative
cohesion is counter to what is made more obvious in the film, that the ‘real-life’
discovery of Bin Laden was the consequence of one hardworking, liberated, white,
American woman named Maya. For about the first hour, the film focuses almost
exclusively on the visual depiction of terrorist attacks both in the U.S. and
overseas.  These attacks are intertwined with scenes of U.S. agents torturing and
questioning men of Middle-Eastern appearance.  Many argue that the film
presents torture as critical to locating Bin Laden (Bush 2014; Rashid et. al. 2014;
Richter-Montpetit 2014).

The film emphasises the transition of the lead protagonist, from a woman
associated with more traditional femininity, to one that embodies characteristics
of a liberated, modern, white Western woman.  Gendered war stories rely on the
appropriation of feminism, with one critic suggesting that ZD30, “puts a female on
the face of imperialism” (Eisenstein 2013, n.p.) and others arguing that torture is
used to provide a woman’s blessing for going to war (Hasian 2014; Rashidi et. al.
2014).  The film ends with another iconic event in American memory, the storm
on the Abbottabad compound where Bin Laden is located and killed (Rashidi et.
al. 2014: 132).

In deconstructing the film, ZD30, Laura Shepherd’s (2013) three analytical
strategies:  spoken language, body language, and non-linguistic signifiers will be
used. Spoken language includes the linguistic elements of the narrative, for
example, the script and captions (Shepherd 2013).  It includes linguistic tropes, a
narrative device used as a cognitive short-cut, to reduce the need for extra
explanation.  These symbols carry mainstream accepted meaning (Shepherd
2013: 8).  Body language incorporates gesture and expression, and other
elements such as where, and in relation to whom, characters are physically
positioned (Shepherd 2013: 9).  Non-linguistic signifiers include tropes, i.e. icons,
where an abstract image stands in for another concept.  In the film, the veil is a
symbol of the oppression of Middle-Eastern women.  These elements combine to
allow for detailed deconstruction of narrative representations, and will be the
focus of the analysis that follows (Shepherd 2013: 8-9).

The notion that cultural representations are important in understanding
international relations, both shaping and being shaped by them, provides
justification for the analysis of the film (Rowley 2010: 309). Culture gives
meaning to experiences and shapes the way individuals make sense of the world. 
In the modern West, cinematic myths have a lot of power (Ferber 2012: 64).   A
number of theorists (Welch 2010; Bush 2014) have noted that American attitudes
toward torture became more permissible after the September 11 attacks. 45% of
those surveyed in one poll said they would not object torture, if it supplied
information about terrorism (Welch 2010: 132).  Others have connected the U.S.
public’s support for torture to the recent proliferation of spy movies and
television shows, which increasingly depict torture as heroic (Bush 2014:93;
Cornell 2013).  It is worth emphasising that collectively, visual and textual
depictions of torture have normalised it and presented it as effective and
appropriate (Bush 2014: 93), despite the fact that; many would argue it is never
morally permissible, it is illegal in U.S. and international law, and has been long
deemed ineffective by the agencies that practiced it in the WOT (Hasian Jr. 2013;
Blakeley 2011).

Representations of the lead female protagonist, Maya, are crucial to
understanding the way the film tells a mainstream gendered war story.  At the
start of the film, Maya is represented as a woman who embodies the
characteristics associated with traditional femininity.  The first time she is shown
in the CIA office, she is presented doing ‘women’s work’ and being ‘obsessed with
cleanliness’, both tropes for traditional femininity.  When she arrives at her desk,
she brushes a finger over the dusty table and proceeds to clean it.  Then, she sits
in front of a computer looking dumbfounded.  These representations demonstrate
both her lack of experience in the CIA and her supposed lack of rationality. 
Reinforcing her traditionally feminine position, the first torture scenes show
Maya as relatively passive.  Her body language is used to convey a sense of shock,
discomfort and repulsion. She looks away from the camera and from the torture
presented onscreen, often positioned in the background of shots.  Her fiery red
hair and her ultra pale skin are further representative of her conventional white,
western femininity.

Maya’s femininity is reinforced by the way she is treated by her CIA colleagues.  At
the start of the film she is infantilised, dominated and humiliated.  In the first
torture scenes, her male colleague, Dan, explains to her that there is, “no shame if
you want to watch [torture] from the monitor” (Bigelow 2012).  He adds that she
“might want to put this on” (Bigelow 2012), in reference to a black hood to
conceal her identity from the suspect they are torturing.  Dan’s dialogue affirms
his role as both ‘protector’ and ‘actor’ (torturer), to her ‘protected’ and being
‘acted on’ (dominated), largely playing out conventional gender roles.  Dan
assigns her a task, to get a bucket and fill it up with water, for the waterboarding
he is about to commit.  “Hurry up” and “come on give it to me” (Bigelow 2012), he
instructs with impatience.  She watches the sexual humiliation of a prisoner and is
made to stay in the room alone, with him naked. 

The film’s focus of women’s clothing, the veil becoming a major symbol of
Otherness.  Maya’s Western-style clothing and her individualistic adaptation of
Muslimesque head-coverings, are a consistent reminder of both her freedom, and
the freedom of western women.   Maya’s initial steps toward agency to become a
more ‘liberated’ woman are accompanied by both her appropriation of a range of
head coverings, and her complicity with torture.  The first scene that the viewer
sees her directly interrogating a detainee, she adopts her first head covering. 
Maya’s agency emerges from her realization that the detainee she will be
questioning has been tortured the day before.  Her subsequent interrogation of
the tortured suspect leads to the name of Bin Laden’s courier.  It is here that the
viewer sees Maya begin to accept torture as a necessary method.  The scene also
involves Maya becoming a more active participant, and as a consequence, she is
taken more seriously by her colleagues.
A range of other scenes encourage the viewer to remember mainstream gendered
war stories, including the veil, as a symbol of oppression.  Maya is dressed in blue
throughout the film, the colour of the veil worn by ‘the most oppressed women in
the world’, those from Afghanistan.  In one scene, Maya is shown arriving at her
Pakistani residence in a black abaya.  The camera juxtaposes the abaya with
tropes of freedom and choice: converse shoes, and the canned drinks and the
lollies that she is consuming.  When she participates in actual torture, instructing
her assistant to strike the detainee a number of times, she is again wearing a blue

'Whether in the context of covering or uncovering, collapsing
differences among Muslim women through the use of the burqa as a
generalised symbol of female oppression performs a colonizing
function.  Under such assignment, women’s status as objects remains
fixed since they are denied power to speak of differences, their
placement in the existing first/third-world imperialist order secured. 
In contemporary U.S., as in European colonial, discourses, “(t)he
domesticated, subjugated, unenlightened Other as opposed to the
liberated, independent and enlightened Western self was used as a
moral prop to legitimize colonial power relations' (Ayotte and Husain
2005: 118).

Feminist analysis of gendered war stories provides context to understand the
absence of voices of Middle-Eastern women in the film.  Ayotte and Husain (2005)
explain that binary oppositions between the West and the Other are both typical
of those used by colonising nations, and more recently used in gendered war
stories.  Throughout the film, representations of gender, religion, race and
nationality reinforce one another.  Islamabad streets (Pakistan’s capital) are
shown as mostly absent of women.  The first women that are briefly shown are;
one in a black, and the other in a white, abaya.  Later, a woman in an abaya, and
two women in burqas are shown on the telephone, reinforcing gendered stories
that suggest that Muslims with telephones are a security threat.  Majed contrasts
the film’s representations with the real Pakistan where,

'you are as likely to see women with no head coverings on the street as
you are to hijabis, and where chadris and abayas are a rare
spectacle…the sky-blue chadris seen multiple times in the movie would
normally only be observed in Afghanistan' (Majed 2013: n.p.).

It is significant that the film, almost absent of any representations of non-
Western women, also features no speaking roles for non-Western women. 
Middle-eastern women are shown always veiled.  Freeman (2006: 181) points out
that narratives about the veil have been used since colonial times, in an attempt to
prove Western superiority over Muslim societies.  Even when Muslim women
claim they are wearing the veil voluntarily, they are viewed as passive, removing
agency for these women (Freedman 2006: 181).

Brittain (2006:92) argues that Iraqi women were virtually absent from Iraq
invasion narratives because, “Arab femininity only serves the imperialist project
as a silent figure of oppression in need of rescue”.  Hunt and Rygiel (2006: 1)
confirm that it is typical in gendered war stories to exclude women altogether, or
when they are included, they shown as passive and being acted upon.  Hunt
(2006: 55) adds that these stories often construct Western feminism as the
saviour of Middle-Eastern women, speaking for and objectifying other women. 
The failure to acknowledge the differences and power equalities between women
of different backgrounds is typical of the film.  Marchand (2009: 932) points out
that “…wearing a veil does not necessarily mean that women are subordinated; it
may also signify an act of resistance of a statement of identity”. 

Shepherd (2006: 26) explains that the veil is central to the construction of the
enemy as an irrational barbarian.  This often includes subtle mockery and overt
vilification (Freedman 2006) and both are recognisable in the film, through
Maya’s appropriation of the veil.  Through its representations of the veil and its
absence of voices of Muslim and/or Middle-Eastern women, the film inaccurately
asserts that all Middle-Eastern women are oppressed.

In the film, ‘exotic’ music (accompanied by the sounds of Muslim prayer) and
shots of mosques are excessively used tropes, connecting Pakistan to Islamic
fundamentalism and Otherness.  On her first night in Islamabad, Maya is shown
being woken up by Arabic sounding music.  On arrival at the U.S. Embassy, Maya
is asked by her boss what she thinks of Pakistan.  “It’s kind of fucked up”, she
replies (Bigalow 2012).  In another scene, Maya shakes her head, when the sound
of Muslim prayer again accompanies the ‘exotic’ music.  Throughout the film,
signifiers of Otherness are used in a way that many critics have described as
Orientalist (Hasian Jr. 2013). 

'The word “Orientalism” was first used by Edward Said (1978) to
describe a Western perspective towards Muslim populations that
assumes that all people associated with Islam are fundamentally unable
to progress and adhere to Western standards of morality and
civilization.  The prejudiced assumptions include: that Muslims are less
intelligent and incapable of learning; that Muslim men are more violent,
controlling and hypersexualized than Western men; that Muslim
women are more submissive and therefore more helpless than Western
women; and that all Muslims are religiously fundamentalist' (Gentry &
Sjoberg 2014: 123).

The film reinforces these Orientalist assumptions about Muslims and relies on
stereotypes in constructing narrative meaning.  In one scene, Dan’s is told that he
should inform a detainee that he has a PhD.  The only time the larger issue of the
root causes of terrorism are discussed in the film, the two lead females assume
terrorists are only motivated by greed or extremist ideology.  These explanations
of the deeper causes of terrorism, ignore respected literature on its root causes
(Sageman 2014).  They adhere to Western ideas about motivations for human
behaviour and Orientalist assumptions about Middle-Eastern people being
irrational fundamentalists. 

The film’s Orientalism is further confirmed in a sequence where Dan is shown
feeding monkeys in a cage.  In an American compound overseas, where detainees
are taken to be tortured, deliberate connection is made between animals and
detainees.  While it could be argued that the film may be asserting the animalism
of terrorists, it has been argued throughout that the film frames race, religion,
nation and gender in ways that blur boundaries between terrorism, religious
extremism, and popular colonial narratives about ‘brown men’ oppressing ‘brown
women’.  Various elements of the film work together to confirm the Otherness of
Middle-Eastern men, reinforcing binary oppositions between them and civilized,
white Western men from mainstream gendered war stories.

McRobbie’s (2004) discussion of post-feminism can provide a more sophisticated
understanding of the film’s binary framing of the difference between the Western,
white female and its Other.  Post-feminism is a term used regularly in cultural
studies to describe the position of many mainstream texts that appropriate
feminist discourses (Ferber 2012: 68).  In post-feminist representations, men and
women are seen to have achieved equal opportunities and further steps toward
inequality are viewed unnecessary (Ferber 2012:67; McRobbie 2004: 257). 
Hasian Jr. explains,

'it should not be surprising that American women take pride in their
role as drone pilots…the military seems to provide just those types of
postfeminist, individualized opportunities that might have been denied
to earlier generations of women' (Hasian Jr. 2013: 327). 

The film, Hasian Jr. (2013) argues, asserts that men and women of the CIA are
equals.  Here, post-feminism should also be read as a particular exemplar of
modern, capitalist individualism, where people play out their real lives as largely
economic actors.  Marchand (2009: 924) explains how this individualist
subjectivity has permeated lived experiences, both in the international
development agenda and within nations, through privatisation.  For example,
elements of gender justice, now made integral as part of the international
development agenda, have pushed a neoliberal economic agenda, encouraging
individuals who adhere to economic rationalism to be rewarded (Marchand

While an examination of the construction of modern subjectivity, and its
intersections with modern capitalism, is beyond the scope of this essay, it is worth
emphasising that women’s status in the modern West is depicted as a product of
their own individual choices, and the tropes of feminism are often used to
reinforce capitalist individualism (Koivunen 2009: n.p.).  Through the lead
character’s post-feminism; the discourses outside of the film that reinforce the
value of capitalist individualism; and the post-feminist subjectivities (of the
viewer of the film), a viewer of ZD30 is encouraged to understand neoliberalist
individualism as a stand in for democracy.  Feminist theorists point that that ideas
of freedom point to a neoliberal economic agenda that promotes individualism
over democratic rights (Koivunen 2009: n.p.; Marchand 2009).

A key scene that plays out the post-feminist assertion that sexuality is an
individualist choice is one that involves a discussion between Maya and her
female CIA colleague, Jessica, at dinner at the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad.  Jessica
asks Maya if she is having sex with Dan (her colleague at the CIA).  Maya says that
she is “not the girl who fucks”.  It is worth recalling McRobbie (2004: 259) here,
because like Maya, the individualist woman “seems to be doing it [expressing her
sexuality] out of choice, and for her own enjoyment”.  This, the only direct
reference to Maya’s sexuality and the discussion between the two women is
immediately followed by a terrorist attack which destroys the hotel.  Both women
come out unharmed.  Reading the film as a post-feminist text, the viewer is
encouraged to think that Western women do not need to be punished for
choosing to have a sexuality, something which, typically, Middle-Eastern women
are seen to be denied.

In many gendered war stories, the freedoms championed as ‘civilized’ values
often centre around freedoms of individualist choice, rather than freedom; of
though, of the press, or of public assembly, all vital to true democracy (Ferguson
2005: 28; Shepherd (2006: 31).   The film does not examine institutionalised
discrimination in any significant way, suggesting that discrimination can be
overcome through individualistic solutions.  For instance, although there is some
sexism directed toward Maya, this is shed when she becomes a more individual,
post-feminist woman.  The film recalls Koivunen’s (2009: n. p.) reading of the
post-feminist woman where, “her process of self-interrogation takes place
without any discussion of conditions or resources, economic, social or cultural”.

The way in which individuals under capitalism become disciplined by modes of
self-regulation is a consistent feature of the film. As it progresses, Maya becomes
more comfortable with torture and is simultaneously presented as a more
individualist, competent, powerful and respected woman.  A key scene involves
her analysing torture tapes.    Maya is shown alone, working late and rubbing her
eyes because she is tired, close-ups of her face indicate that she is intensely
focused on her work.  Earlier scenes using the computer as a symbol of Maya’s
irrationally are recalled, and reversed, to represent Maya’s transition to an expert
in technology/rationality.  While she is not participating in torture directly, she is
watching it on the screen, analysing it, without showing emotion.

In between her analysis of the torture tapes, the viewer is presented with a scene
that signifies her transition.  She is shown emerging from total darkness. We do
not see her shoes, but we can hear her high heels on the concrete, a trope that
suggests she is becoming a powerful, ‘modern’, woman.  As she emerges from the
dark, Maya has become the self-regulating, individualized woman whose agency is
largely about individual choice, both to torture and to dress according to her own
initiative.  The viewer is encouraged to recognise what women can achieve
anything through hard work.  Cornell (2013, n.p) argues that when Maya learns to
accept the necessity of torture, she becomes more powerful and successful. 
Maya’s endorsement of torture recalls McRobbie’s (2004: 258) notion that
successful female individuals are dependent on an anti-feminism, a displacement
of feminism as a political movement, i.e. a rejection of anti-racist, anti-imperialist
and anti-war politics.  In this scene, Maya chooses female individualism over

Feminist analysis of gendered war stories provides greater understanding of the
film’s representations.  The film reworks Brittain’s (2006: 80) analysis of
gendered war stories, where narratives of vulnerable, white women being
rescued from barbaric brown men by white men.  Modernising colonialist
narratives, by incorporating post-feminism, the film suggests that white women
are possible saviours of brown women.  Through Maya, Western women
demonstrate possibilities for agency non-Western women, if they become
individualized, post-feminist subjects.  Ayotte and Husain (2005: 123) add that
gendered war stories about the war on terror featuring women advocating
violence are “more persuasive because, when a woman advocates violence,
supposedly there must be no other recourse.

To further understand the extent to which gender, religion, race and nationality
intersect to position White Western women, as superior to the Other, a closer
look at the film’s representations of Christian privilege will be undertaken.  It has
already been outlined how the veil has been used as a signifier of religious
oppression.  There are a range of other ways that the film reaffirms the value of
Christianity over Islam. Christonormativity is the privileging of Christianity over
other religions, by defining it as superior and normal, often in hidden and
complex ways.

'Christian privilege is embedded in our laws, policies, schools and
workplaces.  In schools, for example, the curriculum, dress codes,
cafeteria food, and even the calendar reinforce Christian values and
practices as universal norms, where their underlying Christian
foundation is often invisible to all except those who are marginalized
and excluded from such practices' (Ferber 2012: 71).

A key sequence which demonstrates the intersections of gender, race, religion in
privileging Christianity centers around Christmas.  Maya’s female colleague,
Jessica, is shown at Camp Chapman, Afghanistan.  She has baked a cake for the
birthday of a suspect that she intends to bribe/question for information.  On the
telephone, Maya says that she, “doesn’t think that Muslims celebrate with cake”
(Bigalow 2012).  Jessica then says, “We’ve got lots of wine” (Bigalow 2012).  The
dialogue is a trope of the subtle mockery of the practices of others (who may
choose not to drink alcohol), by normalising practices that modern Christians may
regard as normal.  These scenes end in the death of Jessica, from the terrorist
suspect (suicide bomber) for whom she baked a cake.  After Jessica’s death, Maya
states, of the search for Bin Laden, “a lot of my friends have died trying to do this. 
I believe I was spared so that I could finish the job” (Bigalow 2012).   For the rest
of the film, Maya seems to adopt a messiah complex.  The rationality of her
theories is obscure. When she is asked about how sure she is that Bin Laden is
hiding in the Abbatobad compound, she says she is 100% , while the others in her
team are 60 or 80% confident (Husain Jr. 2013).  The film’s suggestion that Maya
is influenced by a higher power acts to further define Christianity as superior to
an constructed Islamic Other.

Ferber (2012: 63) uses an intersectional framework to examine how racism, post-
feminism and christonomativity combine to reinforce and defend the culture of
privilege.  Post-colonial feminists have been critical in insisting that the repetition
of representations of gender, race, religion, nationality, sexuality and other
identity categories combine to manifest privilege or discrimination (Hunt and
Rygiel 2006: 1).  Further investigation of these links is essential in understanding
the connections between gender, neoliberal subjectivities, global capitalism and

Throughout the film, racism (both overt and covert), post-feminism and
Christonormativity bind together to privilege the West and Western white
women. In the film,

'the belief that legal obstacles to equality have been removed and
everyone has equal opportunities to succeed, is used to justify not only
race, but gender and religious inequality, which is rearticulated as the
product of the poor choices of individuals, rather than a systemic issue. 
When we hear the very same arguments offered to explain each one of
these systems of inequality, it gives them more legitimacy.  The more
familiar the arguments are, the more they feel intuitively right to
people.  The frames are more likely to resonate, and to feel like
“common sense” '(Ferber 2012:74).

In conclusion, it has been argued that the film ZD30 uses gender, race and religion
to assert an opposition between a Western, white, liberated woman and a Middle-
Eastern other.  These representations, typical of mainstream war stories, act to
reinforce militaristic and unilateral responses to war.  In the absence of a critique
of militarism (and by asserting its normality through the post-feminist woman),
the film actively reinforces mainstream positions about war.  In an environment
where signifiers of Otherness such as the veil are used without scrutiny, (and the
public adopt these attitudes through key signifiers and the popular texts that
represent them) many feminists argue that representations need to promote the
value of difference, not Otherness (Marchand 2009: 932).  The complexity of
difference can be revealed through the lived experiences of real women as these
often challenge the binary oppositions which construct our subjectivities,
institutions and cultural representations.  It is important that feminists
deconstruct representations, institutions, discourses (such as international
relations) and individual subjectivities.  Without this scrutiny of the way these
elements mutually constitute one another, problems with the West’s adherence to
capitalism and imperialism remain camouflaged.  The unpacking of mainstream
gendered war stories may help to both deepen our understanding of its root
causes and question the usefulness of militaristic responses.


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