Watching men: masculinity and surveillance in the American serial killer film 1978-2008.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This thesis explores the depiction of masculinity in the American serial killer film with a particular focus on the articulation of surveillance. I trace shifts and trends in films made between 1978 and 2008. Drawing on existing analyses of the serial killer panic, I argue that cinema swiftly assimilated FBI rhetoric which influenced the development of the serial killer as a cultural figure. In particular, I highlight the profiler as a crucial element of serial killer discourse. This thesis tracks the development of this figure within American cinema, investigates the influence of this character on portrayals of the serial killer, and argues that the killer and profiler are constructed as opposing agents of surveillance.
Using a chronological approach, I investigate the films shaped by this historical moment, splitting them into time-specific cycles in order to understand the cultural shifts affecting their development. I argue that a fascination with surveillance is a factor in the continuing power of the serial killer, exploring the different ways in which surveillance is thematised in the films. Highlighting the gendered nature of surveillance, I contend that the films support gender norms, with the killer often functioning as a violent example of the suppression of non-normative expressions of gendered identity. Including discussions of both mainstream and niche films, I show that the serial killer is distanced from normative masculinity in ways which allude to the Gothic and to gender, class and race prejudice, constructing the status of the serial killer as a special, inscrutable individual removed from power structures. The thesis argues that cinematic representations have embraced certain elements of FBI rhetoric, emphasising the exceptional surveillance skills of the profiler. As a result, the serial killer is frequently depicted as an extraordinary figure requiring elite expertise. I consider the ramifications of these portrayals and discuss the moments at which patriarchal power structures underlying this form of violence are both concealed and exposed.
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