Saccharin Civic Engagement, Rhetoric, and Popular War Movies

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Good, Tiara Kay
Graduate Program:
Communication Arts and Sciences
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 30, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Jeremy Engels, Dissertation Advisor
  • Jeremy Engels, Committee Chair
  • Michele Jean Kennerly, Committee Member
  • Bradford James Vivian, Committee Member
  • Matthew Frank Jordan, Outside Member
  • saccharin citizenship
  • war
  • war movies
  • war films
  • PTSD
  • soldier representation
  • rhetoric
Since the September 11, 2001 attacks United States citizens have not been asked to directly sacrifice or be involved in the wars against terror. Citizens have been presidentially excused from their civic engagement in matters of war since the Bush Administration. This study examines how popular war films substitute actual engagement and give audience feelings of being engaged through rhetorical analysis. I demonstrate their ability to craft vicarious experiences and intense identification with those who fight in war. This has a political end. Popular war films that induce this type of experience for the audience direct attention toward the soldiers and veterans of war, focusing audience attention away from war itself. These films cooperate in post-9/11 discursive formations to terministically screen war through the experience of those who fight. The context of these films are influenced by neoliberal and biopolitical justificatory rhetoric that mandate war as necessary for national security. Furthermore, war is justified as how our nation honors victims of September 11, 2001. By examining four popular war films as case studies from the years 2009-2014, during supposed draw down of troops in the longest war in national history, the study develops a theory of saccharin citizenship. A passive citizen, heeding presidential rhetorical calls to leave war up to the military and continue their daily lives, feels as though they are civically engaging in matters of war through economic modalities. Characters in the films model “good citizen” behavior and non-obtrusive responses to war and post-war issues. The films participate in post-9/11 discursive formations that justify and depoliticize the sacrifice of soldiers, veterans, and military families. Post-traumatic stress, a signature injury of the wars on terror, and soldier reintegration difficulties are terministically screened as part and parcel of sacrifice for the nation in a dangerous world filled with never-ending threats and enemy combatants. The war is continually blamed upon an external enemy and the saccharin citizen, the audience of popular war films, is convinced soldier sacrifice is continually necessary. National security equals perpetual war. The films also, through their immersive quality, induce feelings of being engaged and expressing adequate civic attention to war and post-war issues.