About my research and writing.
Through close analysis of films, video games, television series, and animation, my work illustrates how cinema and other media forms cannot be fully understood except in relation to one another. In particular, I explore how the emergence of digital technology in the late twentieth century transformed the ways in which various media forms articulate a sense of realism and generate discourses of authenticity.
My book Destructive Sublime: World War II in American Film and Media challenges conventional notions of the American war genre by showing how combat sequences are often aesthetically—and politically—radical. I introduce the term “destructive sublime” to denote images of war that turn violence into spectacle and excite spectators with a wide range of sometimes contradictory sensations.
By using the language of the destructive sublime, combat films, video games, and other media temporarily upend traditional ideas about World War II, long portrayed in American culture as the “good war” fought for the ideals of freedom and democracy. Instead, the media I analyze—ranging from 1940s documentaries like The Battle of San Pietro (1945) to contemporary media like Saving Private Ryan (1998), Dunkirk (2017), and the video game Brothers in Arms (2005)—use spectacular violence to remind us of the inescapable brutality and cruel devastation of war.
Destructive Sublime not only provides a comprehensive and revisionary aesthetic history of the World War II combat genre, it also breaks new ground in its analysis of World War II-set video games, including those that first established the extremely popular military first-person shooter franchises Medal of Honor, Battlefield, and Call of Duty. I demonstrate how these games perpetuate various conventions of the combat film genre, but I also show how qualities of contemporary video games—such as their glorification of violence, disruptive audiovisual style, disregard for character/narrative development, and emphasis on bodily sensation—can be found throughout the history of the genre, in films as well as games.
A second research project uses the technology of motion capture (the process by which a performer’s movements are mapped onto a digital character) to rethink the categories of realism that have long guided scholarly and popular conceptions of moving images. My work—on such films as King Kong (2005), Happy Feet (2006), and Avatar (2009) and such video games as L.A. Noire (2011) and Beyond: Two Souls (2013)—shows how digital visual effects disrupt established ideas of how cinematic and other media forms reflect and transform reality.