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Saw, Hostel, The Devil’s Rejects: this wave of horror movies has been classed under the disparaging label “torture porn.” Since David Edelstein coined the term for a New York magazine article a few years after 9/11, many critics have speculated that these movies simply reflect iconic images, anxieties, and sadistic fantasies that have emerged from the War on Terror. In this timely new study, Aaron Kerner challenges that interpretation, arguing that “torture porn” must be understood in a much broader context, as part of a phenomenon that spans multiple media genres and is rooted in a long tradition of American violence.
Torture Porn in the Wake of 9/11 tackles a series of tough philosophical, historical, and aesthetic questions: What does it mean to call a film “sadistic,” and how has this term been used to shut down critical debate? In what sense does torture porn respond to current events, and in what ways does it draw from much older tropes? How has torture porn been influenced by earlier horror film cycles, from slasher movies to J-horror? And in what ways has the torture porn aesthetic gone mainstream, popping up in everything from the television thriller Dexter to the reality show Hell’s Kitchen?
Reflecting a deep knowledge and appreciation for the genre, Torture Porn in the Wake of 9/11 is sure to resonate with horror fans. Yet Kerner’s arguments should also strike a chord in anyone with an interest in the history of American violence and its current and future ramifications for the War on Terror.
About the Author
AARON MICHAEL KERNER is an associate professor in the cinema department at San Francisco State University. He is the author of Film and the Holocaust: New Perspectives on Dramas, Documentaries, and Experimental Films.
"Kerner views [torture porn] with a clear, cold eye, continually drawing readers back to his central point, which is that viewers are complicit in the creation and reception of torture porn films. This offers a bleak signpost to what one can expect in the shared stakes of cinematic representationalism."
"Torture Porn in the Wake of 9/11 is an important work in film studies."
— Cinema Journal
"Aaron Michael Kerner's Torture Porn in the wake of 9/11 offers a rich and provocative account of the possible cultural and political merits of films representative of the genre."
— Women's Studies
"By focusing on the concept of sadism and drawing on holocaust atrocities, Kerner offers original insights into the relationship between torture porn and American culture in the post-9/11 period."
— Steve Jones
"This remarkable contribution to the scholarship on today’s most reviled film cycle expertly demonstrates the continued relevance of trenchant cultural criticism, from Saw to Bush and beyond."
— Mattias Frey