Hard bodies and sidelong looks: Spectacle and fetish in 1980s action cinema

Nicky Falkof


From Stallone and Schwarzenegger to Gibson and Willis, the Hollywood action star of the 1980s was a hard-bodied hero with an attitude to match. But more than this, the action hero was an ideological construct; referenced by the president, ubiquitous in popular cultural production and reception of the time, his excessive muscularity forms a complex and problematic textual canvas for reading the hegemonic desires of Reaganite America. I this paper I consider cinematic relations to the heroic body through the dual prism of Freud’s conception of fetishism and De Bord’s formulation of the spectacle. Using the work of film theorists like Metz and Mulvey, cultural historians Susan Jeffords and Yvonne Tasker and psychoanalyst Kaja Silverman, I illustrate that the hero’s spectacular body operates as a fetish for the viewer, and thus that spectacle is fetish. Films to be considered include Rambo, Terminator and the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard series.

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