Mitigations of shame: Represented and elicited affect in Vietnam War films of the late 1980s

Bryan D Marinelli, University of Rhode Island


This dissertation investigates the extent to which select Vietnam War films of the late 1980s can be properly labeled as "shame-inducing texts." Beginning with an analysis of the ways in which shame has been represented and mitigated, the project then seeks to understand the degree to which these films elicited shame in viewing audiences. Chapter One delineates the properties of shame that are foundational to the study and offers a rationale for selecting Vietnam films of the late 1980s as focal texts. Chapter Two examines Full Metal Jacket's (1987) rendering of the methods used to neutralize shame in Marine recruits, and to inculcate a hubristic form of pride in masculine toughness and American national superiority. The chapter then turns to a discussion of viewer responses, stressing the ways in which ambivalence and fragmentation work to mitigate Jacket's shame-inducing potential. Chapter Three focuses on two films, Platoon (1986) and Casualties of War (1989), which simultaneously expose and soften the shame of American atrocities in combat. It also considers the relation between the films' built-in "softening agents" and the ambivalent political arena into which these films emerged. Chapter Four places Born on the Fourth of July (1989) in the context of films that render the plight of returned Vietnam veterans, focusing on how the shame of Vietnam "migrates" from individual to collective bodies. The chapter concludes with a synthesis of some viewer responses, suggesting a pattern of displaced recognition of the film's shame-inducing potential. Chapter five concludes with a snapshot of future directions, including a look at contemporary figurations of shame in films about the Gulf and Iraq wars. It also considers the ways in which films about Vietnam have been appropriated to highlight the ongoing neutralization of shame-proneness in American culture. ^

Subject Area

American Studies|Cinema

Recommended Citation

Bryan D Marinelli, "Mitigations of shame: Represented and elicited affect in Vietnam War films of the late 1980s" (2010). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3415502.