‘Whatever it Takes’
: How American Popular Culture Moderates and Diminishes Torture and its Consequences

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


There was a remarkable change in the representation of torture in American moving image fictional and dramatised narratives over two decades from the attacks in September 2001. Representation went from sensationalist to unremarkable in three phases, as narrative and close textual analysis demonstrates: first, confronting (2001-12), in which torture was shocking, a moral dilemma and something exceptional justified by overriding necessity; secondly, consolidating (2010-2014), where torture is still seen as unusual and perhaps morally challenging, but it is also a standard expectation — it is an acceptable part of the professional ethos of those seen to practice it; and, thirdly, becoming comfortable with torture on screen (2013-2019), in which phase torture is wholly unremarkable and unnoticed, just an expected diegetic element in the fabric of a screen narrative’s world. These moving image narratives facilitated the normalisation of torture, making the extraordinary ordinary and everyday practice.
Date of Award1 Oct 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJames Gow (Supervisor) & Clare Birchall (Supervisor)

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