Hiding in Plain Sight: the Secret Identity as Blessing and Curse in Popular Narratives after 9/11

September 27, 2017
Monday, October 2, 2017 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
250 Denney Hall
Project Narrative

Join Project Narrative for a talk by visiting scholar, Vanessa Ossa. The talk pays attention to a growing popularity of narratives concerned with secret identities after 9/11. This trend played along nicely with the revival of Cold War narratives about spies and hidden agents and the return of the paranoid style of the cinema of the 1970s. However, post-9/11 cinema also brought a new proliferation of superhero narratives. The superhero is an ideal character to explore the notion of a hidden, secret identity – a whole group of people hiding among the general population. Publisher Marvel discussed the merits and dangers of the secret superhero identity most prominently in its political comment on the ‘War on Terror’: the crossover event Civil War (2006-2007) in which some heroes fought for their right to stay hidden while others wanted more transparency through a government controlled register of superpowered people. This Superhero Registration Act is commonly interpreted as Marvel’s version of the civil rights restrictions of the PATRIOT Act in the aftermath of 9/11.  While Civil War negotiated the opposing poles of freedom and security on the site of the heroes, the lesser known crossover event Secret Invasion (2008-2009) focused on a hidden ‘other’ as enemy. Religious fanatics of a shape-shifting alien race have secretly infiltrated Earth and cause paranoia and mistrust among humans and superheroes. The characterization of the invaders as religiously motivated evoked Islamic Terrorism as enemy stereotype. The talk is going to analyze the representation of this ‘other’ based on several characters with hybrid identities or shifting alliances who contribute to a subversion of a clear cut friend/enemy distinction.

Vanessa Ossa is a research associate at the interdisciplinary project ‘Media Reflections. Threat Communication post 9/11’ at the collaborative research center ‘Threatened Orders – Societies under Stress’ in Tübingen. Her PhD project “Sleeping Threats: The Sleeper Character in Fictional Post-9/11 Threat Communication” investigates the representation of sleeper agents in fictional narratives after 9/11 from a transmedial perspective.