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The reel city: London, symbolic power and cinema

Masrani, Rahoul (2016) The reel city: London, symbolic power and cinema. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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In this thesis, I explore the ways in which cinematic representations reconstruct and maintain the symbolic power of the global city. Using London as a paradigmatic example, I situate the research in the 1997- 2007 period, the height of the New Labour era in Britain. I investigate the ways in which London’s symbolic power was produced and maintained during this period, using a sociological-thematic analysis of several London-set films, which I categorised by theme. The analysis, which incorporates elements of discourse and social semiotics, demonstrates how these films, with both negative and positive portrayals of the city space, are central in the construction of London as a symbolically significant global city. I discuss the consequences of this symbolic construction of the city in relation to its global image and indeed the ways in which the city is changing as a result of the blurring boundaries between the cinematic and ‘real’ cities. My analysis shows that ‘Glamorous London’, one of the thematic categories I devised, paints a picture of the city through the lens of class and racial homogeneity, and gender normativity, where the principles of neoliberal capitalism dominate the landscape. ‘Glamorous London’ is an exclusive and exclusionary place in which only certain types of individuals who fit these normative stereotypes, are welcome. At the same time, films which relate to the ‘Multi-Cultural London’ thematic category, provide a more bleak and gritty image of the city, where asylum seekers and economic migrants live ‘cheek by jowl’, struggling to survive in the city’s unforgiving underbelly. My analysis shows that Multi-Cultural London films are equally central in painting a picture of a diverse global city which is dynamic, exciting and full of possibilities. The films in this thematic category show the ‘other side’ of London’s global city identity and, more specifically, the city’s success as a global centre for capitalism and, correlatively, the city’s symbolic power as multi-faceted and full of contradictions. This thesis also provides evidence from non-cinematic media as well as from the city’s evolving landscape, to demonstrate that these cinematic trends have farreaching implications beyond cinema and indeed beyond the time period in which the film analysis is located.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Rahoul Masrani
Library of Congress subject classification: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Georgiou, Myria and Banaji, Shakuntala

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