W W. Rooks

Date of Award


Degree Type

Capstone Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Studies (BA)


Cultural Studies

First Advisor

Douglas Reichert Powell

Second Advisor

Jean Petrelle

Third Advisor

Kenneth Daley


Within the expanding canon of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic film and television, this project studies the subgenre that makes use of nuclear holocaust as a narrative device or setting in order to understand how, rather than engaging audiences with the dire off-screen politics that inform such films, it imposes a sense of political passivity on its characters. Similarly imparted is an assumption of that same sense for the audience. In this way, the framing of modern apocalyptic narratives meet an “affective limitation,” which is a concept steeped in the examination of media as a potential tool to motivate political action (Massumi 232-233). Since the United States’ implementation of the atomic bomb as a weapon of war, nuclear holocaust has provided creative writers and filmmakers with an important new thematic landscape in which to explore the human condition. This project highlights a correlation between three distinct increases in nuclear-themed apocalyptic cultural productions relative to historical instances of geopolitical tensions among nuclear-armed nations. The expansion of the genre and the transition to post-apocalypse decontextualizes those tensions through increasingly unlikely scenarios. However, there is a disturbing imbalance between the growth in demand for the apocalyptic genre and audiences’ relative lack of political engagement. This imbalance is perpetuated, in part, by media productions’ tendency to be ahistorical, depoliticized, and affectively passive. 57 pages.