Mobilizing Passions: Ideology, Incoherence, and Fascism in Cinema

  • Jesse Cohn Purdue University Northwest


Fascism, as protean and self-contradictory as it is toxic, presents a unique challenge to political analysis. This article is a critique of conceptions of “ideology” in film theory which prove especially inadequate to the challenge of accounting for the phenomena of fascism, past and present. The study of ideology according to the canons of twentieth-century film theory, it is argued, must give way to theories of affects and affordances that can account for the unstable polysemy of narrative film in these times. Three films are singled out as exemplary of the ways in which cinema affords fascist affects an opportunity to transmit themselves: Taxi Driver (1976), Fight Club (1999), and Joker (2018).

Author Biography

Jesse Cohn, Purdue University Northwest

Jesse Cohn is Associate Professor in the Department of English and World Languages, Purdue University Northwest, and he serves on the board of the Institute for Anarchist Studies. His works include Hot Equations: Science, Fantasy, and the Radical Imagination On a Troubled Planet (University of Mississippi Press, 2024), Underground Passages: Anarchist Resistance Culture, 1848-2011 (AK Press, 2015) and Anarchism and the Crisis of Representation: Hermeneutics, Aesthetics, Politics (Susquehanna University Press, 2006). His current interests include New Materialisms, affect, fetishism, and pluriversality as well as the science fiction and fantasy of contemporary Black and Indigenous writers.