Thomas Hibbs has updated his book Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture in light of films and TV shows of the last decade like Christopher Nolan’s movies and AMC’s Mad Men.

He says Nihilism has been the reigning philosophy in Hollywood since the 1960’s.  By Nihilism, he means a state of meaninglessness in which there is no objective standard for distinguishing actions as true or false, noble or base.   Despite Nihilism’s current reign over television and film, he says there has been a reemergence of the classical notion of Quest in a lot of the popular films of the last decade e.g. Lord of the Rings , Harry Potter , and the Batman films.  In Quest stories, the hero has extraordinary duties of cosmic significance imposed upon him.  The pursuit for justice and goodness do not necessarily mean the quest will be accomplished; instead the quest points to the existence of such goods.  It also does not mean the heroes are perfect, but they are trying to overcome their flaws.

Hibbs believes these films are an encouraging sign, though he concedes there are plenty of counterexamples e.g. torture porn in films, music videos, and games.  One issue he only briefly mentions is recent Quest films are all from the fantasy or comic book genres.  Does the absence of realistic Quest films suggest things are even worse than Hibbs hopes?

Articles by Jason Joseph

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