Ghosting Us All: How Hollywood Obscures the Same Environmental Issues It Foregrounds

Blair Miller


There is no shortage of disaster films in Hollywood. Be they natural, technologically driven, and/or the result of ideological structures that act on exploitative terms, film protagonists and societies at large engage with environmental disasters with regularity. However, if there is any change in the proliferation of such disasters and their causes, it is an increase, not a decrease or even critical discourse. Why do moviegoers experience such undeniable displays of environmental issues, yet generally are not granted access to such critical discourses by those displays? Using two blatantly similar endings to the films San Andreas and Skyscraper as a starting point, this paper examines the phenomenon of haunting to help explain how and why it can be that some of the more overt themes in Hollywood disaster films have such minimal effect upon the collective consciousness. Part theoretical considerations, part filmic narrative analysis that follows from them, the work here will bring together iterations of hauntology, Freud’s death drive, and capitalism to demonstrate shared aspects of all three that reduce the real environmental concerns at the forefront of the films’ plots to eco-ghosts. As ghosts, those concerns are present but also avoid direct discourse or resolution in virtue of haunting. Along with those of Thanos from the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the experiences of the two protagonists played by Dwayne Johnson in the aforementioned films will be shown to be haunted themselves in ways that take them and the viewer close to eco issues at hand, but not in any substantive way – thus reinforcing and safeguarding the very capitalism that repeats such disasters.

How to cite this article: Miller, Blair. "Ghosting Us All: How Hollywood Obscures the Same Environmental Issues It Foregrounds." AM Journal of Art and Media Studies 25 (September 2021): 157-169. doi: 10.25038/am.v0i25.454

Article received: April 25, 2021; Article accepted: June 21, 2021; Published online: September 15, 2021; Original scholarly paper


disaster films; technology; media; capitalism; Mark Fisher; hauntology; Freud; Hollywood film.

Full Text:



Buse, Peter and Andrew Stott. “Introduction: a Future for Haunting.” In Ghosts: Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, History. Edited by Peter Buse and Andrew Stott, 1–20. London: Palgrave, 1999.

Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. New York: Routledge, 1994).

Emmerich, Roland, dir. The Day After Tomorrow. 2004; Beverly Hills, CA: 20th Century Fox, 2005. DVD.

Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life – Writings On Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Hampshire, UK: Zero Books, 2014.

Fisher, Mark. “The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology.” Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture 5, 2 (2013): 42–55. Doi: 10.12801/1947-5403.2013.05.02.03.

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Translated and edited by James Strachey. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1961.

Malabou, Catherine. “Plasticity and Elasticity in Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” Parallax 15, 2 (2009): 41–52. Doi: 10.1080/13534640902793000.

Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume One. New York: Vintage, 1976.

McLuhan, Marshall and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage – An Inventory of Effects. Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press, 1996.

Miller, Blair. “‘What You See Is Happening Right Now’ – Thermageddon and a Search For Tomorrow,” CineAction 70 (2006): 66–69. Accessed on April 16, 2021.

Peyton, Brad, dir. San Andreas. 2015; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2015. DVD.

Roberts, David. “I’m an Environmental Journalist But I Never Write About Overpopulation. Here’s Why.” Vox. Updated November 29, 2018. Accessed on March 24, 2021.

Russo, Anthony and Joe Russo, dirs. Avengers: Endgame. 2019; Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2019, 2019. Disney+.

Thurber, Rawson Marshall, dir. Skyscraper. 2018; Universal City, CA: Universal Studios, 2018. DVD.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 AM Journal of Art and Media Studies

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

AM Journal of Art and Media Studies ISSN 2217-9666 - printed, ISSN 2406-1654 - online, UDK 7.01:316.774


Publisher: Faculty of Media and Communications, Singidunum University, Belgrade, Serbia

Indexed in: ERIH PLUSEBSCODOAJ, and in The List of Scientific Journals Categorization of Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of Republic of Serbia (M24-2021). Beginning with No. 12 2017, AM is indexed, abstracted and covered in Clarivate Analytics service ESCI.