Toronto Metropolitan University
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Mediated Landscapes: Technology and Environment in Recent Canadian Cinema

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posted on 2023-06-06, 16:07 authored by Daniel Browne

A central defining feature of the contemporary era is an environmental crisis that has been triggered by the relationship of human-developed technologies to the natural world, which is leading us towards conditions of increasing collapse that will impact all future understandings of our era’s cultural production and experience. This crisis has led many to propose that the planet has entered a new geologic epoch, the “Anthropocene,” in which boundaries between humanity, nature, and technology have become blurred and no longer viable. In this dissertation, I explore this ecological crisis as a manifestation of mythological and perceptual frameworks that structure contemporary modes of experience, by examining how Canadian filmmakers are responding to such conditions through their artworks. Drawing on Marshall McLuhan’s notion of art as a “counter-environment” that, in its most potent capacity, acts as a “liaison between biology and technology” ([1973] 2003a, 207) or “Distant Early Warning system,” I explore how many recent Canadian films prioritize process, hybridity, decay, and transmutation to reveal the environmental status of media, developing new myths and metaphors that address the crisis of imagination that I argue is at the root of the environmental crisis. Through these approaches, the binaries between humanity, technology, and nature are revealed as false dualisms that have always been united within a greater ecological matrix—an insight that reflects the holistic study of media developed by the Toronto School of Communication. 

The environmental crisis cannot be resolved through any singular response, but rather necessitates a proliferation of new forms of critical thought, empathy, and modes of experience. Accordingly, in this study I explore a range of aesthetic approaches to interrogate forms of critical visuality in cinema that articulate the environmental invisibility of media, including narrative, documentary, and experimental works. These examples are united by a framework that seeks to cultivate perceptual sensitivities through revelatory forms over discursive approaches. By revealing the strong affinities between Canadian art and critical theory, I demonstrate how cinema can provide a fertile terrain for critiquing technological environments and their influence upon notions of embodiment, the natural world, and the shaping force of language.





  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Communication and Culture

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type

  • Dissertation

Thesis Advisor

Dr. Monique Tshofen



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