Cinema and Cyberphobia: Internet Tropes in Film and Television

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Lauren Rosewarne


Telecommunications, Framing, Media, Popular Culture


Despite the widespread embrace of the Internet and the second nature way we each turn to Google for information, to social media to see our friends, to netporn and Netflix for recreation, film and television tells a very different story. On screen, a character dating online, gaming online or shopping online, invariably serves as a clue that they’re somewhat troubled: they may be a socially excluded nerd at one end of the spectrum, through to being a paedophile or homicidal maniac seeking prey at the other. On screen, the Internet is frequently presented as a clue, a risk factor and a rationale for a character’s deviance or danger. While the Internet has come to play a significant role in screen narratives, an undercurrent of many depictions – in varying degrees of fervour – is that the Web is complicated, elusive and potentially even hazardous. This paper draws from research conducted for my book Cyberbullies, Cyberactivists, Cyberpredators: Film, TV, and Internet Stereotypes (Rosewarne, 2016). While that volume provided an analysis of the denizens of the Internet through the examination of over 500 film and television examples – profiling screen stereotypes such as netgeeks, neckbeards, and netaddicts – this paper focuses on some of the recurring themes in portrayals of the Internet, shedding light on the how, and perhaps most importantly why, the fear of the technology is so common. This paper presents a series of themes used to frame the Internet as negative on screen including dehumanisation, the Internet as a badlands, the Web as possessing inherent vulnerabilities and the cyberbogeyman.
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