‘The gates of hell’: the cruel optimism of national security in Secret City

Katie Cox*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    Despite the rapid expansion of counter-terrorism legislation in Australia since 9/11, recent polls show that Australians feel no safer. In this article, I examine the affective dimensions of national security in Foxtel’s political thriller Secret City (2016). I draw on Lauren Berlant’s concept of cruel optimism to illustrate the ways in which Secret City frames the desire for security itself as problematic. Secret City uses the logic of security and the visual language of surveillance to alert viewers to the threat that national security legislation poses; when politicians and intelligence agencies erode civil rights, journalistic freedoms, and democratic processes, citizens lose their ability to secure against their own security forces. However, in creating such a pervasive atmosphere of fear and threat for its viewers, Secret City actually validates the foundational desire for security which it shows to be so easily exploited. I argue that Secret City illustrates an impasse in which the desire for security is affectively binding, even when security practices jeopardize the very safety and wellbeing they promise.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)102-116
    Number of pages15
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2020


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