Shots to the mind: Violence, the brain and biomedicine in popular novels and film in post-1960s America | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 32, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 1466-0407
  • E-ISSN: 1758-9118



This article traces an unlikely and gruesome subject: how and why images of people getting shot in the head have become so pervasive in contemporary US fiction and film. Adopting a historical-genealogical approach, the analysis explores how the so-called headshot image emerged from two socio-cultural trends. First, the headshot referenced key historical traumas from the 1960s that involved the deaths of Ernest Hemingway, J. F. Kennedy and Nguyễn Văn Lém. Second, it drew upon strong anxieties over the new brain death diagnosis that was established by medical authorities in the late 1960s. The analysis then traces how this image was subsequently elaborated in books such as Mario Puzo’s The Godfather (1969) and Lawrence Sanders’ The First Deadly Sin (1973), as well as films such as Ted Post’s Magnum Force (1973) and Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978). Finally, the article demonstrates key uses of the headshot in the recent novels of Don DeLillo and Cormac McCarthy. In all this, the headshot points to a much deeper undercurrent of narcissism and fragmentation that characterizes post-1960s culture in the United States.


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