Red Dawn

As much as we like to think we’re the most progressive generation, that we’ve managed to put the stupid and hateful ideologies of our past behind us, somebody comes along to remind us that we still have work to do to achieve our ideals. The United States has an awful history of prejudice. This doesn’t make it unique among the world’s nations, but it’s a history we’re not proud of. It’s taken hundreds of years, but we’ve decreased rampant hatred of Africans, Native Americans, the Irish, Catholics, the Japanese, and any other group immigrating to America who was of a questionable ethnicity or from a country we were at war with. Prejudice has never been fully eradicated, but we like to think we’ve gotten better. There are still racists in the south complaining about illegal immigrants from Mexico. There are racists in the north, but nobody talks about them because the stereotype is that southerners are racist and some of those racist northerners are safely ensconced in whitebread communities; that’s right, I zinged both halves of the country. However, we like to think these people are far away, north or south, and we like to think they’re a vocal minority. Aside from a few racist characters like Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequels and the jive-talking robots in the Transformers movies, characters which have received a great deal of flak, we like to think the media has cleaned up in recent years.

In particular, the hateful propaganda of yesteryear, such as the old Bugs Bunny cartoons making fun of the Japanese, seems to have disappeared from popular culture. But it hasn’t. For example, take Frank Miller’s Holy Terror. Miller has received some criticism for his depiction of Persians in his comic book, 300, but nothing compared to the uproar caused by Holy Terror, which depicts Muslims as a uniformly evil, terrorist group that deserves to be wiped off the face of the earth; all claims that it’s a work directed at Islamic extremists like al-Qaeda falls flat when one notices that the terrorist organization isn’t even mentioned until midway through the book. Islamophobia is an ignorance I can’t stand, but I’m thankful to have avoided any reference to it in the media that isn’t tied to angry, racist blowhards. Twenty years from now, I hope we can look back on bullshit like the “mosque built on ground zero” and laugh nervously about how stupid people were. At least, I hope we can get over it in twenty years, because someone in Hollywood decided that communism was scary again and they should remake Red Dawn.

The original Red Dawn, if you’ve seen it, is about a group of kids who fight back against the Russians and Cubans when they invade. In the end, their efforts inspire other Americans to fight back against the Russians and free America from communist tyranny. The idea seems really stupid today, knowing that the Soviet Union officially collapsed in 1991 and they were struggling for a while up until that point, but at the time this movie would have seemed like a harrowing depiction of what could be. Of course, it really seems stupid when we take into account that the whole scenario only works if the Soviet Union somehow took the United States completely unprepared and managed to screw everything up by losing to a group of untrained high school kids and other rebels post-invasion, as opposed to the well-trained military, but I’m sure it looked cool. It seems dumb, but the reason for its popularity is not inexplicable. Red Dawn is a movie where the United States is the underdog fighting against a tyrannical larger force. Everybody loves an underdog story where the good guys fight the bad guys for freedom. Coupled with the patriotic bent of the movie and you have the makings of a blockbuster. All that being said, why the hell do we have a remake?

If you haven’t heard about the remake of Red Dawn, hold on to your hats, it’s a doozy. The new one is basically the same, except the North Koreans are invading. Even better, the bad guys were initially the Chinese, but when MGM had to take into account the revenue they would earn from the Chinese market, they digitally altered the film to make it look like the North Koreans were invading. I assume that MGM was operating under the principle that all Asians look alike. I have not seen this film, so I can’t give you an objective review of how good this film is, which is to say that I can’t tell you how fun and exciting it is. What I can tell you is that this film has a terrible premise and if you’re like me, you should probably just avoid it altogether. The idea that North Korea would and could successfully invade the United States is ludicrous. They’re having enough trouble feeding their own people as it is without diverting resources to waging a ground war across the Pacific with arguably the largest and most technologically advanced military in the world; by comparison, during the Cold War, we might have legitimately worried about Russia because they actually had a comparable military. Worse yet, we’re not at war with North Korea and with luck we never will be. The original Red Dawn was a little like wartime propaganda, in the sense that it stirs up fear and hatred for the communist Russians and a sense of patriotism by showing the heroism and resourcefulness of the Americans. I don’t like it, but there are at least some weak excuses for pulling that kind of crap during a war, even the Cold War. The new Red Dawn seems like propaganda for a war that doesn’t exist, an incitement of hatred for people who are not our enemies. The fact that the North Koreans were a convenient replacement for our economic allies, the Chinese, just kind of debases the whole idea further. I don’t like China’s track record for civil rights, nor do I like its authoritarian regime, but depicting them as America’s enemies is wrong, wrong as an assessment of Chinese-American relations and wrong as a depiction of a people we’d like to keep as our friends. The same can be said of depicting North Korea as our enemy.

I’m not going to give you one of those “slippery slope” arguments that inevitably devolve into hyperbole, nor am I trying to be a moral guardian. Somebody made a stupid decision in Hollywood to resurrect a fear of communists that’s over twenty years out of date. Dumb as it is, it happens. However, I think it’s an irresponsible movie. Contrary to what people say, movies are not just entertainment. You’ve probably already heard that there was a marked decrease in the number of people who went to the beach in the months and years after the release of Jaws. You probably also think the fifties was a clean-cut and wholesome decade based on the movies you’ve seen from those years; if the writings of the Beats are anything to go by, it was just as sordid as any other subsequent time period. My concern is that movie-goers, especially ignorant ones, are going to take the depiction of North Koreans in the movie at face value and assume there are hostilities between North Korea and the U.S. Sure, they won’t literally think the invasion is going to happen and will acknowledge that the idea of teens fighting off an invasion is farfetched, but they won’t question the idea that North Koreans are evil communists who want to take over America, in the same way that moviegoers accepted that the fight with the great white shark in Jaws is fantasy but were still afraid to go in the water for fear of being eaten.

I’m usually willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they can distinguish reality from fantasy. If I didn’t, I’d have a hell of time defending the violent movies I watch – yes, that old chestnut. Yet, people think with their feelings as much as their minds and it’s possible to insinuate the seeds of distrust, even subconsciously, by depicting a whole people as evil or murderous. Such is the purpose of propaganda. I can’t tell you to not see a movie I haven’t seen yet. The way you choose to spend your afternoon and money is none of my business. But please don’t confuse Red Dawn for reality and start worrying about the Red menace. We don’t need any more of McCarthy’s crap and we really don’t need to demonize the people that may one day be our allies; we may not be on the best of terms with North Korea now, but we don’t need to make things worse. If we don’t make assholes of ourselves and stir up hatred for North Koreans, maybe we can look on Red Dawn in twenty years and laugh, instead of having a later generation laugh at us…that is, if the North Koreans don’t get to us first.

[Update]

I guess this prediction about Red Dawn wasn’t unwarranted. I haven’t seen the film yet, but judging by this picture posted on Tumblr, it got the reaction it set out to. And for the record, being right about Red Dawn does not make me happy. Just sad and angry. Click on the picture below to see why. Also, check out this article for a full review of the film. It tackles all the issues of race in the film, which aren’t even limited to demonizing Asians, as if it wasn’t bad enough.

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~ by vincentwolfram on November 19, 2012.

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