Do you remember the classic movies that portrayed American soldiers as heroes?
Well, not unless you’re far past the bloom of youth…
“Three elements were always present,” film critic Michael Medved recently explained, “in classic war movies–films like the John Wayne version of The Alamo, or The Longest Day, or A Bridge Too Far or Sergeant York. First, there was great affection for, and indeed glorification of, the American fighting man, who was portrayed as one of us–as representative of the best of what this country is. Second, there was obvious sympathy for the American cause. And third, the wars being dramatized were portrayed as meaning something.”
“It is far more common in war films today,” said Medved, “regardless of the war being depicted, for the three elements of the classic war film to be turned on their heads. American troops are more likely than not to be portrayed as sick, warped and demented–in any case, very different from normal Americans. Very often the audience is manipulated to root for the other side, whatever the other side happens to be. And whatever the war, we are left with the idea that it is meaningless.”
Denizens of Hollywood would probably blame the George–“Hitler” to many of them–Bush or argue that the military has changed.
Medved doesn’t buy this:
“I would submit to you that what has changed is neither the American military nor the ordinary American’s perception of the military. What has changed is Hollywood itself. During WWII, there was a spectacular war effort in Hollywood and a great enthusiasm among the Hollywood elite–even the biggest stars–for serving their country. Jimmy Stewart, the number-two rated male movie star at the time, enlisted in 1942, flew 51 bombing missions with the Army Air Corps and ended up a brigadier general. Henry Fonda rejected the proposal that he simply promote and sell war bonds, insisted on serving in combat and was wounded in the Pacific. And such behavior was considered normal. This was America, after all, and Hollywood was part of America. Bringing this forward into the late 1950s, one of the great events of my childhood–and you have no idea what a sensation it created–was when the number one pop star in America, a kid named Elvis Presley, cheerfully interrupted his multi-million dollar career to be drafted into the Army….
“It is hard even to imagine all this today. Hollywood is a different world. For one thing, it is a much less populist institution. Clark Gable, before he became a movie star, was a truck driver. So was Elvis. Movie people tended to come from humble backgrounds. By and large, Hollywood was not a place of upper class pretensions. It was a place that made movies for the entertainment of ordinary Americans. This is far from the case now.
“Part of what changed–and it was a change that was already under way before Vietnam–was Hollywood’s transformation from a mass appeal industry to an elite institution. Many of the major stars today have an Ivy League background. And a large number of them are second or third generation stars–people who have been born into the movie business and have lived in it their whole lives. So the industry is no longer connected with the public in the way that it used to be. Certainly very few of Tinseltown’s luminaries have had any experience in, or contact with, the military. All of this is reflected in the new mission that Hollywood has adopted: not to entertain, but to challenge and discomfort the public.”