Red Dawn at CMC: Propaganda that Pierces the Armor of Academia

Of the dozen or so blockbusters we hoped Jim Nauls would choose for this semester’s midnight showing, the Red Dawn remake probably wasn’t on most of our lists. (My fingers are crossed for a pre-finals showing of The Hobbit, but since the CMC Programming Board (CPB) gave in to the Twilight crowd already, I shouldn’t get my hopes up.) The original is a classic 1980s ‘Murica-fest bordering on straight-up propaganda, but that’s part of its outlandish charm. But the effects of such biases are not so explicit; in fact, they even affect such cognizant students as ourselves.

For those who haven’t seen the old Red Dawn, Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen played two brothers in Calumet, Colorado, who form a small group of guerillas when Soviet and Cuban paratroopers invade their town. But even Reagan’s America, midway through the Cold War, was coherent enough to know that a communist invasion of small-town Colorado was wildly implausible, besides making no strategic sense.

The remake, which came out four days ago, was initially written to cash in on the latest perceived threat to American hegemony—an aggressive, militaristic China bringing an army of Commies for Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, and Josh Hutcherson to defeat—but a clever MGM executive realized that, to avoid shutting out the entire Chinese market, some post-production digital magic might be necessary.

So, instead, we’ll be watching (oddly well-fed) North Koreans invade the Pacific Northwest.

Like Americans before us, my fellow moviegoers and I (hopefully) know that North Korea is totally incapable of attacking Washington State. Nonetheless, studios are cashing in on old American folklore—the idea of one man with unlimited ammunition standing up against the enemies of freedom and liberty and emerging battered but victorious.

That’s why, 80 years after John Wayne gave us The Big Trail, we’re in for a fifth round of John McLane, a ninth installment of the Call of Duty franchise, and another bunch of idiots who haven’t learned to leave Liam Neeson’s family alone. We’re being played by a bunch of entertainment executives, and, as CMC students, we’re observant enough to acknowledge and accept that. In fact, I’m totally okay with it.

But even as well-educated people, we can’t claim that we’re impartial. Whatever theaters we’re emerging from, our minds have been subjected to a steady barrage of unconscious psychological stimuli in addition to the things we saw on-screen. We think that, because we know that our fantasies are being manipulated for profit or because we once read something about Joseph Campbell’s Heroic Journey in high school, we somehow become beyond biases we’re unaware are even present.

Take Oliver Stone, who gave us such controversial films as Wall Street, Platoon, and W. If anyone is, he is the type of man who controls many elements of bias on the screen—he’s been telling us we’re being too hard on FARC for years, and his Untold History of the United States comes out November 12.

Yet his most recent film, Savages, never shows us a Mexican that isn’t affiliated with the cartels. Even the gardener pulls a gun on our two handsome, all-American protagonists. As a member of the liberal Hollywood elite, he is by no means beyond that kind of blatant bias.

As much as those with our level of education like to think of themselves as enlightened, we share a characteristic with Americans everywhere in that we couldn’t care less about what psychological triggers are pulled as long as we stay entertained. As I said, I’m okay with that. That’s what makes a good movie, after all.

But thinking of yourself as beyond bias is naïve, whether you’re a casual CMC viewer like me or a visionary director like Mr. Stone. And even if you can recognize your biases, everybody needs a little reminder every now and again.

So I’ll go to the midnight showing of The Hobbit in December with my susceptibility to bias in mind. Then, when the lights dim, I’ll forget about it and watch what I paid to see: epic battles between good and evil conveniently demarcated by species, dialect, and clothing. And I’ll probably end up seeing Red Dawn anyway, if only because I’m worried that Thor and Peeta might tarnish Patrick Swayze’s legacy.