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As my old blog declanfinn.com seems to be melting down (thanks blogger!) I’m reposting some evergreen posts here. This one came from March 2016, but I think most of it holds up.
When Spotlight won the Academy Award for best picture this week, my first response was "What the hell is Spotlight?"
It was about last century's child abuse scandal, my first thought was
“Really? Is there nothing new to make films about? It's almost as bad as the 90-year-old Nazis in films!”
And which point my next thought was was: Can we please stop with the Nazis?
Not sure if you've noticed, but there are still films trying to harp on World War II and Nazis. I grew up in the 90s, where there was a deluge of 100-year-old Nazis. Bulletproof Monk, for example, literally had a Nazi in a wheelchair, who had to have been at least 100 years old. And, sorry, if I want old, wheelchair-bound Nazis, I'm going to stick with Doctor Strangelove.
If you think that this premise is gone, nope. Hate to break it to you. But you've still got The Lady in Gold, a film with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds released just last year. Yes, 2015 had a film about hunting down art stolen by Nazis. And that premise has been the plot of at least one episode of every other television show in the last ten years.
But don't worry. As the film Three Kings turned the hunt for Nazi gold into the hunt for Iraq gold, I'm certain that there will be films in a few years that boil down to hunting down pieces from the Iraqi museum (most of which, by the way, was actually hidden by the caretakers of the museum, but it'll work because few people actually know that).
So, part of the question becomes …
No, really. Why?
Do we not have enough bad guys in the nearly 80 years since World War II? You know, that whole Cold War thing? War with al-Qaeda? Terrorists?
First of all, we have to recognize that this isn’t a new gripe. That's been part of my problem for a while with films in general. Hollyweird likes to ignore the elephant in the room — or the actual threat in the crosshairs. Hollyweird has lousy target recognition.
During the Cold War, how many films had bad guys who were Soviets and good guys who didn't look as douchey as the bad guys? James Bond teamed up with the Russians, because Spectre was always more evil. Hell, the closest you get to even having Soviets as bad guys were in films based off of John le Carre novels, and even then, those plots shoe-horned in enough moral ambiguity that you wondered if le Carre could figure out who the good guys were if there weren’t a literal map telling him where the bad guys resided.
Don't even try to talk to me about The Hunt for Red October. It was made in 1990, when the Cold War was like five minutes away from ending, and they could get away with it after 8 years of Reagan kicking ass and taking names (seriously, half the news articles of the time were about how Reagan was going to destroy the world by pissing off the Soviets; “Hmm, the Soviets didn't nuke us. Maybe we can make one film…”).
And yes, there was Red Dawn. But at the end of the day, for every Cold War film that was actually ABOUT the Cold War, there were a dozen films about evil militias or evil generals. For every Hunt for Red October, or Red Dawn, there's at least one Seven Days in May, about the United States military taking over the government.
Even Missing in Action or Rambo films were less about Vietnam and more about how the United States has mistreated veterans (yes, before the VA scandals of Obama. Surprise), or how all veterans are deranged psychopaths (First Blood was just ... ugh).
No, no. The "real" enemy wasn't the Soviet Union. It was people who really wanted to defeat the Soviet Union. They were the problem. Communists (who were already working towards their ultimate casualty list of 100 million dead — yes, Communism killed at least 100,000,000 people last century, look it up) were not the enemy. Anti-communists were the enemy!
And thus the phrase was born that “I am not pro-communist or Anti-Communist, I am anti-Anti-Communist.”
Yes, anti-anti-communist. It was a thing. Really.
As much as I liked the mid-90s films The Rock and The Long Kiss Goodnight, both of them wonderfully mindless action flicks, look at who the enemy was in each film. The Rock had a collection of US marines taking US citizens hostages, and the latter had a black ops US government agency creating a fake terrorist attack to increase their funding. And yes, if you've heard that second plot before, it's only been duplicated about a dozen times since then, perhaps more.
Keep in mind — both of these films came out within five years after the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993.
(For those of you who want to feel old? This year’s college freshmen weren't even alive when it was attacked the SECOND time).
Luckily for Hollywood, one lone atheist militia member blew up an FBI building in Oklahoma City, and the 90s became the decade of the evil militia. Every. Five. Freaking. Minutes. A cliche that continues to this day, even though it has been superseded by events. And history was rewritten so that bomber Timothy McVeigh was a “Christian.” So, double-bonus point for the PC jackpot.
Then there was The Siege, where a campaign of Jihadi terror is ongoing in New York City. Martial law is declared, and the Muslim community is thrown into internment camps. Funny enough, even though the man in charge of the military occupation of New York (played by Bruce Willis) started the film by saying “Martial law is a very bad idea, you do not want to do this,” at the end of the film, Bruce Willis is the "real" enemy, and is arrested for torturing a terrorist to death. He is yet another crazy general. Because that's never happened in cinema…
Oh, wait, it's a recurring cliche.
After 9-11, when “the world had changed”… the Tom Clancy novel The Sum of All Fears, where jihadis nuke the Superbowl and try to kick-start World War III, was turned into a film about Neo-Nazis.
Yes, that's right. At the height of awareness about Islamofascist psychos, they made a film about Neo-Nazis.
See? Hollywood loves them some Nazis to kill. Even when they're irrelevant in the real world.
And since 9-11, what films have actually dealt with Islamic terrorism? Aside from historically-based films? Not a lot. American Sniper was a biography. I'm told The Hurt Locker might as well have been a documentary. Zero Dark Thirty? A history. Sort of.
And then there is Valley of Elah, or Syriana, which are anti-war agitprop, and one film called The Kingdom, the punchline of which is “this is a never-ending, vicious cycle.”
At least on tv, we got 24, and not even that could stay on target every time they addressed the issue. (Season Six? What season Six?)
You know how bad it is when Hollywood has finally decided to make Cold War films. Currently. Heck, I'm certain that Hollywood loves Russia right now, and the new Cold War we have going for us, because Hollywood would rather fight Russia than talk about Jihadis. It's the only way I can explain the existence of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
Hollywood would rather perform icky sex acts upon Vladimir Putin than do a film where Jihadis are the bad guys.
And EVEN THEN, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit made certain that the antagonist was a little sympathetic, and not part of the Russian government, but a billionaire.
How does one explain all of this?
To some extent, Hollywood was firmly in the pocket of the Soviet Union. If I recall correctly, the Soviet Union had cut them some checks, especially to penetrate the Screen Actors Guild. And you never offend the guys sending you cash.
But there is of course, always one constant for decades — Hollywood's initial reflex is “America is evil, and we don't want it's enemies to be angry with us and kill us."
During the Cold War, it started as "There are no enemies on the left — Soviets are our friends," and there was an actual public stance where they stated “We don’t want the Soviets to be angry with us and nuke us.”
Oh look — Islamofascists go insane over political cartoons and comic strips of "Hagar the Horrible." Mustn’t offend them, lest they cut heads off of some Hollywood execs. Or Allahu Akbar a movie studio with a suicide vest.
Hollywood always needs an enemy for the movies. When they can't come up with the standard religious nut / crazy General / White Supremicist Militia / big business (what they see as Conservatives, basically), they seem obligated to utilize some variation of Nazis.
“But Declan,” I hear you say, “what about books made into films?”
What about them? They come with their own villains. As most of them are sci-fi / fantasy, there is little connection to the real world.
But if you want to think about them in a political fashion?
The Hunger Games? Fascist dictatorship.
Harry Potter? Villains stressing racial purity, and idiots looking like Neville Chamberlain.
Lord of the Rings? Evil armies trying to take over the world, based off of Tolkien in World War I, published after WW2.
Marvel films? Hail Hydra.
I'm sure if it ever comes up, there's someone around to say, “Hey! Nazis did this!”
But, on the question of fighting Jihadis? Sure, there are always some ways around this. 300, for example, could be seen as allegorical for going against the villains of the Middle East in the Persian Empire. Though you’re never going to get away with having James Bond go after Osama bin Laden. Or anyone who even looks like Osama.
As John Ringo once wrote in his book Live Free or Die, as someone tries to explain to an alien why reporters hate his guts…
"I’m what her culture, her tribe, has long seen as the bad guy. Wealthy, self-made, conservative. White. Male. I'm a more comprehensible evil—and it is viewed as evil—than the Horvath…. The difference is, I try to understand them. They don't even try to understand me. They see my motivations as being theirs. I’m rich because I'm greedy. I have power so I must be ambitious for domination.”
Also, he continues, at the end of the day, this conservative (okay, really a libertarian) concludes that good liberal reporters know the conservative and the Christians aren't really going to kill them. The aliens? They will.
Conservatives and Christians are not going to cut off the heads of Hollywood people who hurl names at them, nor will we start shouting Gloria in excelsis Deo before detonating a suicide vest.
So at the end of the day, the endless use of the Nazi is the endless, desperate search for any villain that won't get them killed.
It is the search for the “correct” enemy, so the film has the “right” message. It is a search for a cartoon character villain who seems somewhat real. Because Nazis don’t need depth. They don't need motivation. They’re Nazis, they’re evil. And most importantly, Nazis are completely irrelevant in regards to any major world event, or any real contemporary evil.
After all, not all villains can be evil conservative religious billionaires. Though you'd know they'd try to get away with it if they could.
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