Wartime Men on the Silver Screen


| 7/9/2008 12:51:04 PM


Soldiers

Cinema’s response to war has changed since Vietnam, Michael Bronski postulates in Z Magazine. For instance, the war in Iraq has been immediately made into documentaries (No End in Sight and Standard Operating Procedure), independent films (Redacted and Battle for Haditha), and even Hollywood productions (In the Valley of Elah and Stop-Loss), while it took years for many films to be made about Vietnam. Mainstream movies like Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now weren’t released until the late 1970s, almost a decade after the war ended.

Bronski credits Vietnam with influencing other film genres as well: The slasher film, beginning with Halloween in 1978, was created as an avatar for the senseless killing of American youth during the Vietnam War, and testosterone-swelling action hero films like Rocky (1976), Terminator (1974), and Die Hard (1988) were used to reassert our postwar nation’s masculinity, as if to say, “We could have won in Vietnam!”

Further, Bronski claims that the stoner buddy movie genre, with a new understanding of masculinity, was invented in response to the absurd man-movies emblematic of the “unholy three” (Willis, Schwarzenegger, and Stallone). Films like Dumb and Dumber, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and Dude, Where’s My Car? exhibit an apolitical, peace-and-love sense of masculinity that is a direct backlash to action hero archetypes. 

Bronski’s argument is interesting, but I believe he is ignoring some important, much earlier incarnations of this same sensitive masculinity—the two most prevalent examples being Harold Ramis’ Animal House and Stripes. Both of these films, released in 1978 and 1981, respectively, put goofball, slacker men in positions where they are confronted by archetypal masculinity. Further, in both of these films this masculinity is represented by military figures (ROTC Cadet Officer Niedermeyer in Animal House and Sergeant Hulka in Stripes). The characters use disarming and nonthreatening humor to combat aggression, much like modern-day stoner comedies. But, instead of remaining apolitical, the heroes in Ramis’ films are forced to face the warlike masculinity emblematic of Vietnam militarism, proving that nonviolence can be an answer. 



Reading his article made me think of how we view masculinity in our modern time of war. If cinema is any refection, then our current perceptions equate masculinity with naïveté. Films like Jarhead and Stop-Loss present characters anxious to go to war, blinded by masculinity and a sense of duty, then humbled by the true nature of the conflict. Even stoner buddy movies like Harold and Kumar have ignorant über-masculine villains blinded by testosterone. The current trend seems to be that of peace and intelligence, which is itself a critique on war in general.  



Pay Now Save $5!

Utne Summer 2016Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $40.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $45 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!




Facebook Instagram Twitter