Red Dawn and America’s obsession with Insurgents

Watching Red Dawn, that astonishingly up-front Reagan-era bit of violent Cold War paranoia fused with teenage NRA wish-fulfillment, I was struck once again by how strongly the narratives of American pop culture emphasize underdog insurgency fantasies in which the heroes (i.e. the Americans) find themselves either literally or metaphorically under the dirty boot-heel of a technologically superior invader/conqueror. From Star Wars to The Matrix and from Rambo III to 300, the protagonists with whom the (implicitly American) audience is made to identify face enemies that for all intents and purposes have more in common with the United States as a geopolitical, economic, and cultural superpower than any other real-world entity. Is this desire to indulge in fantasies of identifying one’s national identity as that of the underdog an ancient remnant of the American Revolution? Or perhaps the remainders of Southern frustrations resulting from the Civil War?

It is in any case noteworthy that this ‘insurgency fable’ seems to reappear most prominently under (neo-)conservative White House administrations. The list of popular Reagan-era films in which American heroes triumphed over forces that were both superior in numbers and in technological advantage, either in Vietnam or elsewhere, are many, while the 21st-century list continues to grow even now – the long-rumored Red Dawn remake is finally going to happen, and apparently in a way that is ‘very intense, very much keeping in mind the post-9/11 world that we’re in’ (according to screenwriter Carl Ellsworth. Who knows? They might get Harry Dean Stanton to return in a similar small role. And whether or not he is avenged this time, perhaps he can at least get the principals to keep from blubbing every other scene this time…

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