When you ride alone you ride with [insert current evil-doer]!

When you ride alone...

Remakes and sequels are quite common in film… this year even more so.  One upcoming remake of a popular 80’s film has garnered a bit of attention due to the silliness of the request being made upon it.  The film I am referring to is the 2011 Thor… errr… Chris Hemsworth movie Red Dawn based on the 1984 Patrick Swayze classic of the same name.

In the original film, young chums must protect our shores and purple mountains majesty from the invading Soviet armies whilst running through the woods yelling “Wolverines” whenever possible.  Great stuff… and who didn’t hate those damned Russkies!  In fact… there was even a movie from 1987 with Joaquin Phoenix of that title… Russkies.  My point being… we had a common enemy… it was clear.  The Soviets were evil and we were the good guys.

Things are a bit different these days.  In the current version of Red Dawn, the enemy invading the U.S. were the Chinese.  But the Chinese didn’t particularly care for that depiction… and since China basically owns the majority of our economy, the film makers caved.  They brought in their special effects team and wiped away any trace of our faux Chinese enemies and inserted some North Koreans instead.  Crisis averted.

For some reason, I find this a bit silly.  On one hand I can understand the Chinese point on this… why make our ‘partners’ the villain when we could so easily insert either a fictional villain, or why not the crazy haired hermit of the north?  On the other hand… it’s a movie.  But that is something we, the Chinese, the North Koreans and the former Soviets know a great deal about… propaganda.

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about how much propaganda has played into the psyche of my generation.  Granted, we didn’t have the great wars of the early and mid 20th centuries nor did we get any of the Cuban missile crisis… what we got was the residual fear and sense of “oh well, we may die at any given moment”.  Ours is the generation of The Day After and AIDS… mutually assured destruction and death by sex.  And how much of those fears were by-products of propaganda?

Propaganda is probably as old as humanity itself.  Whether it was the pharaohs of ancient Egypt convincing the populace they were gods… Romans propagating the will of the state… the horrid depiction of Jews throughout literature (Shakespeare)… and of course, the various bits of propaganda used by all sides during the second World War.  The U.S. had Rosie the Riveter… When you drive alone you drive with Hitler… Uncle Sam Wants You… Loose lips sink ships… all forms of propaganda.  Hitler had an entire film division devoted to propping up the Reich.  Mussolini was a master of state driven messages.  Japan waged a propaganda war so effective it sent many soldiers to their death by creating the kamikaze pilot.  And throughout the 80’s… we had the fear of nuclear winter.

What have these messages done to our society?  What have they done to how we now view our place in the world?  What about after 9/11 and the propaganda used after that?  We had examples of police posting targets with Osama bin Laden’s image riddled with bullet holes… we’ve had mixed messages that appear at first glance to be anti-Islam, yet request that we bear in mind that we are only against the “bad Muslims”.  And now with bin Laden’s death?  Obama has decided to not use what would be considered the ultimate tool for propaganda… the death picture.

Pictures of the dead have been used for that purpose since the dawn of photography.  Dillinger, Kennedy, the shot of Ruby shooting Oswald, Billy the Kid, Hussein’s sons… not to mention the images of war itself… D-Day… the images of dead soldiers in Viet Nam.  All of these had incredible results in terms of either binding a nation together or ripping it apart.  Again… 9/11 and the video and stills of the destruction… of the planes hitting the buildings… of the hopeless leaping to their deaths.  If any pictures galvanized this country after that horrible incident it would have to be the two people who were holding hands as they prepared to leap to their deaths.  Propaganda.

I just realized that I’m painting a picture of propaganda as only being associated with war, death and murder.  Not so.  Propaganda is also used to show how wonderful something can be.  Do you remember all those commercials Chevron did that showed all of the myriad ways the company was helping the environment?  Fish swimming in a new artificial reef… do people care?  Yes… ‘People Do’.  Pure 100% propaganda.  Or look at all the drug adds on TV… always showing people who don’t seem to be hindered at all by taking this medication… and they are running through a field while the list of ways it can kill you are read off.  It’s around us every day…

My question is… how are these images and messages informing who we are?  And just how susceptible are we and have been?  Is it a necessary evil or can we exist without it?  When does something go from advertising to propaganda… and is there a difference?

Just a thought…

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Cornelius J. Blahg

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