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017 - Ch 17 - Into the Twenty-First Century

017 - Ch 17 - Into the Twenty-First Century

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Published by Joseph Eulo

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Published by: Joseph Eulo on Sep 01, 2009
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05/11/2014

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 Into the Twenty-First Century
CONTRADICTIONS: FROM THE GIPPER
TO
BLUE VELVET 
To some extent,the Americancinemaof the 1980sand early1990s can beviewed in terms of thesocial, political,and cultural landscapeof the Reagan-Bush and Bush-Quayle politicaladministrations."Reaganite" entertainment, as the films of this period havebeen dubbed, is,in part,a cinema of reassurance, optimism, and nostalgia-qualities embodiedin the political persona of Ronald Reagan. AsRobin Woodhas argued,national traumasof the 1970s,in particular the Vietnam War and Watergate, served to underminepublic conidencein the nation'sleaders.Reaganattempted torestore thislost confidence. He did this,in part,by encouraging Americansto forget Watergate and to view Vietnam lessas a national defeat thanas a failure inAmerican resolve to win,caused, in part, by aloss of faith intraditionalAmericanvalues. Reagan represented a restoration of those values.As apublicfigure,he evoked an earlier,more innocentera of 
 
American socialrlitical,and cultmal identi with which he was himself, as a
former movie star, identified. As "acting" president, Reagan created for himself a political persona that was built on his earlier screen persona and on the moreimmediate demands ofrekindling popular trust innational leadership.His screen persona was that of the optimist; the upwardly mobile, self-made man; thewar hero;therugged yet God-fearing individualist; theWesternhero who dies saving the life of his best friend; and (offscreen) the dedicatedanticommunist.As a politician, Reagan even began to play the patriarch who,like Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne (whom Pat O'Brien playedopposite Reagan's George Gipp in
Knute Rockne, All American,
1940),couldcharismatically rejuvenate the spirits of all Americans by imploring them (asReagan repeatedly did in political speeches) "to win one for the Gipper." Thispersona is itself a product of the pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate 1940sand 1950swhen itwas constructed. Reagan, aspresident, automatically evoked thisearlierperiod for most Americans who grew up with him as aHollywood movie star.Tomany, Reagan symbolized the 1950s-at least, the idyllic, small-town, 1950sEisenhower America asitexistedinthepopular imagination.Thus, when MartyMcFly (Michael
J .
Fox) time-travels back to 1955in
Back to the Future (1985),
aRonald Reagan Western,
Cattle Queen of Montana
(1954),isplaying at the smalldowntown movie theater.Reaganite cinema exploited many of the values and qualities that Reaganhimself espoused, as well as the conservative concerns of an emerging newright-the young upwardly progressive professionals-the yuppies of the"me" generation. Indeed, one ofthe goals ofMichael
J .
Fox(who starred as theyoung RepUblicanAlexKeaton on a television sitcom,
Family Ties)
in the 1950ssegment of 
Back to the Future
is typical of the concerns associated with the megeneration:he serves as a matchmaker between his future mom and dad andthus ensures his own birth.Yet, the films of the 1980sand early 1990scannot be identified entirelyin terms of the policies of one or two particular political regimes. They alsoembraced major liberal countercurrents that undermined the conservativethrust associated with Reagan's agenda for handling foreign policy anddomestic affairs. In fact, the Reaganite cinema that dominated the early 1980sseemed to spawn an oppositional cinema that set forth adramatically differentimage of America in the late 1980s.During the middle of the decade, aroundthe time of public disclosures concerning the Iran-Contra guns-for-hostagesaffair (1986),more and more films were being made in Hollywood that wereincreasingly skeptical of this Reaganite vision of America. They includedfilms highly critical of lifein 1980s,small-town America. Thus, David Lynch's
 Blue Velvet 
(1986)and his short-lived television series
Twin Peaks (1989-1991)
depicted a world ofbrutality, vice, and corruption that laybeneath the surfaceof everyday life in an apparently innocent and deceptively ordinary smalltown in middle America. The world that his characters inhabited was inaneand absurd. TimHunter's
River's Edge
(1986),a chillingly distanced portrait of teenagers growing up inthe deadening atmosphere ofcontemporary American
 
Reaganite cinema:adapting himself to the 1950s, Marty McFly (Michael
J.
Fox) doeshis ChuckBerry imitation at a 1955high school dancein
Bac to the  Futu re (19 ).
suburbs, lookedat theboredom,thebanality, andthe selfish insensitivity that characterizedthelives of aflaked-out, younger generationolower- middle-class Americans who are notsomuch heroic rebelswithout acause as dysf unctional misfitswithoutfeelings.
Regeneration
During his presidential campaigns,Ronald Reaganattackedthepessimism of his Democratic opponents; once elected,Reaganpronounced that the long nightof Democratic misrule was overandthat it was "morning inAmerica." This1984Republican campaign themeattempted to renewnationalidentity andunity andtellAmericansthat theywere about towitness anewbeginning, an economic and spiritual rebirth.Reagan promisedto bring America bacto life,much ashe himself had bounced back after John Hinckley's unsuccessf ulattempt to assassinatehim in 1981.Reagan's own recovery servedas a symbolicenactment othingstocome;hispresidency would mae thelightinthe nation's heartgo back on, much as itdoes neartheendof 
..: The Extr a-errestr ial
(1982),when thesympathetic alienmiraculously recovers fromapparent death.

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