For some inexplicable reason I found myself watching Red Dawn this week. I am not quite sure what made me set the remote down at that station, but I think that people of a certain age, whose formative years were spent hating “pinkco commies” are drawn to watch widely fantastic action adventure movies where red blooded Americans fight the dirty socialists. At first I was just going to leave the TV on while I did other things around the house, but soon I found myself drawn into the same damn movie I have seen five hundred times. I am not sure why I have seen Red Dawn so many times when my husband is still stumped that I have not seen other movies that have become cultural touchstones. For example, I have never seen Top Gun, something that sends people wandering off from me shaking their heads when I tell them. But Red Dawn I have seen a lot, and after watching it yet again I found realized some interesting anthropological points.
First, when watching Red Dawn one is prompted, at random times, to shout out “Wolverines!” This is usually accompanied by raising both arms up, or sometimes one arm in a power to the people fist. This continues to happen throughout the movie, no matter if no one else is in the house with you, or how much it tends to scare the cats and make the dog move from the couch to the window to get away from you. Next, one will always be filled with a hatred of any and all communists, but usually focused on the USSR. It does not seem to matter that the armies that flood Calumet City in the movie are also Cuban and Nicaraguan. It also does not seem to matter that the USSR long ago broke apart, for some reason one feels the need to find Reagan and tell him to hurry up with Star Wars because the end could come soon.
Red Dawn is a silly movie, who can buy that Howell kid as a bad ass, but I think it is also a powerful cultural artifact. It paints a picture of a cultural milieu that was so prevalent that people who were immersed in the Cold War can be brought right back in time. And yet it struck me and how quickly those ideologies were gone. My students don’t remember a cold war; they laugh at old movies that blame communism for a myriad of things. But somehow that hasn’t stopped me from randomly yelling out “Wolverines” all week long. The cats scatter, the dog leaves and my husband shakes his head.