Red Dawn

Showed a film last Thursday evening for my World Politics class -- Red Dawn, a delightful piece of early-1980s cheese about a Communist invasion of the United States. My favorite thing about the film is the fact that it takes itself so darn seriously -- it doesn't set out to be a satire, but with moments like the shot where the camera focuses on a truck's "they can have my gun when they pry it out of my cold, dead fingers" bumper sticker and then pans to the dead American on the ground clutching a pistol so that we can see the Cuban officer prying the pistol out of his (presumably cold and dead) fingers…or Charlie sheen's earnest proclamation that drinking the blood of a freshly-killed deer changes a person forever, which is followed by the shockingly abrupt transformation of the Star Wars-cap-wearing geeky kid into a ruthless killer…you just do not get crap like this in a self-conscious satire!

I wanted to show the film as a bit of a change from what I traditionally show at this point in the course, which is Three Kings -- a more overtly critical-political film. But the point I wanted to make this time concerned the establishment of "common sense" through the mass media instead of using a film to raise questions about the understanding of the other; Red Dawn seemed a perfect accompaniment to our ongoing discussion of Todorov, since we are getting up to the Cortes section starting tomorrow. While the effect I was after can be achieved in a satire -- Starship Troopers comes to mind -- it's even better to have a primary-source document for analysis.

I don't think of the showing of a film as a way to reinforce a particular theoretical point, however, as might be the case if I showed Patton to talk about IR realism or Enemy Mine to discuss liberal-Habermasian constructivism (albeit interspecies in that case). Instead, I want to use the film -- any film I show -- as an additional text to fuel the discussion. So we talked about the gender roles in Red Dawn (the transformation -- seemingly overnight -- of the two female Wolverines into a suicide bomber and a viciously accurate gunner), the similarity of anti-communist and anti-terrorist scripts, and the power of imagery in establishing a case that is politically plausible if not logically coherent. Films are primary sources, not secondary sources, in a pedagogical environment like this; I am not interested in having people learn from the film as they might learn from a book or an article, but instead am interested in having people sharpen and practice their analytical skills on the film understood as a text. And based on the brief conversation we had after the film, it seemed to work decently.
[Posted with ecto]

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