The parallel between Richard Nixon’s and George W. Bush’s second mandates has been noted before (failing war, divided society, calls for investigations) but an interesting dimension playing out is how popular culture is echoing the mood from that period. Hollywood, of course, never fails to join the political bandwagon during wartime. This time around, it has done so in a rather unimaginative manner, essentially reflexively replaying its 1970s output Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and not necessarily picking the better releases from that era.
Since 2002, we have essentially witnessed the dominant proliferation of three types of movies, respectively concerned with fear, catastrophe, and militarism — underscored by a loose flying paranoia (“Red Eye”, “Flightplan”, “Snakes on a Plane”). Remakes have included “The Exorcist” (re-released twice, provided with two prequels, and remade into “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”), “The Omen” (now “Damien”, out tomorrow), “The Amityville Horror”, “The Poseidon Adventure” (“Poseidon”), “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, and “King Kong”. The horror genre has been particularly prolific with a full playing out of the Japanese trend (“The Ring”, “Dark Water”, “The Eye”, “The Grudge”) to primal, childhood fears of the unknown (“The Skeleton Key”, “Creep”, “Alone in the Dark”, “Hide and Seek”, “Darkness”, “The Forgotten”, and “The Dark” inspired by 1973’s “Don’t Look Now”) to more sadistic productions (“The DevilÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Rejects”, “Saw”, “Saw II”, “Hostel”).
With “Munich”, Steven Spielberg reflected on current ‘global war on terror’ dilemmas by examining a 1972 case of transnational terrorism that had similarly triggered (secret) extraterritorial retaliation over several years. Next is Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center”. Will it be the decade’s “Apocalypse Now”? Doubtful.
In other words, the soft militarization of an increasingly fearful, violence-numbed American society can be seen as the byproduct of the September 11 trauma and an open-ended warrior zeitgeist. On a positive side, the country began its reemergence from the decade of nightmares with Richard Donner’s 1978 “Superman”. Aptly timed, the new version of that one, “Superman Returns”, comes out later this month.
Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou is Associate Director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University.