American action films after 9/11: what has changed?
It is my firm belief that films – even action films, routinely dismissed by so-called “intellectuals” as mindless entertainment for the masses – can tell us much about the world we live in. To prevent any confusion – I consider myself an educated person, but not an intellectual. The difference is that an intellectual takes excessive pride in his education, and considers works of the uneducated, or those that lack apparent depth (what a contradiction!), not worthy of his attention. But to get back to the point – I believe that even these “mindless slashers” can tell us much about both the culture that produced them and about the multitudes that enjoy them. To demonstrate this, in this essay I will examine several American action films of the past three decades and track the salient changes in the intellectual foundations these films are built upon. Furthermore, it will be shown that these changes occur as a result of changes in the general cultural atmosphere in the United States. What is an action film about?
As noted above, many people tend to think of action films as of mere brainless slaughter designed to please (predominantly) men´s violent instincts, and that there is no substance to them. My response to this criticism is that these people have never tried to comprehend these films, and thus their criticism is simply a result of their close-mindedness. Describing these films as nihilistic or meaningless simply because of the violence contained in them and a lack of difficult words in their dialogues does not suffice to explain them. Violent conflict has always been a part of the human condition and it does not disappear only because now we disapprove of it. Even more dangerous would be to disregard these films and the message they offer us because of our disapproval with the way the message is presented.
Action films, as I understand them, always revolve around a conflict. The character of the conflict is nothing fixed (as I will show later), but the conflict always revolves around a hero and a villain and the values they stand for or represent. This conflict is developed in the course of the movie, and usually resolved in a violent manner – at least the villain has to die to demonstrate who is the winner. In displaying the violent conflict between the hero and the villain in its entirety, action films may even be considered a contemporary heir of the tradition of ancient heroic myths. The winner is, of course, the hero – thus the values of the given culture are validated and their superiority to the opposing values is demonstrated. Nietzsche ( 2006, p. 42) would comment that “no people could live that did not first esteem; but if they want to preserve themselves, then they must not esteem as their neighbor esteems.”
Since the subject of this essay are American action films, it seems natural to suppose that the values they advocate are the American values. What does this mean in practice? In a nutshell, things Americans can relate to, and for which they are willing to fight and die if necessary (or, at least, things for which their ancestors were willing to fight and die for). These values include “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, as the US Declaration of Independence puts it, and which it considers to be unalienable and God-given human rights, applying equally to everyone. Among the important American values I also count hard work, honesty, family, friendship and justice, all of which have been traditionally honored in this country. The eighties
The essential conflict of the eighties remained the same as that of the previous three decades – the Cold War, seen from the American perspective as the struggle between the forces of freedom and justice on one hand, and the forces of totalitarian madness and evil on the other hand (recall President Reagan´s famous declaration that the USSR is the “evil empire”). The forces of...
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