Later this year, America’s dream factory will foist upon an already blooded-up America a remake of 1984’s Red Dawn. It’s probably the most unnecessary, irresponsible, Sinophobic film in America’s history, and that’s saying a lot. And it will be just in time for midterm elections already foul with the tea party’s red-white-and-blue jingoism. What a time for it-America’s relationship with China hasn’t been this crucial since, say, 1941.
The film is, indeed, just a film. Or as the MGM executive I spoke with described it: “just an action film.” Nonetheless, it is a bald example of how one-dimensionally America generally, at all levels, thinks about China and Chinese people.
And now, Red Dawn. Just the latest bit of escalation in the villainization of China, propaganda that’s sure to turn frothy in the next decade.â€¨
I obtained a copy of the script. In it, the Chinese invade and subjugate Americans to pinko commie rule all under the guise of “helping” the nation that has become too irresponsible to take care of itself. It is a paranoia tale of an America where our children no longer get stupid Chinese character tattoos because they want to; they get them because they have to. It’s basically porn for survivalist militia types who believe it is “real” scenarios like this that justify everything from the sale of assault rifles to electing nationalist fear-mongers.
Even worse, it’s just another in a long, tired, example of how America’s thinking about China has not progressed past Rohmer’s “Fu Manchu.”
When I contacted MGM, and expressed these concerns about the film, spokesman Grey Munford told me, “Red Dawn is an action film, it is not xenophobic and it is far too early in the process to make assumptions about the film that will appear in theatres.” He also told me the copy I had was stolen and a draft. (They declined to share a final copy or shooting script.)
That’s not the message the movie’s PR is putting out there though. Josh Hutcherson, who stars in the film, recently told MTV that “We’ve changed quite a bit of the story, but the heart of the story is there. The American, patriotic feel of the original, rising up against the invaders, is still definitely there. The Chinese are invading now, so we’re switching that up just to stay with the times a little bit.”
The film’s producer, Tripp Vinson, claims that “a lot of research” went into the China invasion scenario, including input from military “experts.” One of those experts was the RAND Corporation. RAND’s involvement may be the detail that most connects the remake to the original. Maybe no single organization went further and did more to architect and, more importantly, justify the anti-Communist military industrial complex and anti-Reds mindset that defined 20th-century America and that still in many ways defines America’s military structure. The Obama socialism/communism scare tactics the nation has seen recently all have their roots in the Cold War; RAND was the fertilizer for those roots. That, 20 years after the Cold War ended, RAND has its hand in a hawkish right-wing paranoid wank fantasy about China taking military action against the U.S. speaks to the persistent Red-Scare roots of an organization that still shapes policy (Iraq’s Ahmed Chalabi pooch-screw has its connections to RAND).
When I pointed out the remake to Jeff Yang, the “Asian Pop” columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and a trendwatcher for Iconoculture, he was appalled. Of MGM’s “action film” reasoning, Yang said, “The notion that ‘action’ and ‘xenophobia’ are somehow contrasting principles is idiotic.” Then he told me what he really thought: “The action genre tends to be Manichaean – there’s good, evil, and little or nothing in between – and archetypal – characters are drawn big, iconic, and cartoony to eliminate anything that might distract from the mayhem. Your catharsis comes from rooting for the pure-hearted heroes and hating on the corrupt, inhuman villains. Unfortunately, the combination of these factors tends to turn action cinema into a cesspit of ultra-nationalism and, in the case of films where the villains are uniformly of another color, racism. It’s a short slide over from hating the evil Chinese villains in a film like this to subconsciously or consciously seeing all Chinese as evil villains, and hating them as well. The promotional campaign, which basically steals a page from the miniseries ‘V’ but with Chinese people rather than lizard aliens as the bearers of Trojan gifts, makes things even worse.”
America’s direct mistreatment of its own Asian (especially Chinese) populations is not so well known by Americans. While most are probably aware that our liberty-loving government interned over 100,000 Americans (who happened to have Japanese ancestry) during WWII, few are aware that the Chinese Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943 (and even then Chinese immigration was effectively hobbled by low quotas). To this day the Aliens and Nationality section of the United States Code has only one entry specifically targeting a nationality; it is “Chinese.” Off the books and under the radar, there also continues a relentless unconscious drive to stereotype and dehumanize Asian populations both inside and outside the United States.
The must-read book on the subject of America’s dehumanization of its Pacific enemies, War Without Mercy, prophetically notes that even though “vicious racial stereotypes were transformed” after Vietnam, it “does not mean that they were dispelled. They remain latent, capable of being revived by both sides in times of crisis and tension.” In the 1980s that meant fear of Japan buying up America, which prompted the Foreign Ownership Disclosure Act and saw the oh-so-open-minded Gore Vidal warning of “the long-feared Asiatic colossus….” The New York Times Magazine ran a feature titled “The Danger From Japan.” Two laid-off Detroit auto workers got only probation and $3,000 fines after beating a Japanese-American to death with baseball bats. The original judge noted that the men were partially justified, as it was Japanese automakers that put them out of work. The dead man turned out to have Chinese heritage.
Next: The Beijing Olympics and the Media