Hollywood reveals its true colours in use of yellow peril
Life was so much simpler when everybody knew whom he or she was supposed to hate. The Irish hated the English. The Scottish really hated the English. The English pretended they hated the Germans, but actually hated the French. The Americans hated the Russians. The Russians and the Chinese hated each other. Webs of prejudice bound humanity together in a parcel of poisonous animosity.
Popular culture thrived on these often arbitrary loathings. Until as late as the mid-1980s, evil, fat humourless Germans served as the staple villains in British comics. James Bond’s main antagonists were the Russians, but the spy managed to graze across the entire smorgasbord of late-colonial bigotry.
Ian Fleming’s suave thug neatly leads us towards a consideration of current discontents in the field of pop-cultural jingoism. In Goldfinger, Fleming writes: “Bond intended to stay alive on his own terms. Those terms included putting Odd-Job or any other Korean firmly in place, which in Bond’s estimation was lower than apes in the mammalian hierarchy.”
The phrase will cause (or should cause) the contemporary reader to rock back in astonishment. The Bond of the books was always a much less lovable character than the cheery drunk who shagged his way through the movies. But “lower than the apes”? Let’s just pretend the views are the character’s and not the author’s. Shall we? Mind you, a glance at current mainstream entertainment suggests Mr Bond’s particular hierarchy of prejudice may be coming back into fashion.
Things got a bit complicated when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Up to that point, Hollywood understood who the chief baddies were. The loss of the Soviet threat catapulted the studios into an awful state of confusion.
The threat from al-Qaeda and related Islamist terror cells seemed to fill the gap, but too many qualifications had to be made. As George W Bush found to his political cost, you can’t really declare war on a faction or an idea or a strategy. Forget the “War on Terror”. We want a war against a proper country.
Enter North Korea. Next week, more than three years after passing before cameras, Dan Bradley’s dreadful remake of Red Dawn, an unhinged 1980s cold war fantasy, opens in Irish cinemas. Delayed by the collapse of MGM studios, the film-makers had time to react to changes in world affairs.
The original film, directed by the red-blooded John Milius, concerned a surprise attack by Soviet forces on the United States.