Saturday, March 26, 2011

Thoughts on the Red Dawn Remake

In the fall of 2000 I was finishing up my education degree at Calvin College. In one of our evening seminars, we were talking about the pros and cons of a nation-wide standardized test that was required for all school children to take.

I don't remember the exact name of the test. (This was 10 plus years ago now). But there is something that does stick in my memory.

The professor was reading through a list of the objectives that the test was supposed to promote: reading skills, writing skills, math skills, and patriotism.

"That patriotism part disturbs me a little bit," the professor said. And to illustrate his point, he showed us an example math question.

The question had a bar graph showing how much each nation spent on it's military. North Korea spent by far the highest, then China, and then the United States. The question read something like, "If for example North Korea spends $10 billion on its military, and China spends $9 billion, and the United States spends $7 billion, what percentage of the Chinese and North Korean military budget does the United States spend?"

"Now," the professor said as he changed slides, "here are the actual figures."
The next chart he showed made my jaw drop. The United States military spending was just off the chart. It spent far more than any other country. It spent more than the next 10 countries combined. To get some sort of visual sense of this, click on this link here to see a comparative military chart from 2002 (link here).

This was one of those life changing moments, when I realized just how insidious the nature of propaganda is. It wasn't technically a lie, because the test never claimed these figures were accurate. They were just example numbers for some made-up math problem. But it was a subtle way of influencing how school children thought about the world. North Korea and China are obsessive war mongering countries that spend much more on their military than peace loving countries like the USA.

And this kind of subtle propaganda was everywhere. It was in the movies we watched, the newspapers we read, and now I learned children are even propagandized in the questions on mandatory standardized tests.

All this is, of course, a digression, but I couldn't help but remember this when I heard that the new "Red Dawn" remake was going to feature North Koreans as the bad guys.

For anyone unfamiliar with the "Red Dawn" movie, it is a 1980s movie in which the Soviet Union invades and takes over the United States. All the adults are rounded up and put in re-education camps, but a group of teenagers hide out in the mountains and wage a guerrilla warfare against the Soviet Army.

In the re-make, now, it is the North Korean army that is going to take over the United States.

The website Bleeding Cool has, to their credit, already done a couple of articles illustrating just how blatantly ridiculous and borderline racist this is. (Links here and here.)

And perhaps the premise is so absurd on it's face that any thinking adult would just laugh it off, and doesn't need my help pointing out how utterly stupid this plot is.

I mean, you would have to believe that a nation with 24 million people would be able to take over 310 million people.
You would have to believe that a nation that has just barely begun it's nuclear weapons program, and does not yet have long range missiles, would be able to take over a nation that has 20,000 hydrogen bombs stockpiled.
...That a nation with a military budget of $10 billion dollars could take over a nation with a budget of $741 billion dollars.
...That a nation completely isolated from the world would be able to take over a nation with obligatory mutual defense treaties with several nations.
...That a nation which has for the last 60 years not been able to take over its own peninsula is now capable of world domination. And that instead of exerting their military influence in their own region they would fly across to the United States.

The really ironic thing is that historically Korea, as a small kingdom surrounded by greater Asian powers, has a history that is very consistent. They are always the ones being invaded, (first by the Chinese, then by the Japanese, then by the Americans). They are never the invaders. And there is no indication that they want to be.

To illustrate the stupidity of this film, you would have to imagine the Roman Empire, at the height of it's powers, making movies about them being overrun by the Celts in Britannia. You would have to imagine Nazi Germany making films about being taken over by Belgium, or Russia making a film about being overrun by Afghanistan.

So, yeah, clearly this is ridiculous on it's face, and you don't need my help pointing out all the real world flaws in this plot. But once the movie gets released and becomes part of our culture, it will be yet another way in which children are surrounded by propaganda (a world view that is reinforced in the movies as well as standardized test questions).

Perhaps I've given this movie, which might not even be that successful, more time and thought than it deserves. I just wanted to get this off my chest so it would stop bugging me in the back of my mind.

And of course, I should remember the golden rule of movie reviewing: never review movies you haven't seen. Once this movie comes out and I see how they actual execute the concept, it's possible it might be better than it looks. (According to Wikipedia (W), it looks like the North Koreans are going to get some backing from the Chinese. Which makes it only slightly less ridiculous.)

Final thoughts go to Noam Chomsky, who's got spoken eloquently on this subject many times before (a 1993 speech, but still applicable today, taken from this website here):

...There is a very characteristic development going on in the U.S. now. It's not the first country in the world that's done this. There are growing domestic social and economic problems, in fact, maybe catastrophes. Nobody in power has any intention of doing anything about them. If you look at the domestic programs of the administrations of the last ten years -- I include here the Democratic opposition -- there's really no serious proposal about what to do about the severe problems of health, education, homelessness, joblessness, crime, soaring criminal population, jails, deterioration in the inner cities -- the whole raft of problems. You all know about them and they're all getting worse... In such circumstances you've got to divert the bewildered herd, because if they start noticing this they may not like it, since they're the ones suffering from it. Just having them watch the Superbowl and the sitcoms may not be enough. You have to whip them up into fear of enemies. In the 1930s Hitler whipped them into fear of the Jews and Gypsies. You had to crush them to defend yourselves. We have our ways, too. Over the last ten years, every year or two, some major monster is constructed that we have to defend ourselves against. There used to be one that was always available: the Russians. But they're losing their attractiveness as an enemy, and it's getting harder and harder to use that one, so some new ones have to be conjured up... So it was international terrorists and narco-traffickers and crazed Arabs and Saddam Hussein, the new Hitler, is going to conquer the world. They've got to keep coming up, one after another. You frighten the population, terrorize them, intimidate them so that they're too afraid to travel and cower in fear. Then you have a magnificent victory over Grenada, Panama, or some other defenseless Third World army that you can pulverize before you ever bother to look at them -- which is just what happened. That gives relief. We were saved at the last minute. That's one of the ways in which you can keep the bewildered herd from paying attention to what's really going on around them, keep them diverted and controlled....


...The fact of the matter is, this [Iraq] was a Third World country with a peasant army. It is now being conceded that there was a ton of disinformation about the fortifications, the chemical weapons, etc. But did you find anybody who pointed it out? Virtually nobody. That's typical. Notice that this was done one year after exactly the same thing was done with Manuel Noriega. Manuel Noriega is a minor thug by comparison with George Bush's friend Saddam Hussein or George Bush's other friends in Beijing, or George Bush himself, for that matter. In comparison with them, Manuel Noriega is a pretty minor thug. Bad, but not a world class thug of the kind we like. He was turned into a creature larger than life. He was going to destroy us, leading the narco-traffickers. We had to quickly move in and smash him, killing a couple hundred or maybe thousand people, restoring to power the tiny, maybe eight percent white oligarchy, and putting U.S. military officers in control at every level of the political system. We had to do all those things because, after all, we had to save ourselves or we were going to be destroyed by this monster. One year later the same thing was done by Saddam Hussein. Did anybody point it out? Did anybody point out what had happened or why? You'll have to look pretty far for that.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky Responsibility and integrity: the dilemmas we face

and Alarmed by the so-called crisis in Japan? The invisible hand of the free market explains nuclear safety

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