Friday, April 16, 2004

Remember Alamo, but forget the film 

Disney's epic take on one of the most famous episodes of American history, the doomed defence of Alamo in Texas, is proving to be a turkey at the box office. It might partly be because this classic tale of patriotism and sacrifice has been turned into a sanitised, lackluster, ultra-PC imitation.

The problem, as Don Feder writes, is that "Hollywood has a pathological aversion to expressions of patriotism. Because it finds America (both in history and today) unlovable, it can't imagine anyone loving America enough to die for her."

Feder is surely right. "[R]ecent films about some of the most inspiring moments in our past - 'Pearl Harbor,' D-Day ('Saving Private Ryan') and 'The Alamo' - are cleansed of patriotism - no talk of freedom, democracy, representative government or love of homeland is allowed. (The sole exception is Mel Gibson's 1999 movie 'The Patriot,' which was unabashedly pro-American.)"

He is actually righter than he thinks. "The Patriot" might have been patriotic and pro-American indeed, but even there the Mel Gibson character didn't instantly spring up to defend independence out of love for America but only got dragged into the conflict when the Redcoats burned his property and killed his son. Revenge, not patriotism, seemed to be the dominant motivation.

As it also was in Gibson's earlier epic "Braveheart", where William Wallace tried very hard to stay out of trouble, and only became a freedom fighter - at least initially - to avenge the murder of his wife by the English (in real life, Wallace's wife - who by the way was English - outlived him; it was actually petty brigandage, which eventually led Wallace into a life of a guerrilla).

It seems that Hollywood has no problem understanding and translating onto celluloid most of human emotions, except those nowadays associated with the "right". Contra Feder, it's not just patriotism, but also any sort of religious feeling. Love, greed, hate, jealousy, compassion are fine, but "God, honour, country" might as well be sentiments of aliens from Alfa Centauri - inscrutable, bizarre and vaguely embarrassing.

Until Hollywood decides to "get it", it might as well stick to churning out "Spiderman" and "50 First Dates."


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