July 21, 2009

Rambo as a socio-political gauge

This post by Max Forte has me thinking about cross cultural understanding here at home, and the different forms that racism and discrimination can take. I never would have guessed that Rambo III would be an enlightening or even interesting film to watch, until I happened to see the last 10 minutes of it this past week while I was in a hotel. What was most striking was not only the positive depiction of the people of Afghanistan, but the final dedication, which was to "the gallant people of Afghanistan".

The Afghan people were, of course, seen as valiant and brave because they also happened to be fighting against the enemy of the day, the Soviets.

The film, which was made in 1988, was created right at the moment when the pop culture political villain was moving away from the Russian stereotype and toward the vague Muslim or Middle Eastern stereotype. Of course, the latter villain reached its apex after 9/11, and since then a certain kind of evil cultural character has persisted. One of the first films that I remember using the "Muslim terrorist" character was "Back to the Future". But there were many others, and the number increased with the onset of Desert Storm and other politically-charged events of during the 1990s.

It's not too difficult to see that pop culture villains correlate strongly with the fears, conceptions, and stereotypes of contemporary culture. And films like Rambo III can show us, especially 20 years later, how clearly they reflect certain cultural attitudes. And these days, when the US is engaged in war with the very people who are called "gallant" in this film, well, the situational nature of popular cultural understandings and stereotypes becomes quite clear.


openanthropology said...

Very good points as usual...and I had completely forgotten about those messages in Rambo, even though I saw each of the films more than once, even going to the cinema back then to see them. Ironic statements.

R.A. said...

rambo of all places!

amazing how quickly the political landscape shifts, isn't it?