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Wolverines!: 'Red Dawn' reconsidered

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10 October 2008 15:06

There's an entertaining essay on Slate.com about the 80s war flick Red Dawn, which centered around a bunch of high school kids calling themselves the Wolverines. After a Soviet invasion of America, they take to the mountains and turn themselves into a guerrilla force to fight the reds. I loved this film as a kid, but looking back at the clips now (the Slate piece has some and YouTube has more), I can definitely see the fascistic subtext:

In my memory, Red Dawn celebrated America and its virtues. But its guiding ideology is actually fascism. The only politician in Red Dawn, the mayor of Calumet, is a quisling who rats out his neighbors for execution. His son, the student-body president, turns out to be the traitorous Wolverine, seeking immediate capitulation to the invaders and eventually leading the Soviets right to the band's hideout. Swayze takes command of the Wolverines by force, forbids a vote about whether to surrender, and demands that his fellow guerillas obey him without question. The warrior code of Red Dawn is nihilistic: Glory and death are the same; there is no higher aim than to fight. It never imagines an America that is worth saving: We have corrupt institutions and cowardly politicians.

The essay loses its way a bit in the second half with some strained comparisons between the Soviets in Red Dawn and the real life Americans in Iraq. It then closes by asking what the recently announced Red Dawn remake is going to look like. To me, though, the modern equivalent to Red Dawn has already been made. It was '300', based on the story of the ancient battle or Thermopylae between 300 heroic Spartan soldiers and thousands of vile Persians. Much was made of the crude  racial and political parallels the film allegedly drew with the war on terrorism. And just like the Wolverines in Red Dawn, 300 attributes some disturbingly fascistic tendencies on its heroes, particularly through its glorification of death in battle. It was a visually stunning but rather vile film, and it will be interesting to see if the new Red Dawn matches it for bloodlust.