Terrorism -- The New Hollywood Genre
In the normal course of a free society, art
usually reflects aspects of reality. In the case of our most prominent art form
-- filmmaking -- creators often choose topical issues to put on the screen. In
fact, lately it's difficult to not find a movie or television show that
doesn't have some sort of political comment woven into it.
But a new genre with a particularly relevant
focus is beginning to become a popular choice for creators on the big screen,
and while it has no official name, I like to refer to it as Action Terrorism.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, there was
a short lull in violent movies from Hollywood. Then we began to see a few titles
that looked at the event from a docudrama perspective. United 93 and
World Trade Center are examples of two films that offered a relatively
accurate and respectful look at the events that took place that dreadful day.
Since then, many other titles have emerged that
are pure fiction, usually plotting Islamic extremists and other entities against
the homeland, offering shockingly violent scenarios that play upon our fears of
future attacks. Is this good or bad? Are these movies simply playing upon fears
within an already nervous society and promoting new stereotypes? Or are they
helping us to digest past events and accept the fact that we are living in a new
world of heightened worry?
Entertainment capitalizing on public panic is
hardly a new phenomenon. After World War II, bad Germans became a hugely popular
stereotype. Even today, a German accent usually indicates a character who can't
be trusted. Russians don't fare much better, thanks to the Cold War and hundreds
of films with villainous commies.
But since the Berlin Wall fell and, shortly
thereafter, the ruling communist government in Russia became history, Hollywood
has been short on "bad guys." We went through a decade of films where these
historical stereotypes seemed out of place. But after the WTC attacks, creators
are back on track, and today the gun-toting bomb-wearing terrorist is the new
evil... and often is of Middle Eastern descent.
and The Kingdom are two examples of these new high-octane thrillers,
where Americans are under fire and subjected to bombs from their desert
attackers. This week (February 22, 2008) another movie in this genre releases.
Titled Vantage Point, it depicts the assassination of a fictitious US
President by overseas terrorists. Other films, like Next and Déjà Vu,
depict terrorist activities here in the United States. One movie,
American Dreamz, went so far as to attempt to generate comedy from a
bomb-wearing Arab who infiltrates an American Idol-like television show.
My point in raising this discussion is to help
parents be aware of yet another media topic that should be discussed with their
teens. We live in a world of increased uncertainty, and viewing entertainment
media that heightens those feelings of insecurity may only make a young person
(or even an adult) needlessly fearful. The stereotypes these movies promote may
also unfairly taint their impressions of other people they attend school with or
Perhaps I am sensitive to this particular new
trend because I didn't live through World War II and was in diapers during the
height of the Cold War. But the terrorist attacks that opened this century are
still clearly burned into my memory, and it's difficult to relive those feelings
of loss and vulnerability for the pure sake of entertainment.
Yet, I recognize it is a natural reaction to
want to create stories about our common fears and enemies. However, no matter
what we see, read or hear in the media, it's important to help both old and
young viewers question the messages and to understand how creative works can
sometimes be so convincing that we begin to lose track of where fact and fiction
Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.
and the Media by Rod Gustafson
Television Council -
Click here to comment on this column