If you were a teenager in the '80s like I was, you had to have a complex relationship to jingoistic entertainment. On one hand, the way Cold War competition was grafted onto things like sports and movies was kind of unsettling, since the fate of the world was actually at stake, and one had to think that amping everybody up into a testosterone-fueled frenzy couldn't be a good thing. On the other hand, you couldn't help but swell with national pride at the Miracle on Ice, or at Rocky knocking out Ivan Drago. (Though to be clear, the ultimate message of Rocky IV is one of mutual understanding, and one hears the plaintive cry of a man who knows he is but a pawn of much more powerful forces in Drago's lament, "I must break you." OK, I'll stop.)
There may have been no cultural product that captured that atmosphere quite so perfectly as Red Dawn, the 1984 movie in which the Commies actually do take over, and it's left to a small band of high schoolers led by Patrick Swayze to use their gumption, creativity, and familiarity with firearms to fight them off and bring freedom back to America. Perhaps because people my age are now in charge of deciding which movies get green-lit, they've made a remake. Seems like Mitt Romney, who declared Russia our "number one geopolitical foe," isn't the only one living in the past. But one look at the trailer tells you this "Red Dawn" is not going to capture our contemporary zeitgeist in quite the same way the first one did:
While the villains in the film were originally supposed to be the Chinese, the studio got concerned about offending one of our most important trading partners, so they changed the movie to make it so it's actually North Korea that's taking over the United States. Just the thing that keeps so many of us up at night.
The problem isn't just that the idea of North Korea invading the United States is ridiculous, it's that the idea of anyone invading the United States is ridiculous. The Chinese would never do it, not only because they couldn't, but because they wouldn't want to. What would they possibly have to gain? And if they forced us all to live in subjugation, who'd buy the iPads they build for us?
That does make things like the Olympics a little less weighty, since the contests don't serve so much as a stand-in for actual life-and-death conflicts the way they used to. But given that we also don't worry so much about being vaporized in a global thermonuclear war, I'll take this time over that one.