Celluloid diplomacy

Material Information

Celluloid diplomacy Harrison Ford and the American image on film
Rau, Sheryl Amelia
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
vi, 83 leaves : ; 28 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( Master of Humanities)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:


Subjects / Keywords:
Motion pictures -- Political aspects -- United States ( lcsh )
Men in motion pictures ( lcsh )
Motion pictures -- Social aspects -- United States ( lcsh )
Men in motion pictures ( fast )
Motion pictures -- Political aspects ( fast )
Motion pictures -- Social aspects ( fast )
United States ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 81-83).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Sheryl Amelia Rau.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
43926312 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L58 1999m .R38 ( lcc )

Full Text
Sheryl Amelia Rau
B.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1995
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities

This thesis for the Master of Humanities
degree by
Sheryl Amelia Rau
has been approved

Rau, Sheryl Amelia (M.H., Humanities)
Celluloid Diplomacy: Harrison Ford and the American Image on Film
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Kent Casper
This thesis explores some key representations of the American image
on film. This analysis is concerned with the socio-political construction and
filmic processes by which the American image and ideology have been
constructed for American audiences. By examining the interplay of formal
foreign policy, the changing theoretical contours of masculinity, certain action .
films, and the celebrity icon of actor Harrison Ford, this thesis explores some
of the ways in which these entities come together to shape the American
publics perceptions of the American image, foreign policy, and the United
States place in the world.
The American image can be viewed as the synthesis of certain
American ideals and ideologies from the divergent areas of politics and mass
media. It is in part through Fords performances that American ideas of moral
and military superiority are justified, and the status quo of the American
capitalist society is supported.
This thesis traces the political origins of the American image back to
the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, discusses the
role of the enemy other in the establishment of state identities, and focuses
on the role of the celebrity icon in the perpetuation of the American image and
the ideologies inherent in that image. To elucidate this discussion of the
power of celebrity icon in relation to American image, three of the films of
Harrison Ford are analyzed: Patriot Games (1992); Clear and Present Danger
(1994); and Air Force One (1997).
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Kent Casper

My thanks to Kent Casper and Susan Linville for their guidance and support.

1. FACETS OF THE AMERICAN IMAGE..................5
20th Century Political Legacies: Theodore Roosevelt
and Woodrow Wilson: Origins and Parameters of the
Contemporary American Image............,.6
Theodore Roosevelt.................9
Woodrow Wilson....................13
Roosevelt and Wilson: a Synthesis.16
2. FOREIGN POLICY INFORMS IMAGE..................18
Enemy Other and the Formulation of the US State
3. FILM AND DIPLOMACY MERGE......................26
The Politics of Popular Entertainment...27
Icon and Power: Harrison Ford

DANGER, AND AIR FORCE ONE..........................35
Changing Masculinities..................36
Patriot Games...........................46
Clear and Present Danger................58
Air Force One...........................66
CONCLUSION.............................................. 73
WORKS CITED..............................................81

This thesis explores some key representations of the American image
on film. My analysis is concerned with the socio-political construction and
filmic processes by which the American image and ideology have been
constructed for American audiences. By examining the interplay of formal
foreign policy, the changing theoretical contours of masculinity, certain action
films, and the celebrity icon of actor Harrison Ford, I explore some of the
ways in which these entities come together to shape the US publics
perceptions of the American image, foreign policy, and the United States
place in the world.
The United States approach to foreign policy is more than the sum of
its formal diplomatic parts. An essential component of US foreign policy is
the nebulous entity of national image or identity. It is through our
understanding of our own national image that we in part understand ourselves
and our relationship with the world; therefore, understanding national image is
key to an analysis of the US vis-a-vis the world. In addition, national image
serves to inform the very shape and future of foreign policy by determining, a

posteriori, what course of action US foreign policy will follow. In this sense,
it is the understanding of the image that determines how formal diplomacy is
played out. Image informs action, which in turn, [reshapes that image; the
process is an unending one.
National image is a composite metaphor made up of perceptions of
political and military actions, past and present, certain changing and enduring
American morals and ideals, and various media representations of American
culture. Paul Ricoeur refers to such an image as the layer of images and
symbols which make up the basic ideals of a nation (qtd. in Iriye 9). These
images come together to form a larger construct that conveys the American
For such an analysis, a multi-faceted approach must be adopted.
Chapter 1 looks at the origins and parameters of the American image by
reassessing the enduring political ideologies of two American presidents,
Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, whose ideologies of manifest US
militarism and moral superiority respectively are still factors in contemporary
foreign policy and political and social thought.
Chapter 2 concentrates on the ways in which American identity is
formed in opposition to a perceived other. Contact with what is considered

foreign and dangerous promotes the articulation and even [re]creation of
national identity. I apply this concept by analyzing the ways in which an
enemy has been utilized to shape and reshape twentieth century American
national identity.
Chapter 3 investigates the interplay of film and diplomatic thought by
delving into the often unrecognized political nature of popular entertainment.
In addition, this chapter examines the persuasive power of the celebrity icon,
specifically in negotiating US public opinion in matters of diplomacy and
foreign policy and as a means of state identity formation. These ideas are
illustrated in an analysis of the celebrity icon of Harrison Ford, for his
celebrity icon is one that resonates with the American image, largely due to
the type of character he so consistently plays.
Chapter 4 investigates the mediating effects of changing
representations of masculinities, beginning in the mid-1970s and continuing
through the 1990s, and their influences in the larger socio-political domain.
This chapter also contextualizes the celebrity icon of Ford within three select
films by focusing on how the Ford icon functions to help negotiate and
understand US national identity and foreign policy. The films discussed are

Patriot Games (1992); Clear and Present Danger (1994); and Air Force One

Although the concept of the American national image is one that will
become increasingly problematized throughout this essay, a rudimentary,
working definition of the concept is necessary. To begin, while at any given
time the American image/sign is the synthesis of certain American values and
ideals, it is insufficient to stop here. While a sign in any schema is mutable,
this sign is strangely consistent in many ways. A key part of the image is, of
course, the tangibles: the actions of the US government, the actions and
productivity of the nations corporations, and the actions and attitudes of the
American population as they are empirically observed and/or represented.
These components of the image, arguably, are always in a state of flux, and if
these tangible indicators were the only source of meaning, then the totality of
that image would be so highly transient that no sooner would a discernible
image be observable then it would have significantly evolved into another
discrete image. But this is certainly not the case. While these highly mutable
components of culture are important in this analysis, they are in a sense the

outward trappings of the more consistent attitudes and ideas that are
exemplified by the American image. It is these more enduring components
which supply the image with the perceptible shape and texture that make it as
readily identifiable today as it was ten, forty, or seventy years ago. For
instance, the idea of American moral superiority is a consistent part of the
American image, although the manifestations of that superiority may change,
and certainly have changed. For purposes of discussion, these persistent
elements will be referred to as national ideals.
What are the US ideals that make up the national image? Ideals of
moral superiority, military superiority, equality (even though this idea may
seem contrary to notions of superiority), democracy, and equal access to
opportunity are all enduring components. It is these ideals, among others, that
are used to negotiate not only who we are but also who we are in relation to
the world. These ideals constitute a framework through which we understand
our diplomatic motives and actions.
20th Century Political Legacies:
Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson:
Origins and Parameters of the Contemporary American Image
In spite of the fact that significant political changes have occurred in

the US throughout the 20th century, on close examination, two schools of
thought as to the role of the US in the world have dominated, and media
representations reflect these philosophies. These schools are best articulated
in Theodore Roosevelts conception of manifest US militarism and Woodrow
Wilsons conception of US moral superiority.
It would be no doubt incorrect to state that these particular political
tenets began with the rise to power of Teddy Roosevelt and, later, Woodrow
Wilson, but it would be apt to say that it is they who best articulated and lived
out these philosophies. Arguably, the ideologies of Roosevelt and Wilson are
played out again and again in the policies of numerous other policy makers to
this day, and while there may be a range in degree in these policies, they still
reflect a comparable American worldview and continue to sway contemporary
politics. These ideologies in essence constitute the very fabric of our political
attitudes. As John Milton Cooper writes, Roosevelts and Wilsons most
significant contributions lay in shaping the major ideological dimensions of
twentieth century politics (xii). Additionally, Cooper writes, Roosevelt and
... Wilson still stand as the principal architects of modem American politics
(361). To support these assertions, one has only to look at the hard-line
posturings of Ronald Reagan during the initial stages of the Strategic Defense

Initiative (SDI) to see traces of Roosevelts bellicose vision; likewise, Jimmy
Carters drive for peace in the Middle-East during the Arab-Israeli peace
process smacks of Wilsonian-style interventionism in the name of peace.
To put it simply: integral parts of American foreign policy are the
ideologically opposed ideas of staunch militarism and idealistic peace, both in
the form of the white mans burden. At first glance these ideas could not seem
more diametrically opposed to one another, and in many ways they are;
however, these polarities do have a consistent thread that unites them: both
the US exercise of military might and the US pattern of interventionism in the
name of freedom, justice, and peace further the notion of American
superiority. Adherents view this superiority as both physical and moral. The
assumptions inherent in this sentiment are that (a) in any conflict, whether the
combat is hand-to-hand or engages advanced technology, the US will triumph
because it is inherently superior, and (b) whenever, wherever, and for
whatever reason, the US is always morally and ethically in the right.
(Vietnam, however, proved highly detrimental to these collective assumptions
until the Persian Gulf War, a point that will be addressed further.)

Theodore Roosevelt
Roosevelts zeal for the militaristic is a relevant part of the American
psychedespite changes throughout the 20th century ranging from jingoism to
active peace movements. Roosevelt, like Wilson, held the view that it was
Americas destiny to involve itself in the affairs of the world; however, unlike
Wilson, who preferred, at least initially, to employ peaceful diplomacy,
Roosevelt preferred to speak softly and carry a big stick.
Roosevelts views on diplomacy and Americas role in the world
reflect his bellicose leanings. Often in his rhetoric he disguised aggression
with pragmaticsi.e., someone has to act as a police bodyand thought that
the US should police the uncivilized peoples of the world, as Paterson,
Clifford, and Hagan have observed (44). In this manner, aggressive and
violent intervention in the affairs of other countries is justified: the US is
merely restoring (or perhaps establishing) order to a region that is out of sync
with the proper order as the US determines it. Since Roosevelts time,
countless politicians have used the same rationale to justify their actions.

For example, interventionist ideology was used as an excuse for the
US to become embroiled in the Persian Gulf in 1991. After Iraq invaded the
small country of Kuwait in 1990, and after other diplomatic attempts to
persuade Iraq to retreat from Kuwait failed, policy makers in the US decided
that it was necessary to attack Iraq to reestablish order in the region (Paterson,
Clifford, and Hagan 576-77). The US government wanted Kuwait once again
to be a sovereign nation. Of course, this is the foreign policy elites version of
events. What can easily be assumed to be the real reason that the US military
became involved in the situation was not so altruistic. In fact, as Paterson,
Clifford, and Hagan have written, Washington feared that Saddam might next
invade Saudi Arabia and thus control 40 percent of the worlds oil (576).
This fear of a loss of oil, and consequently, a loss of power were the actual
primary motivating factors for the US entering the conflict. It was not really
so much a matter of the US governments willingness to fight for the freedom
of another people as it was a matter of the US going to war for oil. This war
also served another important function by aiding in the ongoing effort to
remasculinize the US after the Vietnam defeat. By kicking the Vietnam
Syndrome through the fighting of the Persian Gulf War, the US was able to
reaffirm its tough masculine image, tarnished by a military failure.

Pragmatics, however, were not and are not the only reason that the US
should act as a police force. As Roosevelt himself stated, All the great
masterful races have been fighting races (qtd. in Paterson, Clifford, and
Hagan 44). For Roosevelt, the hallmark of a nation/races superiority is a
bellicose nature and a willingness to display that nature. In simple terms, a
superior race is often a violent, war-waging race. And there is little doubt to
which race Roosevelt was referring. As Roosevelt stated in 1890 of
Americas part in Anglo-Saxon world domination:
[T]he English-speaking race was to spread over the worlds
waste space, until a fourth of the habitable globe was in its
hands, and until it became the mightiest race on which the sun
ever shone, (qtd. in Cooper 35)
In this passage, Roosevelt believes the Anglo-Saxons (which he deems proper
American citizens to be) will establish themselves as the superior race, and
successful war is the primary way to dominate and establish the superiority of
Anglo-Saxons. Just as Roosevelts belief in the worlds need for American
policing has endured, so has his belief in American military superiority as the
ultimate means of establishing the US governments hegemony over all other
nations. Ultimately then, American military superiority establishes Anglo-
Saxon hegemony as well as US government hegemony.

The Persian Gulf War is a key example of Rooseveltian ideology in
recent history. The Persian Gulf War made it possible for the US to display its
military might in the post-Cold War world, serving as an antidote to the
Vietnam legacy. President Bush saw the Iraq-Kuwait crisis as the first post-
Cold War test of our mettle at a time when declinists questioned the U.S.
capacity to lead (Paterson, Clifford, and Hagan 576). What better way to
prove to the world that the US was still the preeminent world power than an
awesome display of destructive might? As Bush himself stated, If we get
into an armed situation, [Saddam Hussein] is going to get his ass kicked (qtd.
in Paterson, Clifford, and Hagan 578). In the end it appears that Bush was
right: although estimates vary, Iraqi casualties may have numbered as many
as 100,000 dead while the US forces sustained as few as 148 deaths.
Ultimately, Bush, just like Roosevelt, thought that the way to substantiate the
notion of US superiority (or male, Anglo-Saxon superiority) was through
battle, and interestingly enough, Bush recognized his connection to
Roosevelts ideologies. As Bush stated in the first weeks of the crisis, Maybe
Ill turn out to be a Teddy Roosevelt (qtd. in Paterson, Clifford, and Hagan

It is of little doubt that Bushs willingness to tap into the masculinist
image of Roosevelt was also an attempt to restructure his own image as
tougher and more aggressive in order to overcome what became know as the
wimp factor in his presidency. Plagued by unflattering comparisons
between himself and former President Ronald Reagan, Bushs image was
equated with indecisiveness and a softness that is best articulated by his desire
for a kinder, gentler nation; therefore, a combative stance toward Iraq aided
in the reconstruction of his image in accordance with hardline masculinist
ideals. Interestingly enough, however, Bushs ridiculed notion of a kinder,
gentler nation is strikingly similar to Wilsonian morality.
Woodrow Wilson
In Wilsons estimation, due to US moral superiorityitself based in
Christian ideologythe US has a certain higher function to serve in the world.
As Wilson himself said in 1916 in a public address on preparedness for World
War I:
[Bjecause we hold certain ideals we have thought that it was right that
we should hold them for others ... America has more than once given
evidence of the generosity and disinterestedness of its love of liberty..
.. The world now knows ... that a nation can sacrifice its own
interests and its own blood for the sake of the liberty and happiness of
another people. (Wilson 269)

As this excerpt attests, Wilsons America occupies a position of moral
superiority in relation to the other nations of the world and therefore has a
certain moral duty to fight for the rights of other countries; essentially,
America knows best and will fight to lift those less fortunate up to its elevated
status, a form of white mans burden hardly missing from contemporary US
foreign policy.
For example, just as the Persian Gulf War is a prime example of
Rooseveltian ideologies in action, it is also representative of Wilsons notion
of a US moral duty to fight for the rights of other countries. As already
discussed, the United States went to war for oil and to rebuild its image;
however, the government justified its actions by employing Wilsonian
ideology: we were just fulfilling our role as moral leader and were merely
defending the sovereignty of Kuwait because it was the morally correct thing
to do.
Another important component of Wilsons interpretation of foreign
policy is the belief that since the US is morally superior, it will not provoke a
military altercation; rather it must be forced into fighting to defend institutions
it holds dear. As Wilson attested in 1916:

[T]here is something that the American people love better than they
love peace. They love the principles upon which their political life is
founded. They are ready at any time to fight for the vindication of
their character and of their honor. They will not at any time seek the
contest, but they will at no time cravenly avoid it. (Wilson 269)
In these passages Wilson does three things: one, he stresses the inherent
morality of Americans in times of peace and war; two, he conforms to the
American publics pacifistic sentiment in 1916; and three, he lectures on the
necessity of American preparedness regarding World War I. These notions of
American morality and a willingness to fight when some challenged ideal
makes it morally necessary are essential to ongoing 20th century American
political philosophies.
The Panama invasion is a relatively recent example of these ideologies
in action. In December of 1989, the US invaded Panama in Operation Just
Cause, which at the time was the largest military expedition since the Vietnam
War (Paterson, Clifford, and Hagan 574). Although Panamanian dictator
Manuel Noriega was once a US operative, by 1988 he was being indicted for
drug offenses by US grand juries. Next, a series of diplomatic maneuvers
aimed at forcing Noriega from power in Panama failed, and the US took
action after US military personnel in Panama began to suffer violent attacks
(Paterson, Clifford, and Hagan 574). The justification for the invasion was

that the US was forced into acting because diplomatic measures had failed to
remove Noriega from power, drugs were continuing to flow into the US, and
US citizens in Panama were in danger.
The name of the operation furthers the idea that this military operation
was in line with Wilsons ideologies. The words Just Cause leave little
doubt as to the moral certainty of this endeavor. The US did not choose to
invade Panama, rather it was forced to do so. This rhetoric reverberates
throughout the American political realm, and as Chapter 4 demonstrates, this
justification is a frequent element in the Hollywood action film as well.
Roosevelt and Wilson: A Synthesis
In contradistinction to Roosevelts American ideal of open aggression
as a means of showing superiority, Wilsons conception of an essentially
moral and peaceful people being pushed into fighting in order to uphold
American virtues, institutions, and ideals is a form of moral superiority.
While Roosevelts vision of a bellicose America that is always ready to take
up arms to prove its might in battle and Wilsons vision of an essentially
pacifist America that is only drawn into an altercation when there is a threat to
American ideals seem at odds, they are still connected. Both visions rely on

the fundamental belief in American superiority, and both are ongoing themes
in American political and popular thought.
These two philosophical approaches reflect upon the differing
masculine ideals present in the American identity. Indeed, the American
image itself is decidedly masculine in character. Roosevelts philosophy is
characterized by aggressive masculinity that displays brute force. Wilsons
masculine image conveys a restraint that reflects an unwillingness to enter a
conflict unless it is absolutely necessary and morally correctin a sense, a
more domesticated male. As we shall see, prevailing perceptions of
masculinity are key to the varying articulations of foreign policy.
Roosevelt and Wilson have left American political and popular
thought in body only: their doctrines live on in contemporary America. We
see these philosophies all around us: in the evolving shape of the masculine
ideal, in the Persian Gulf Wars overwhelming display of destruction and in
films like Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and Air Force One in
which Harrison Ford resists fighting the foreign enemy until some component
of the American identity is threatened, and he must respond with deadly force.

National boundaries, corresponding ideologies, and foreign policies
that were clearly entrenched during the Cold War have given way to a world
which lacks Manichean divisions~no doubt George Bush wished to establish
order in the post-Cold War chaos when he cried out for a new world order
in which the US would lead. It makes sense, then, that in times when national
boundaries and alliances are breaking down, perceptions of traditional national
identities must change as well.
However, this conclusion assumes that national identity exists in
normative stasis until a disturbance breaks down the perceptions of such a
state identity, causing it to morph into another identity construct. But perhaps
it is not so much a matter of a fixed identity responding to outside stresses as
it is a matter of the American perception of outside stresses, creating and
recreating national identity as some sort of conflict byproduct. It is through
the danger of conflict with a perceived other that a national identity is forged,
and national identity is not viewed and articulated as such until there is contact

with a hostile enemy to serve as a foil. In such an interpretation then, conflict
with a perceived other is not only a desirable occurrence, but rather it is
entirely necessary for a state as an ideological construct to exist at all.
Therefore, what is crucial in the establishment and perpetuation of a state
identity is making certain that there is always an enemy/other from which we
can forge, in contradistinction, our own identity.
As David Campbell writes, [T]he boundaries of a states identity are
secured by the representation of danger integral to foreign policy (3). In
Campbells estimation, identity does not exist as a product of intent, but
rather, it is always constituted in relation to difference ... [identity] is
performatively constituted. Additionally, the constitution of identity is
achieved through the inscription of boundaries which serve to demarcate an
inside from an outside, a self from an other, a domestic from a
foreign (8). To a large degree then, state identity is formed by the drawing
of lines that signal where the other ends and we begin.
Likewise, it is important to note that, just as state identity does not
exist without perceived difference, difference does not exist without the
perception of identity. Identity and difference cannot exist without each other:
as Campbell states, The problematic of identity/difference contains,

therefore, no foundations which are prior to, or outside of, its operation (8).
Thus identity/difference are bom and fostered in relation to one another, they
are self-perpetuating, and wholly determined by each other. Foreign policy is
not, as is commonly assumed, simply a matter of interaction between two
fixed entities; it is actually a political practice that makes foreign certain
events and actors (Campbell 69).
The implications of the concept that perceived difference is necessary
for identity formation and vice versa are twofold: first, the quest for
opposition in order to [reestablish identity must be ongoing, perhaps even
foremost in the diplomatic psyche, otherwise state identity ceases to exist. As
Campbell explains:
[S]tates are never finished as entities; the tension between the demands
of identity and the practices that constitute it can never be fully
revealed. This paradox inherent to their being renders states in
permanent need of reproduction; with no ontological status apart from
the many and varied practices that constitute their reality, states are
(and have to be) always in a process of becoming. For a state to end its
practices of representation would be to expose its lack of
prediscursive foundations; stasis would be death. (11)
Aside from actual concrete entities, such as government agencies and
institutions, the state is only a discursive construct, having no real
prediscursive foundation. And without the ongoing reproduction of identity, a

state ceases to exist. Media images, as partial representations of the whole
identity, must also serve in the search for opposition and reflect the essential
identity formation conflict. As we shall soon see in Chapter 4, the American
image on film relates oppositionally to an ever-changing cast of others,
which serve in the formation of American identity.
Enemy Other and the Formulation of US State Identity
If a perceived enemy is necessary for the [re]formation of a state
identity, how then has the US identity been constituted and shaped by the
perception of its past enemies? In Wilsons time, World War I was ravaging
Europe, and once the US entered the war, there was a clearly established war
enemy that served to foster our own national identity. In opposition, the
Central Powers provided the United States a pat identity: democratic and
peace-loving, as our initial reticence to take sides attests. And once involved
in the war, we identified ourselves as honest and above board in our manner of
conducting war.1 Later during World War II, the Axis Powers served as the
formidable enemy by which we constituted the American identity. While they
were fascists bent on world domination and were willing to commit atrocities
to achieve their goals, the US could maintain that, in comparison, it was

democratic and essentially peaceful, pushed into responding by Japanese
During the Cold War, it was not difficult to surmise the dangers facing
the US or the tasks facing the US due to those dangerswhether these dangers
were real or merely false perceptions is another matter. As Ronald Steel
writes, During the Cold War it was all so easy. Whatever was wrong in the
world was the fault of communism. We had an enemy and we had a crusade
(12). That crusade, of course, was the policy of containment in which the US
was committed to curtailing the spread of communism wherever it might rear
its head. As a consequence of this ongoing conflict, the US was provided with
a communist foil by which to identify itself. While we were freedom loving,
supposedly willing to fight for the freedom of other peoples around the world,
the Soviet Union was the evil empire as Ronald Reagan termed it: another
group set on world domination, only this time instead of seeking to conquer
and rule through fascist dictatorship, the Soviet Union would dominate
through totalitarian communism.
It should come as no surprise then, that since foreign policy makers in
this country viewed the Soviet Union as on a mission of global expansion, our
job as self-identified global policeman was to check any perceived communist

move in an effort to contain the threat. Thus, through the vilifying of
communism and the pursuit of the policy of containment, the US
[reestablished a national identity, one that was staunchly anti-Communist and
stridently and militantly democratic. Of course, this militant democratic
impulse often masked actions that were not so democratic. During the Cold
War, the US often subverted burgeoning democracies around the world in
order to better serve the exigencies of American capitalism. In this process,
the US government frequently promoted the interests of pro-American
totalitarian regimes. While these regimes were opposed to communism, as the
ostensibly democratic rhetoric of anticommunism dictates, they were often
right-wing and far from democratic. On the surface, the Cold War appeared
to be much more clear cut, with ulterior motives disguised in rhetoric of
bifurcation. As Steel notes:
The Cold War world seemed neatly divided between democracy and
totalitarianism, with the shades of gray wiped out. To the sordid and
self-serving politics of statecraft, and to alliances of convenience, it
provided a comforting note of moral certainty. (11)
In such Manichean reasoning, the US and its allies were democratic and
therefore good, while the Soviet Union and its satellites were totalitarian and
therefore bad. The black and white certainty such a binarism permits

allowed the US the comfort of a central component of its identity, moral
superiority. Of course, disguised by this perception of US democratic moral
superiority was something not so democratic. As Steel argues:
The United States, in its own way, also pursued a path of expansion
during the Cold War. It did so with enormous gusto, and with the
conviction that it was serving a larger purpose: the containment of a
threat and the promulgation of a liberating idea. The nations
various interventions throughout the world, the governments it
sustained or overthrew, the wars it fought in Asia, the high state of
emergency and excitement that sustained these effortsall this cannot
be explained by any conventional notion of a security threat. (17)
Perhaps these incidents of intervention cannot be explained as traditional
security threats, but what such actions do substantiate is the need for
continued US self-affirmation as a country that promotes democracy on a
worldwide scalein itself, an identity-forming practice. And as Steel
concludes, this is a distinction that sets the US apart from all other nations
(18). Through this promotion of democracy, the US affirms its qualities by
seeking to extend them to others ... this ambition expresses an inner
compulsion of self-affirmation. It is the banner under which the nation asserts
and legitimizes itself (Steel 19). In the effort to thwart communism by
purportedly promoting democracy to other nations, the US reaffirms its ideals,
and in the process, reaffirms its identity vis-a-vis this supposed threat. Such

promotions of democracy have other transformative powers as well. An
action that is to all outward appearances morally ambiguous becomes through
the rhetoric of democracy a righteous act.
At the end of the Cold War, traditional diplomatic practices for
promoting democracy no longer had the same currency as they once did and
could not serve in a substantial way to form national identity or legitimate US
ideals and practices. What remained effective in forming national identity and
legitimating the US, however, was the practice of US self-affirmation in the
form of American entertainment. While communist containment promoted
American ideologies, the decline of this practice necessitated the continuance
of what can be thought of as entertainment containment. It is through the
medium of the Hollywood film that American ideals are promoted and
legitimated. And, as we shall soon see in Chapter 4, Hollywood action films
are a primary tool in this ideological production.

In many ways it would be difficult to ascertain what exactly comes
first: do US political and military actions inspire popular entertainment
versions of attitudes implicit in these actions? Or do popular media
representations of American conceptions of US military and moral superiority
create a climate in which formal aggressive diplomacy is not only condoned,
but perhaps even perpetuated? While in many ways it is both (media images
inform political ideologies and political ideologies inform media images),
there is more at work. Through film texts in which the American image is
articulated, this image not only supports the state but also serves to create it;
each time the American image is configuredor reconfigured since each new
image is in a sense a new articulation of other meaningsthe state as a reified
construct is reborn.
Since the ideologies of militarism and higher morality are as present in
the screen roles of the celebrity icons of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and
Harrison Ford as they are in the actions of Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and

Bill Clinton, an awareness of the underpinnings of formal US diplomacy and
political ideology is not enough for a full understanding of the American
image. As cultural artifacts, films resonate with ideas present in the mass
consciousness. Their projections of the American image are not just
interesting, they are essential to a full understanding of the breadth of US
foreign relations.
In order to examine the role of the celebrity icon in the formation of
American identity, we must look at several factors: first, the ways in which
popular entertainment serves to articulate the needs of the state; second, the
concept of the star icon, and its power in relation to state identity formation;
and third, the iconized image of Harrison Ford in relation to larger identity
The Politics of Popular Entertainment
The term popular entertainment has an innocent ring to it. It is
popular and therefore has mass appeal, and it is entertainment and
therefore it is meant to please and entertain only. Of course, therein lies the
danger: popular entertainment does not encourage viewers to analyze its inner
workings. Far from it, popular entertainment encourages us to accept it and

the ideologies it serves up wholesale. As Herbert Schiller states, there is one
central myth [that] dominates the world of fabricated fantasy; the idea that
entertainment and recreation are value-free, have no point of view, and exist
outside ... the social process (qtd. in Parenti 1-2). This myth gives to
popular entertainment the illusion of being unbiased, untouched by viewpoint,
when it is actually key to the perpetuation of ideologies.
Such is very much the case when it comes to mainstream American
film. It is saturated with ideology without, however, appearing to be. Michael
Parenti argues that American film and television promote imperialism,
phobic anticommunism, capitalism, racism, sexism, militarism, authoritarian
violence, vigilantism, and anti-working-class attitudes (2). Since it is for the
most part taken for granted that popular entertainment is intended to entertain
and not instruct, the ideas put forth in films, both through plot and
characterization, do not typically pique a cautionary response from the viewer.
Rather, the inherent ideologies in highly popular films, such as action films,
are far more likely to be accepted by viewers, who think they are merely
being entertained (Parenti 3).
Adding to the persuasive power of the myth of value-free popular
entertainment is the relatively uninformed nature of many viewers. Viewers,

without firsthand knowledge of distant places, people, and events, are likely to
cobble together information and formulate meaning by looking for cues from
the mass mediaa media, as we have already discussed, that is complicit in
supporting the political status quo. As Parenti illustrates:
The media images in our heads influence how we appraise a host of
social realities, including our governments domestic and foreign
policies. If we have learned from motion pictures ... that our nation
is forever threatened by hostile alien forces, then we are apt to support
increased military spending and CIA interventions. (4)
Thus, when viewers have no firsthand knowledge of a situation, media
images, in a sense, step in to fill in the viewers knowledge gap. In this
process, these media images do not objectively inform, but rather, they serve
to persuade the viewer to particular points of view. And in the long run, by
the continued exposure to certain ideological thematics in the media, what we
view at present is informed by what we viewed in the past; as a result, rather
than being rationally critical of images and ideologies of the entertainment
media, our mindsafter prolonged exposure to earlier programs and films
sometimes become active accomplices in our own indoctrination (Parenti 6).
After this prolonged exposure, viewers no longer know how they have arrived
at the conclusions they have, nor do the viewers know from where the initial
[disinformation came.

The very act of watching a film serves as a communal activity and
reminds American audiences of the shared beliefs they hold in common, and
thus can be a powerful tool of affirmation and social control. Using
Durkheims ideas as a starting point, Michael W. Hughey writes:
[E]very relatively stable society will possess a set of shared beliefs and
symbols that express the highest values of the society and that are
considered sacred. Against the many conflicts present in everyday life,
the collective sharing of these values serves to remind members of
society of what they hold in common, thereby providing for the order,
stability, and integration of the society as a whole. Periodic collective
rites, during which the shared values are celebrated and reaffirmed,
constitute the specific mechanisms through which these states are
attained and sustained, (xiii)
Not only does this collective sharing of beliefs provide the type of social
control the hegemony seeks, watching a film also provides the audience
members themselves with a means of reintegration within the larger society
and a way to stave off the many conflicts of everyday life. Through the act
of watching a film, audience members are reminded of all that they have in
common. They share in the identity formation processespecially if the film
they are watching is of the pro-America variety. In this sense, the medium of
film is key to the identification process, only this time instead of working at
the level of the state, it operates at the levels of the individual and community.

It is important to note here, however, that the recurring theme of
resistance to the powers that be in Hollywood action films actually works to
support the status quo rather than threaten it. Although individual characters
may stand up to injustice and eradicate corruption, the corruption itself is
presented, as Michael Parenti has argued, as a problem inherent to individuals,
not the larger systems of government. In this way, the heros determination to
fight for justice promotes ideas of American individualism, determination, and
morality, but never delves into the quagmire of tainted American institutions.
In this context, resistance to the powers that be is pro-American.
Icon and Power: Harrison Ford
The movie star icon, though embodied by a real person, is more
accurately thought of as a site of inscription on which both state hegemony
and the masses compose meaning. The star icon is an essentially empty
signifier until the process of signification gives it meaning. With the union of
signifier (actor) with signified (assigned value/meaning) the sign emerges: a
celebrity icon that has meaning that transcends the individual person and any
particular role he/she has played. Consequently, as P. David Marshall writes,
What the icon represents is the possibility that the celebrity has actually

entered the language of the culture and can exist whether the celebrity
continues to perform or dies (17). In this respect, the icon takes on a
discrete life of its own.
Through the process of iconization, Harrison Ford has come to
exemplify the American Everyman. Ford plays a consistent character type so
frequently2 that his image has come to signify these political and ideological
values;, he has become an American icon, a synthesis of Rooseveltian and
Wilsonian ideals.3 It is through icons such as this that American identity is
[re]bom, and it is also through these icons that American ideologies are
justified and propagated.
It should not be misconstrued that a celebrity icon is merely a
stereotyped actor devoid of any real power to persuade and control. Like the
charismatic leader theorized by Max Weber, an icon holds tremendous power
over the masses; however, unlike the charismatic leader, the celebrity icon is
not a lone swayer of the masses. At the same time, the celebrity icon also
serves as a tool of the hegemony. The icon is consequently a contested area in
which meaning is assigned, altered, and reevaluated to serve a variety of
identification purposes for the dominant group and the masses (audiences).
As Marshall writes:

The celebrity is a negotiated terrain of significance. To a great
degree, the celebrity is a production of the dominant culture. It is
produced by a commodity system of cultural production and is
produced with the intentions of leading and/or representing.
Nevertheless, the celebritys meaning is constructed by the audience.
An exact ideological fit between production of the cultural icon and
consumption is rare. (47)
Within this argument, an icon is a production of the dominant culture, a
representative of its interests. At the consumption level the audiences reassess
the icon, assigning their own celebrity signification to it. While Marshall
believes that an exact ideological fit is a rarity, it appears that Harrison Ford
signifies very similar meanings for both groups.
For the dominant culture, the Ford character is an adherent to the status
quo of a democratic and consumer capitalist society and a fierce fighter for the
American way. He also conveys Rooseveltian and Wilsonian ideals of
aggression and morality. For the mass audience, he is an individual
distinguished from the masses by virtue of his talents and attributes, and
therefore worthy of adulation/emulation. He is a supporter of the democratic,
capitalist system, as the dominant culture desires him to be, but his characters
can also purposefully work against or outside the system if the need should

What Ford, or a similar icon, does is unite the needs of both groups:
the dominant groups need to sway and control the masses, and the masses
need to find representation and a point of identification. In other words:
[For] the audience of the celebrity, the celebrity rationalizes their
comprehension of the general culture by providing a bridge of
meaning between the powerless and the powerful. These
conceptions of the celebrity, those arising from below
(the audience) and those emerging from above (the cultural
and political producers),... do convergein a very material
senseon the person who is the celebrity. (Marshall 49)
Ford is just such a site of convergence of meaning. For the dominant group,
the Ford icon humanizes and justifies its often unsavory socio/political
intentions, and for the subordinate group or audience, its identification with
the icon ensures inclusion within the larger hegemony.

Throughout his lengthy acting career, Hairison Ford has been pivotal
in the [re]articulation of the American image, his celebrity icon changing in
step with larger conceptions of US masculinity. From his roles in the Star
Wars trilogy, to the Indiana Jones series, to the Tom Clancy adaptations, Ford,
as an exemplar of US conceptions of masculinity, has undergone significant
change. For example, in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, Ford was
very much an offshoot of the American cowboy hero: a brave and essentially
moral loner, a proponent of rugged individualism. Indeed, the Ford icons
currency as an individualistic hero owes tremendous debt to this predecessor
as well as Roosevelts brand of tough masculinity. Beginning in the mid-
1970s and on through the late 1980s, this manifestation of the Ford celebrity
icon figured prominently in the ongoing evolution of US masculinity.4

More generally, the evolution of American masculinity and its
representations since the 1970s can be plotted against US domestic and
international developments of the same time periods. After the US failure in
Vietnam, a seemingly indelible psychic wound was left on this country. Once
accustomed to the perception of ethically clear-cut and successful battles, the
murky moral ambiguity and outright failure of Vietnam resulted in a
pervading loss of faith in American abilities and a tarnishing of national
prestige, a tarnishing that would come to influence not only future foreign
policy initiatives but the contours of the American image, including the image
on film.
Changing Masculinities
As Susan Jeffords argues in Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in
the Reagan Era, the changing conceptions of masculinity in this country can
be viewed as a response to changes within the contemporaneous political
arena. The turbulent years of the Vietnam era, followed by the Carter
administration, were pervasive influences in a national malaise that saw, as a
byproduct, a loss of the sense of the masculine self.5 Following closely on the
heels of the Vietnam conflict came the Carter presidency, a presidency that

failed to supply the type of masculine model necessary for the reconstruction
of masculinity in the wake of a war loss. Enter Ronald Reagan and the
republican revolution. Along with Reagans formal policies and ideologies
was a persuasively powerful masculine image that served to reconstitute and
reshape the image of masculinity along Rooseveltian lines. The Reagan
administration stood in contradistinction to Carters leadership, which became
characterized retrospectively as weak, defeatist, inactive, and feminine, by
representing itself as distinctly masculine, not merely as men but as decisive,
tough, aggressive, strong, and domineering (Jeffords 11). While Carters
feminized image appeared to have little in common with Teddy Roosevelts,
Reagans did. Carters image and ideologies had much more in common with
Wilsons, and despite the fact that to large degree Wilson was accepted by the
American public,6 in the wake of the Vietnam War, the American public was
looking for an alternate masculine representation.
Singularly important, though, was Reagans ability, in the capacity of
president, to structure individual masculinities and a national identity with
corresponding foreign policies into more aggressive and powerful
configurations. As Jeffords writes:
[T]o the extent that the president stands for the nation, and to the
extent that a particular president constructs that standing in distinctly

masculine terms, then national identity must itself be figured in
relation to popular masculine models and narratives of masculine
generation and power. (Hard Bodies 12)
There is little doubt that Reagan was successful in refiguring masculinity, in
the wake of the loss of a strong, masculine image, and in many ways Reagan,
with his history as a Hollywood actor, was uniquely qualified to be one of the
best manipulators of... images and one of the best images himself (Jeffords,
Hard Bodies 6). Not only could Reagan undergird his masculine political
persona with formal presidential actions, but he could, and certainly did, draw
on his Hollywood past. Although during his acting career, the public did not
perceive Reagan as they would have the distinctly masculine icon of John
Wayne, in the 1980s, President Reagan was able to fortify his past Hollywood
masculine image, retroactively refiguring it. While he was not the iconized
manly man during his Hollywood years, the later revision of his star icon
would make him so. Although both the political figure and the image were for
the most part constructs, developed and nurtured carefully to express certain
ideals of masculine strength and power, their mutual reinforcement appeared
to form a seamless narrative of uncompromising masculinity, stretching from
his Hollywood past to his presidential present.

It should be of little surprise that Hollywood would also be keenly
involved with the [reconstruction of masculinity in post-Vietnam, post-Carter
America. Just as Reagan had much to gain by moving away from the
ideologies and issues that were constitutive of the political and social rhetoric
of the late 1970s, Hollywood itself was to enjoy a hefty economic return on its
ideological investment in the new movie hero (Jeffords, Hard Bodies 15).
Indeed, it could be argued that Hollywood is absolutely necessary in
helping to shape the attitudes necessary for such a widespread national
masculine redefinition to take place. As Jeffords argues, in relation to War,
Otherness, and Illusionary Identification by Jochen and Linda Schulte-Sasse:
[T]he cinematic narrative offers two ways to a feeling of mastery: at
the level of plot, in which the hard-body hero masters his
surroundings, most often by defeating enemies through violent
physical action; and at the level of national plot, in which the same
hero defeats national enemies, again through violent physical action.
{Hard Bodies 28)
Hearkening back to Rooseveltian masculinist nationalism, the action films of
the 1980s also follow the same psychic trajectory as Reagans hard-line
rhetoric. At the level of plot, they provide the means through which male
audiences, who may be cut off from other tangible avenues of masculine
agency, could come to take part in the triumphs of the hero[es]. Through the

process of male audience identification/emulation, these individuals could
undergird their own masculine sense of self, and ultimately serve in the larger
gender restructuring in the name of national unity. At the level of national
plot, then, these action films aid in the recreation of a national identity through
opposition to foreign others. Through the agency of the American film hero,
the dangerous other can be defeated, and in the process, the image of a tough
and triumphant US emerges. Reagan himself made much use of the foreign
other to remasculinize the US image during his administration. It is also
important to note that, much like Roosevelts conceptions of Anglo-Saxon
supremacy, the action films of Reagans America also perpetuated similar
ideas through the characterization of the hero, who is rarely presented as
anything other than white and male.
Furthering this image indoctrination is the lack of prominent, viable,
and foremost, appealing alternative masculinities within the dominant film
industry. Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark point to a Hollywood cinematic
apparatus that places the male on screen ... hides him behind a screen...
uses him as a screen for its ideological agenda, and ... screens out socially
unacceptable and heterogeneous cultural constructions of masculinity (3). In
this manner, Hollywood delimits alternative masculinities and the options they

imply in favor of certain specified masculine configurations. And in Reagans
America, the new masculine configuration was not just a purely political
imperative, but rather, the new masculinity became part of the broader cultural
fabric, manifest representationally on a wide scale.
Jeffords terms the political conception of masculinity forged by
Reagan and its film equivalent the hard body. If the shape of political and
filmic masculinity of the Carter years could be characterized as the soft
body, depicted in films such as Coming Home (1978), then the Reagan and
contemporary Hollywood response to that constructed engenderment was the
hard body (Hard Bodies 13). Yvonne Tasker elaborates on this idea, stressing
that the 1980s action films accentuated an outward display of masculinity,
frequently exhibited visually and narratively through the heroes highly
muscular physiques, adroit use of weaponry, and alternating moments of
suffering and retribution. 1980s films presented the refigurement of
masculinity in terms of spectacle: masculinity as visual excess (231).
The outwardly projected masculinity of the 1980s film heroes was
reconfigured in step with the ascendancy of the Bush presidency. With its
attempts to veer off from Reagans overtly macho course, the Bush

administration promised a kinder, gentler nation, a nation in which external
might would be tempered with heart and internal morality (Jeffords, Hard
Bodies 101). Bushs approach reverberated with Wilsons ideologies
concerning the USs benevolent position in the world. Likewise, conceptions
of masculinity changed with the new administration. From the late 1980s and
on into the 1990s, the social barometer gauging the affective agency and
worthiness of the screen hero changed to accommodate an interior dimension
that their 80s counterparts lacked. While the exigencies of physical prowess
and other associative displays of maleness are certainly still of importance to
the screen hero, what that hero thinks and feels as well as his relationships to
others, specifically family, are indicators of his status as a hero who, as
Jeffords writes instead of learning to fight, learns to love (Can
Masculinity 245). This hero is a hero essentially because he is a devoted
family man.
It is this altered image of masculinity that serves as a fulcrum for a like
reconfigurement of the Ford star icon. No longer the wise-cracking, blaster-
shooting, whip-wielding hero of the Star Wars series and Indiana Jones series
(a Rough Rider figure of whom Roosevelt would certainly have approved), the
90s manifestation of his screen persona effectively demolishes the plinth on

which the Western heros legend is built: masculine adventure takes
precedence over quotidian domesticity, as Virginia Wright Wexman notes
(85). Although this latest manifestation of the Ford icon is every bit an
affable, yet bumbling domestic man-a far cry from his Han Solo/Indiana
Jones- pasthe is called upon to perform certain heroic and violent duties.
Like the classic Western hero, the 80s hero was too violent and too antisocial
to join in traditional society (Rambos many violent run-ins with both law
enforcement and civilians, for example, signal his profoundly asocial nature).
The 90s hero, by contrast, resituates the boundaries of masculinity to include
the domestic, the familial. Although still an adherent to what Richard Slotkin
terms regeneration through violence, an impulse undergirding much of US
thought, explaining the spiritual nature and generative and/or restorative
efficacy of wholesale violence (Burgoyne 54), the 90s hero rechannels that
impelling force in the service of family, frequently his own. And family, as
these films make clear, is the foundation of American identity. Thus it is not
so much a case that the domesticated hero is significantly less violent than his
predecessor, but rather that the public sphere that he once acted upon
exclusively has become conflated with the domestic sphere, now his primary
locus of action. And in defense of this essentially publicized private space,

the hero must react with deadly force, as is certainly the case with both Fords
Jack Ryan character (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) and
President James Marshall (Air Force One). Furthermore, the classic Western
heros raison detre of the violent conquering of the wilderness and savages to
make way for white civilizations progress is posited within the realm of the
public sphere, and despite the fact that it is his labor that has made that
domesticity possible, the cowboy hero cannot partake in the fruits of his labor,
just as the characters Clint Eastwood personified in the Western could not;
however, the new heros repositioning within the domestic sphere provides
him with the ability to [rejconquer the wilderness and the savages, figuratively
and sometimes literally, from the comfort of his own home. Symbolically
then, the threats to the hero, once figured in relation to the wilderness, are now
situated within the home, perhaps where the threat to masculinity is now felt
most keenly. It would appear that in relation to the 90s hero, the public has
become the private.
These fundamental changes in the masculine, from the 1970s to the
present, have galvanized changes in narrative patterning, primarily the
adoption of melodramatic conventions into the action film. Structural and
thematic consistencies of melodrama serve the action film well in two key

respects: one, melodrama conflates public problems with private ones, figured
often as familial problems; and two, the genre employs as its driving force
personal pain and suffering, often displayed by body language and facial
expression-distinct advantages for the action genre that relies on the torturing
and humiliation of the hero as a narrative thrust.
These melodramatic consistencies find currency in the Ford films
discussed. In addition to the public issue of national struggles over shifting
gender boundaries, manifest in these films as a matter of personal challenge
and eventual triumph, these films take to task various American public fears
and threats, reworking them as direct provocations to the family: concerns
over terrorism (Patriot Games and Air Force One); the drug trade (Clear and
Present Danger); corrupt individuals in the highest echelons of the
government (all three films); US hegemonic decline (implicit in all three
films, often by this themes glaring but palpable absence); and totalitarian
dictatorship (Air Force One) all find their expression in these films as
problems to be addressed at the personal/individual level. In each film
Ryan/Marshall counters these threats as direct ones against the domestic
realm. Despite the fact that in all of these films the Ford hero is someone of
high political and social rank, and it would make perfect narrative sense that

he could be dealing with problems at the national level, these scenarios are for
the most part played out in terms of localized, familial threats.
The melodramatic conventions of pain and suffering are as endemic to
the action films of the 90s as they were to those of the 80s, but with one
meaningful distinction. While the 80s hero was subject to rampant physical
and emotional pain and humiliation, he was predominantly the only one within
the diegesis to suffer so; however, while the 90s hero may become injured
significantly less often, the injuries and emotional traumas he must endure are
now spread out, disseminated among the members of his family, who now
suffer along with him. This is certainly the case with Ryan and Marshalls
families. Indeed, in Patriot Games, wife, daughter, and unborn child are
seriously injured by a terrorist attack that causes an auto accident, and again
his family is threatened by the same terrorists while at home. The effect of
such a familial distribution of danger and suffering speaks additionally to the
larger operations of masculinitys changing economies.
Patriot Games
The tagline for the film Patriot Games is particularly telling: it reads,
Not for honor. Not for country. For his wife and child. Before the film

even begins, this bit of advertising informs the viewer that Fords character
Ryan has a set of priorities that place his family life above all else; first and
foremost, Ryan is a family man. Of course, because melodramatic
conventions situate public problems as private ones, Ryans fight to save his
family becomes a fight for honor and country as well.
The film begins in London where former Marine, retired CIA agent,
and current professor Jack Ryan and his family, wife Cathy (Anne Archer) and
daughter Sally (Thora Birch) are vacationing. Their vacation comes to an end
when Ryan finds himself caught in the center of an IRA attack on members of
the Royal family. Ryan rushes in and saves the day, stopping the potential
kidnapping, killing one IRA member, and receiving a bullet in the shoulder in
the process. Ryan becomes a hero to many for his act of bravery, but he also
becomes the sworn enemy of the dead mans brother. Sean Miller (Sean
Bean) soon escapes, and along with other IRA members, comes after Ryan
and his family. The remainder of the film concerns the various attempts by
each man to do away with the other, and at the end of the film, Ryan manages
to kill Miller.
Some of the first scenes in Patriot Games depict Ryan, his wife, and
daughter together in familial bliss. If the taglines information were not

enough to establish Ryan as a family man, these first sequences would. The
plot, however, soon moves on to convey other aspects of the American image
as represented by the 90s hero. In the first action sequence, in which the IRA
terrorists attempt to kidnap a member of the British Royal family, Ryan
springs into action. Although the British guards and police present appear
helpless to stop the attack, Ryan is not. He rushes into the fracas, and despite
the fact that he is a middle-aged man, fights off the IRA members, killing one
and taking a bullet in the shoulder himself. The fact that Ryan is able to do
what the British cannot evinces a physical superiority, enhanced no doubt by
the brand of savvy that screen heroes seem so often to possess, thus affirming
his stature as screen hero. And the fact that he was willing to rush into such a
dangerous situation in order to save othersand foreign others at thatshows
that he is morally just, a man worthy of being a Wilsonian ideal.
The British provide a mixed response to Ryans actions, establishing
them contrarily as both the good other and the bad other. On one hand,
Ryan is knighted for his act of bravery, signaling the presence of a consistent
moral thread linking Ryan, and by extension Americans, to the British. But on
the other hand, once Miller has gone on trial, the British judicial system, in the
form of Millers overzealous defense lawyer, proceeds to make a mockery of

Ryan. The lawyer attempts to undermine Ryan by insinuating that he might be
mistaken in his identification of Miller and by linking Ryan to the CIA in an
effort to discredit by association Ryan, we learn, was once with the Agency
but is no longer. The manipulative tactics of this lawyer provide the audience
with the untrustworthy other, a non-American whose cynical approach to
justice provides the American viewers with a moral vantage point from which
to view this action.
Moreover, the evoking of the specter of the CIA has special currency
here. In 1992, the year of the films release, American audiences would have
been well steeped in the generalized public distrust of the CIA that began in
the 1980s when news of the Agencys covert actions broke. Consequently, the
defense attorneys accusation that Ryan is still associated with the CIA does
double duty: first, by attempting to show a false connection between Ryan
and this organization, the defense displays an inclination to discredit Ryan by
questioning his morality; second, by virtue of the fact that the audience is
privy to the knowledge that Ryan is no longer with the CIA, Ryan is posited as
all the more reputable, and by extension moral, by his distance from that

Once back in the US, Ryan and his family fall under attack by the
aggrieved IRA members. As his wife and daughter fight off a similar attack
on the highway-one which they lose-Ryan is followed from the Naval
Academy by an IRA member while another follows along in a jeep. Ryan
catches on quickly to what is happening and devises a plan to protect himself.
The considerably younger man gets the upper hand, pointing a gun at the
defenseless Ryan, but a military guard from the Academy arrives just in time
to shoot the would-be assassin. This scene is the first of the films steady
articulation of American fears of terrorist attacks on US soil, a fear that in the
post-Cold War world has taken on paranoiac dimensions. Importantly, Patriot
Games figures this danger as a direct one to the family, making the threat of
terrorism one directly against the family instead of the state. Additionally,
part of the fear that accompanies the apparition of terrorism is its utter
unpredictability; not only is Ryan not expecting an attack on himself or his
family, but the sneaky tactics the terrorists employ make them that much more
dangerous and reprehensible, and consequently, the terrorists perfidy evokes
American xenophobic tendencies.
After the attacks against himself and his family, melodramatic
conventions establish visually that Ryan is poised to fight back. Standing

outside his daughters hospital room, watching her motionless form lying in
bed, a close-up shot reveals that Ryans rage is visibly growing, and shortly
after, Ryan is shown from a birds eye view, walking across a floor
emblazoned with the giant CIA emblem. The camera moves down to a
shoulder height and swirls around Ryan while an American flag is visible in
the background. The temporal proximity of these visuals structures the
trajectory of the heros emotional and physical journey, moving from a
defensive posture to an offensive one in relation to his enemies. But
interestingly, despite the audiences distrust of the CIA, one that Ryan
presumably shares, they are encouraged to support Ryan in his actions. For in
order to fight for his family, Ryan must utilize the CIA as a tool, whether he or
we trust them or not.
Cathy Ryan is at first against the idea of her husband returning to the
CIA, but when she learns that Miller has escaped, she changes her mind,
telling her husband, You get him, Jack. I dont care what you have to do.
The effacement here between the public and the private is clear. Although
Jack, as a newly returning CIA operative, will be working within his capacity
as a representative of this branch of the government, his motivation is firmly
entrenched in the domestic realm, as his wifes demand conveys.

Once Ryan is back in the CIA, he begins his search for Miller. Luckily
for him, the agency has myriad technologies and a wealth of privileged
information to help him in his search. Through the use of spy satellites, which
spy on 182 camps of potential subversiveslending credence to the idea that
the CIA sees everythingRyan finds what he believes to be the IRA
members camp. Ryan brings this information to his superiors, and they
coolly discuss the efficacy of murdering the entire camp. Without enough
information to proceed, Ryan is deadlocked until he receives a tip from Sinn
Fein leader Paddy ONeil (Richard Harris), giving him good reason to believe
that his suspicions as to the location of the terrorists were correct. In a
meeting with his CIA boss, Admiral James Greer (James Earl Jones), Ryan
tells him of his findings, but that he is not completely certain that the IRA is at
that particular camp. Ryan is tentative and unsure whether to proceed until
Greer asks Tell me one thing in life that is absolutely for certain. And in an
emotionally charged moment, Ryan replies, My daughters love. While in a
professional capacity as a CIA operative, Ryan may be unable to reach a
sufficient enough conclusion that makes proceeding with the assassination at
the camp a reasonable risk, his capacity as head of the domestic jnterior leads

him into assessing the risk an acceptable one. Familial love spurs counter-
terrorist responses.
The sequence concerning Ryan and the CIAs attack on the terrorist
camp reverberates with echoes of the government and media coverage of the
Persian Gulf War, rife with its technology-enhanced abstraction and its
morally sanitizing effects. The sequence begins when Ryan and one of his
CIA superiors Marty Cantor (J.E. Freeman) step off an elevator and proceed
down an immaculately sterile hallway at CIA headquarters. Ryan asks,
Where are you taking me Marty? To this question Cantor answers, Its you
whove taken us Jack, into battle. As Cantors answer indicates, the battle
that is to follow is not the CIAs, for it is Ryan who has taken the CIA into a
scenario that will soon be a mass murder. Upon entering an equally antiseptic
room filled with high-tech equipment and CIA operatives, the group sits down
to watch the screens in front of them as they display infrared images of camp
residents asleep in their tents. The sterility of this area of CIA headquarters
shown is crucial in the perpetuation of ideas central to contemporary US
warfare. This is certainly no traditional battlefield where soldiers, armaments,
explosions, the dead, and the dying are clearly visible. This is a postmodern
battlefield in which real time and distance have little bearing on the ability to

kill the enemy, where commanders give field orders from thousands of miles
away, and where the violent atrocities of war, including the telltale signs of the
dead, are nothing more than blips on a computer screen. This scene of the
state of technological warfare redirects the manifestations of war from the real
to the virtual; through this process, the perceptions of war are ineluctably
structured along specific ideological lines. H. Bruce Franklin has observed
that while past representations of war have varied from the romantic
militarism perpetuated by Teddy Roosevelt to the shockingly brutal images of
the Vietnam war that were beamed nightly into American livingrooms, virtual
war is an abstract entity, which gives the impression of being devoid of human
suffering and death; it is clean (28 & 42).
A crosscutting sequence reveals a group of helicopters flying low
across the desert, moving toward the camp, and then several cuts are made,
transporting the viewer back and forth between North Africa and the control
room. However, in keeping with the art of sanitized killing, the crosscutting
stops and the camera remains in the control room before the assassination
begins, and we, like the rest of the CIA operatives, watch the simulacra of
death and destruction on video screens from the safe confines of headquarters.
On the screens, the operatives and the viewer watch as the camp residents are

systematically murdered and their camp burned. It is important to note that,
although we are at an additional representational remove from these murders
i.e. there is no attempt to offer any literal representations of the dead and
dyingthe film does allow us a freedom that the coverage of the Persian Gulf
War did not. As the camera moves closer to the screen, infra-red images of
the killers, their guns emitting rounds that register on the screen as impulses of
light, appear, and more significantly, the simulacra of what can only be a
dying man dragging himself across the ground is revealed. In juxtaposition to
the 1991 war coverage that never permitted American audiences to see even
the faintest trace of a human toll, only the strategic smart elimination of
hard targets, this glimpse, even if only an abstracted image, provides a flash
of human wreckage.
Just after one of the first of these murders, a cut is made and a medium
shot reveals two agents. One says glibly, Thats a kill, and a countershot
reveals Ryan staring dubiously at this man, his face revealing shocked dismay.
What cannot be determined from Ryans facial expression is what exactly
disturbs him about this agents statement. At the narrative level, it would be
easy to surmise that Ryan finds this agents apparent apathy disturbing. After
all, it would be in keeping with his character to feel at least an emotional pang

at the thought of anothers murder and a callous CIA operatives insensitivity
to human loss. However, within the rubric of technological warfare, the usage
. of terminology that denotes actual human death is part of a discursive practice
attendant on traditional war and no longer applicable. Experts providing
commentary during the Persian Gulf War adopted, or at the very least adapted,
a whole new .lexicon to keep Americans abreast of the latest war
developments. As Daniel C. Hallins example and interpretation of Gulf War
commentary illustrate:
We can use our aircraft as long as we think we can keep finding
valuable targets and killing them before we commit the land forces....
[W]e can undermine and almost destroy the cohesiveness of Iraqs
forces. The language of the military strategist is an abstract technical
language largely devoid of any sense of violence: targets are killed
but people arent. (54)
By drawing attention to the fact that the individuals present in the office were
in fact killing people and not the seemingly innocuous targets, this agent
does what one should not in contemporary technological warfare: draw
attention to the real outcome of military operations, human death.
Ultimately, the most prominent ideological message this CIA death
screen emits is a dangerous impression of US order and control, reducing the
art of war to an aesthetic event with its attendant professionals on hand to

ensure that this particular episode goes off as planned. Michelle Kendrick
noted the tendency of the images of technological battle in the Gulf War to
aestheticize the carnage, thus rendering it a spectacle of beauty. Additionally,
Kendrick links the pleasing images of this new warfare to the perception of
order and efficiency of command. As Kendrick writes:
[T]he chaos and destruction of the Vietnam War are linked directly to
the multiplicity of command. The Persian Gulf War, on the other
hand, because it is efficiently unified under one command, is
antiseptic and beautiful. (68)
The efficiency of command in the CIA control room is as plain as the images
of successfully and systematically brought about death are on the video screen.
And the message is a transparent one: when it comes to the proficiency of the
US government in matters of death, it is not to be surpassed.
Unfortunately for Ryan, he will not always be able to strike from a
distance, and when the terrorists invade his own home in an attempt to murder
him, his family, and others, he is forced to do battle and ultimately kill them.
The catch phrase Terrorism is the Communism of the 90s should be taken
seriously. Since the public domain of political terrorism invades the private
domain in Patriot Games to such a degree, the protection of home and family

becomes virtually synonymous with the protection of the state. Consequently,
not only does the family regenerate through violence, but so does the US.
Clear and Present Danger
While Patriot Games narrative economy relies on the fears of
terrorism that register across the social and political field, Clear and Present
Danger taps into the reservoir of anxiety that surrounds the US drug wars.
The story begins when a US Coast Guard ship discovers an act of apparent
piracy on the high seas. It is learned that the owner of the ship, a life-long
friend of President Bennetts (Donald Moffat), as well as the owners family
were the victims of Colombian drug cartels. The administration gives this
situation priority, and soon a number of governmental agencies are involved.
When the CIA launches its investigation into the matter, CIA director Greer,
falls ill and has to be hospitalized, and because of this illness, Ryan is made
Acting Deputy Director of Intelligence for the CIA. Although Ryan is
supposedly in charge, this fact does not stop corrupt members of the CIA and
the government from perpetuating their own agendas, namely the illegal use of
special military operatives in Colombia to fight the drug cartels. Ultimately,

Ryan finds himself in a war with not only the Colombian drug cartels but also
treacherous Americans.
From the beginning of Clear and Present Danger it is made clear that
Ryan will be dealing with some form of US governmental corruption. As
Greer soon tells Ryan, with regard to Washington politics, Watch your back
Jack. Of course, as the film eventually indicates, this corruption is isolated;
as Michael Parenti argues, US mainstream media rarely allow for the
possibility that pervasive institutional corruption exists. Rather the media
serves to locate the site of institutional corruption in the individual, not in the
institution itself. Thereby the impact of pervasive corruption is minimized by
yielding the point that There are some unworthy persons in our established
institutions, but they usually are dealt with and eventually are deprived of their
positions of responsibility (Parenti 2).
The films ideological positioning in regard to this point is key to
understanding the films precarious balancing act between a pointed
indictment of the outright failures and corruption of the US government and
an overt denial that such governmental tainting exists. Within the film,
fighting the drug war involves more than taking on the drug cartels; in order
for Ryan to combat the problem, he must find himself in opposition to the

branches of the US government that allow, and even encourage, the illegal
importation of drugs. But by limiting what is surely system-wide corruption
to the actions and avarice of a few individuals within that system, the film
allows Ryan to restore the system to what the film posits as its natural order.
As Jeffords has argued in relation to the action films of the 1980s, this film
demonstrates that
institutions ha[ve] been misdirected by self-serving government
officials ... enabling] the [film] ... to retain a sense of social
cohesion despite the heros need to defy many of societys chief
institutions. Because individuals have come to misuse government
institutions, the institutions themselves cannot be blamed for the
failure and can be resuscitated, often by the hard-body heroes
themselves. (Hard Bodies 19)
Through the transposing of governmental problems onto a few treacherous
individuals, Clear and Present Danger takes this unwieldy quagmire and
resituates it at the level of the individual, making it more the province of
Of course this willingness to disavow government responsibility for
wrong-doing does not extend to the CIA itself. Just as it did in Patriot Games,
this film consistently points to the CIAs less than glowing reputation. When
Ryan speaks to the senate in order to get funds to finance the anti-drug
operation, the senate is wise to the CIAs tactics. A female senator tells Ryan,

in dialogue suggestive of the Iran/Contra affair, that they do not want to send
any more money for covert operations involving the military. Not exactly an
insider to the CIAs disreputable tactics, Ryan does not understand to what the
senator is referring, assuring her that nothing of the kind will happen. The fact
that Ryan is out of the loop and has no idea what the corrupt members of the
CIA and the government are up to sets him up within the narrative to be the
reactive hero, one who is set up as a fall guy and will most certainly be subject
to his enemies destructive machinations. As CIA Deputy Director Robert
Ritter (Henry Czerny) says of Ryan, Hes not a team player; hes a boy
scout. Ryans apparent vulnerability in this situation is telling within the
melodramatic code, shedding light on his own psychology as well as the larger
socio/political province. In Robert Burgoynes interpretation of Thomas
Elsaessers anatomy of the melodrama, Tales of Sound and Fury,
melodramatic conventions serve to
expos [e] the incurably naive moral and emotional idealism in the
American psyche. ... us[ing] sentiment and emotion in a dialectical
way: by identifying characters with illusory hopes and self-delusion,
and then forcing a confrontation when it is most wounding and
contradictory. (65) ~"
Thus Ryans impending devastation, played out as clearly prophetic
foreshadowing, conveys a sense of his ideological/idealistic positioning vis-a-

vis thelarger body politic. Ryans morality has made him naive and prime to
be victimized.
Anxieties over ethnicity find their articulation in the form of the drug
cartels, as the film expressly compares Latinos unfavorably to whites in a
narrative structure that evokes the idea of the alien other. For example, Jack
Ryan has a Latino counterpart, Felix Cortez (Joaquim de Almeida), the Latin
Jack Ryan as Moira (Ann Magnuson) calls him. Not only does Cortez look
like Ryan, he is also an intelligence man like Ryan. Unlike Ryan, however,
Cortez is a former communist, as his past allegiance to Fidel Castro will attest.
Ryan and Cortez are linked visually and thematically in the film. In a lengthy
crosscutting sequence, the viewer is shown both Jack and the Latin Jack
solving the mystery of who is behind the Colombian bombing. Both use
experts to prove that the US government was behind the attack, and both study
high-tech weapons in their investigations. Both men find that they cannot
reach their objectives alone, so each enlists the help of others. Latin Jack
blackmails Cutter (Harris Yulin), so that he will put a stop to the American
operatives already in Colombia. Meanwhile Ryan goes to Clark (Willem
Dafoe) and Escobedo (Miguel Sandoval) when he realizes that he must go
outside the system in order to thwart those who are corrupt.

Although both men solve the mystery, thus implying a certain equality
between them, we soon learn that Ryan, with the help of one of the US
soldiers, will inevitably defeat his Latin counterpart. What do we make of
these parallels? First, much like the IRA members in Patriot Games, the
Colombians of Clear and Present Danger are part of the same iconographic
system that labels them with dense visual shorthand as a dangerous other.
They drive expensive cars, wear pricey, designer clothing, and sport the type
of costly and sophisticated weaponry that signals illegal activity. A psychic
holdover from the Reagan years and the witchhunt for internal subversives
such as terrorists and drug dealers, advanced armaments in the hands of just
about anyone but the proper US authorities is visually coded as a sizable
threat. It matters little in terms of visual coding that these drug cartels are
located in Colombia and not the US; the effect is the same. Jeffords, in her
analysis of 1980s domestic hard-body films, argues that the visual
iconography of sophisticated, military-type weaponry is evocative of enemies
who use these weapons to deny human freedoms, and that These films
suggest that any bad uses of technology are the result of its employment by
unfree people (such as East Germans, Vietnamese, Soviets, South Africans,
or drug lords) (Hard Bodies 54).

It is in Colombia that the US is established as militarily and physically
superior. Felix Cortez informs his boss Ernesto Escobedo that the man from
the ship whom he had killed was actually a friend and political ally of the
President of the United States. In a scene meant to strike a patriotic chord in
the audience, the power of the US is demonstrated through visuals. Escobedo
is practicing his batting as Cortez tells him of his mistake; the camera reveals
Escobedos fearful reaction in a medium and slowed motion shot, as a
baseball whizzes by the now unprepared batter. The meaning is clear: do not
mess with the US. And the military operatives under the direction of Clark
busy themselves by sabotaging Escobedos business, one piece at a time. It
appears that their military training and physical prowess prove them to be
unstoppablethat is until Ritter and Cutters double cross leaves them
Clear and Present Danger also presents a scene that hearkens back to
both its equivalent in Patriot Games and the media coverage of the Gulf War.
After a Colombian attack on a caravan of US government personnel, the
President orders a retaliation, as Cutter articulates for him, The gloves are
off. In a carefully orchestrated attack, using air power and the American
operatives already present in Colombia, the US strikes back. This time, the

US succeeds in wiping out all of the drug lords, save for Escobedo. During
the attack, however, one of the men behind this operation, Ritter, sits back in
Washington, following the action via state-of-the-art equipment. After the
explosion that kills dozens, he glibly says Boom. Ritters choice of words is
suggestive of video gaming terminology and sound effects, more cartoonish
than real, and unlike the CIA agent in Patriot Games who links the simulation
in front of him more closely to the murder that it actually is (Thats a kill.)
Ritter prefers the innocently exaggerated term. Margot Norris interprets the
American publics response to the Gulf War as a stalwart attempt to give
name to the abstracted events occurring before them on their television
screens, hence the wars Nintendo character (292).
Eventually, of course, it is Ryan who brings down the corruption
within the US government. Although the President is clearly going to lie
about his involvement in the whole operation, Ryan lets him know that he will
not stop until those responsible are brought to justice. The final scene shows
Ryan doing just that. Thus as the film ends, it is implied that Ryan, with
surgical precision, has removed the cancerous element within the government,
leaving only the healthy tissue behind. But the film alludes to many more
problems than it could possibly resolve, for although Ryan has aided in the

removal of corrupt individuals from positions of authority, the mechanisms
and the system that allowed them that very authority are still very much in
place. And it is this point that situates Clear and Present Danger as a
melodrama of escapism and not of subversion. Ultimately, it appears that
Elsaessers summation is correct:
The persistence of the melodrama might indicate the ways in which
popular culture has not only taken note of social crises and the fact that
the losers are not always those who deserve it most, but has also
resolutely refused to understand social change in other than private
contexts and emotional terms.... But it has also meant ignorance of
the properly social and political dimensions of these changes and their
causality, and consequently it [melodrama] has encouraged
increasingly escapist forms of mass entertainment. (516-17)
Not surprisingly then, the employment of melodramatic conventions in the
action film since the 1980s fits within a larger framework of escapist fare,
designed to distract from social and political operations that apparently should
not be of our concern.
Air Force One
The tagline for Air Force One reads, Harrison Ford is the President of
the United States. The balance of the elements, Harrison Ford and the
President of the United States, joined with the word is conveys the idea of
equal weight between these two points of identity. The name Harrison Ford is

just as important to the meaning of the sentence, and the meaning of the film,
as the title of President of the United States. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine
another actor whose celebrity icon is weighty enough to pull off such a direct
comparison. What this direct comparison does imply is that this film is
bringing together the heights of celebrity and politics. Jeffords description of
Ronald Reagans career path, moving from Hollywood to Washington, is also
strangely apt in relation to Ford in Air Force One: [W]hat better body to use
than that of a president/Holly wood actor/father figure whose very character
came to define the parameters of a national popular identity? (Hard Bodies
The film begins with an American and Russian Special Forces raid in
Kazakhstan to capture fascist dictator General Radek (Jurgen Prochnow).
Later, US President James Marshall speaks to a group of Russian diplomats,
letting them and the entire world know that he, and the country he represents,
will never again tolerate such flagrant human rights violations as those
Kazakhstan suffered during Radeks rule. After such a heated display of
emotion, the presidents advisors chastise him for steadfastly committing the
US to intervening in any human rights violation worldwide. Marshall defends
his policy to his advisors on the grounds that it is the right thing to do. Later,

Air Force One is en route to Washington when a group of Russian nationalist
supporters of General Radek hijack the flight, making demands that in
exchange for the presidents life and the lives of everyone on board, General
Radek be set free. The remainder of the film shows the battle between
Marshall and the terrorists, most notably the battle between the leader of the
terrorist group, Korshunov (Gary Oldman), and the president.
Air Force One concerns itself with ideas of morality and intervention.
Marshall partakes of the same type of supposedly altruistic interventionism
that US leaders have employed since Wilsons time. As a show of both might
and morality, Marshall states that never again will the US stand for such
abuses of human rights. The implication here is two-fold and serves to
reiterate Roosevelts and Wilsons ideologies: one, the US is militarily
superior, and therefore a statement indicating that the US will not allow
something to occur is not a threat but rather a promise; and two, since the US
can readily identify human rights abuses and be appalled by them, it is situated
morally above such flagrant abuses, never committing such crimes itself. In
essence, Marshall, just like Roosevelt, issues a proclamation that the US will
continue to be a world police force, reigning in foreign corrupt elements, and
just like Wilson, Marshall promises to act as a moral force in the world.

Interestingly, it is the terrorist Korshunov who speaks the truth about
American morality when he makes a comparison between General Radek and
President Marshall. In this comparison, Korshunov likens the two men as
murderers, but indicates that it is Radek, not Marshall, who is the braver and
more moral of the two: For Korshunov, the true immoral coward is the one
who murders with a phone call from Washington, not one who murders
directly, up close and personal. As Korshunov tells Marshall, Murder? You
took 100,000 lives to save a nickel on the price of a gallon of gas. Despite
the veracity and the damning nature of Korshunovs proclamation about the
Persian Gulf War, his words carry little weight for American audiences. From
the beginning of the war, through its conclusion, and on, the war has been
undergirded by imaginings that express, in the words of Ella Shohat, [a]
melodramatic imagination of good vs. evil, in which the presumed final
physical and technological victory proves also the moral superiority of the
victors (149). Through the media and government, the lived experience of
the war was smoothed with the contours of melodrama by consistently linking
the war to the family and framing it in excessive emotionality. The result was
the perception of melodramatic, black and white binarisms of good and evil,
exemplified by the US and Iraq respectively. Korshunovs words are framed

in the viewers minds by not only the melodramatic stylings of the news media
but by the melodramatic articulation of the films codes as well. The result is
that the Russians words bounce off Marshall and the audience.
In a clever rewriting of the thematics of Cold War discourses, Air
Force One substitutes a group of Russian terrorists, along with the totalitarian
leader they represent, for that quintessential Hollywood villain: the
communist. But this change is in name only, for there are few substantial
changes to the new villains, save for the fact that they are depicted loosely not
to mention problematically as nascent capitalists, a point on which this film
unsurprisingly does not dwell. Rather the perception of change is not so much
a matter of specific characterizations as it is of a bias against post-Soviet
Russia endemic to Americans. Hollywood, like the news media, is guilty of
the type of gross decontextualization that renders much of the worlds
problems in terrifying, confusing, discursive mish-mash. With no further
information to go on, US citizens are often faced with a world cast, in the
words of Holly Cowan Shulman, in terms of violence, unrest, subversion,
and combat, without analysis, explanation, or cultural framework (117).
Accordingly, with the appearance of the Russian terrorists comes a host of
associative meanings linking them to ideas of chaos and disrepute, and

without contextualized information to form a balanced opinion, the audience
is left with heighten[ed] oppositions of us and them, of civilized and
uncivilized (Cowan Shulman 117).
By far the ultimate conflation of the public and the-private spheres in
Air Force One occurs in relation to the first family. Both a public and private
institution, the Marshalls are the site of converging ideologies. To a large
degree, this convergence of ideologies serves to fill in the gap left by the
changing focus from foreign policy interests of the 1980s to the domestic
policy interests in the 1990s. The President, James Marshall, by acting to
protect his family, unites these divergent interests and serves to provide the
illusion of an organic ideological unity bringing together foreign and
domestic. Performing a function that Jeffords attributes to William Munny
(Clint Eastwood) in Unforgiven (1992), Marshall responds to the foreign-
policy challenges of the post-cold war era by reviving American idealism and
force of action, [and]... invoking... [as] the basis for such actions the U S.
family and the countrys domestic future (Hard Bodies 185). Certainly it is
Marshalls idealism and force of action that generate much of the narratives
drive. Marshall is advised to protect himself from the terrorist attack by
fleeing the plane in the presidential escape pod, but he chooses not to, hiding

aboard instead and making use of his Marine training to save his family and
others aboard. And the basis for such heroic actions is his family, the US
family, the heart of the domestic future.

Popular film is commonly viewed as light entertainment, and its role
in the perpetuation of ideologies often goes unrecognized, swaying audiences
without those audiences ever knowing that they have been swayed. And the
American image, like the popular film, is meant for consumption, which is
often performed blindly. The nature of the action film certainly encourages
the audience to adopt an anti-critical stance in relation to it. As Sharon Willis
writes about the economy of another action film:
[the] films pleasurable effectsits narrative and visual destabilization
of authority, the spectacular excesses of its demolitions, its ambivalent
combination of violent affect with a seamlessly ironic wise-cracking
dialogue, its frame of sophisticated self-consciousnessstill work
toward resolution in a figure of restored white male authority. (54)
As Willis rightly points out, it is the consumptive aspects of the action film
that make it such a appealing form for audiences, making it such an ingenious
ideological device for promoting discourses favorable to patriarchy.
Ideas concerning masculinity, foreign and domestic policies, and the
American image are all part of the ongoing evolution of the action film.
Understanding the ways in which these facets work together would help lay

the groundwork for a more comprehensive understanding of the action genre.
When viewed against global changes (the end of the Cold War and declining
US hegemonic status) the Vietnam conflict, civil rights, and changes in gender
relations and the workplace, the US narrative of nation has changed
substantially in the last thirty years, but one thing that has remained is the
constant need to reaffirm state identity, a difficult proposition in a world
where drastic changes can happen with remarkable speed. Although state
identity formation is in essence an on-going process, during times of unrest
and discontent the need to reinvent and reaffirm becomes paramount.
Kendrick addresses this point succinctly when she writes, This need to
reinscribe a national identity is, in part, an anxiety-ridden response to the
countrys dysfunctional reality in a global marketplace in which the United
States is steadily losing economic ground (73). Kendrick cites the adoption
of corporate values as one method which the US has utilized to reinscribe its
national identity. Addressing specific videos depicting Americas Vietnam
experience, Kendrick argues, The revisions of the history of the Vietnam War
occur, in part, in subsume U.S. anxieties within a coercive corporate
ideology that attempts to totalize an order aesthetically that it cannot achieve
politically (73). In a similar fashion, the same corporate tactics have been

used in an effort to reshape the American masculine image/national image in a
time in history when the threats to its boundaries come from all sides.
One such tactic is the representations of transcendence of the male
body. As evidenced by the Persian Gulf Wars images of mass destruction at
a tremendous remove, this war signals what Robyn Wiegman fears will be a
rewriting of the male bodys mutability in the form of Patriot missiles and
smart bombs, masculinity renouncing] the corporeal altogether (174).
Popular entertainment has been quick to fix on this idea, providing an
onslaught of imaginings, from films to video games, that promote an ideal of
male ascendance to technologically detached destructive potential.
Poised in contradiction to this tendency is a concurrent shift in
masculinity away from the hard-line posturings that defined the Reagan era in
favor of a more introspective and domestically oriented masculinity,
subsumed in the rhetoric of what began as the buzz words of the 80s and
beyond: family values. While appearing as the very figure of a softened,
domesticated paternity, the new masculine ideal is but a shiny reworking of
the same discursive practices that offered us the hard body masculinity. As
Jeffords sums up:
Both of these predominant modelsthe hard body and the sensitive
family man are overlapping components of the Reagan Revolution,

comprising on the one hand a strong militaristic foreign-policy
position and on the other hand a domestic regime of an economy and a
set of social values dependent on the centrality of fatherhood. {Hard
Bodies 13)
By shifting the course of masculinity from its public trajectory to a private
one, this new conception of masculinity offers an appealing option to the
prospect of facing a world filled with the corpses of disappointment and still
frighteningly alive with possibilities for future US failure. In short, the
domestic sphere offers the masculine all the possibility that the public sphere
does not.
And what does it offer? The domestic sphere offers the masculine the
possibility for individualism and empowerment that do not exist to large
degree in the public sphere. Not only is competition fierce within the
workplace, where traditional forms of masculine dominance lack the power
they once yielded, it is also becoming increasingly difficult for the US to
compete in the global economic arena now that the Cold War is over: military
power matters less now than economic power. In the domestic sphere,
however, the masculine can find a sanctuary from which to negotiate cultural
discourses of family that now function as containment for post-Cold War
fears, and as Robyn Wiegman concludes, This emphasis on family shifts the

locus of anxiety about national decline from the specter of Communism to an
interior incursion, recasting feminism, black power, and the gay rights struggle
as inherently antithetical to the familial concept of nation (175). But as the
cast of characters standing in as enemy changes in accordance with the
inclinations of the male body politic, one issue remains central: What does it
mean to be [a male] American? ... the answer is, it seems, that being
American means being a bricoleur and a good manager, a manager of crisis, in
a culture depicted as in constant state of emergency. And the best manager
wins; he is the familiar renegade individualist (55). With Sharon Willis
question asked and answered, we have now come full circle, arriving at the
same point where we began with the Cowboy Hero.
\ /
The renegade individualist, however, points to as many {
contradictions as it does continuities; consequently, the Cowboy Hero, and the
masculinity he represents, has also changed over time. From the Rooseveltian
articulation of a bellicose masculine individualist, to the more tempered and
moral masculine hero of the Wilson era, the theoretical contours of the
renegade have changed. Later in the century, the Reagan hard body mirrored
Roosevelts ideal and Bushs kinder, gentler hero was reminiscent of
Wilsons brand of masculinity.

The figure of the president is representative of the hero, but the hero is
also [re]cast in the form of the celebrity icon. Through these icons,
conceptions of heroism and masculinity shift along with changes within the
socio-political. The presidential and star icons help to answer the question
What is a good [male] American? Of course, different presidents and star
icons provide different answers, just as John Wayne in the 1950s offered a
distinctly contrasted interpretation of the hero than Jimmy Carter did in the
1970s, and Harrison Ford did in the 1990s.
The hero is figured and refigured in opposition to a host of enemy
others, from the foreign to the domestic, the threat of communism giving way
to myriad threats to the family as a way of shaping [male] American identity.
The hard bodied hero who fights an evil enemy other morphs to become the /
good family man who defends the homestead against all threats. Here in the
private realm, melodramatic conventions act to resituate public threats and
fears as personal ones directed at the family.
But for all of these changes, there are a few key facets to the renegade
individualist that remain constant and therefore are very telling as to the
overall shape of the American image. This renegade is a masculine construct,
just as the American image is largely figured as male, and for all the ways he

has varied throughout recent history, the Cowboy Hero remains an adherent to
the concept of regeneration through violence. It is this central tenet that is his
primary motivating factor. Although it may be disguised any number of ways,
the spiritual, moral, and physical efficacy of violence is an underlying impulse
in the Cowboy Hero and his reflection, the American image. Ultimately, we
must ask, what is it that the American image regenerates with violence? And
ultimately, the answer is White, American, male authority.

1 The German use of the U-boat outraged many American politicians,
including Wilson, who considered its use scurrilous and unfair.
Ford films of this type include the Star Wars trilogy; the Indiana
Jones trilogy; and The DeviTs Own (1996).
3 In fact, Ford was named Star of the Century by the National
Association of Theatre Owners in 1994. Quite an achievement considering
that the century in question is the only one in which motion pictures have
4 Others of this ilk include Sylvester Stallones Rambo, Clint
Eastwoods Dirty Harry, Arnold Schwarzeneggers Conan the Barbarian, Mel
Gibsons Martin Riggs, and Bruce Willis John McClane among others.
5 In addition to the loss of the Vietnam War, the final impression at the j
end of the Carter administration was the failure to bring the Iran hostages
6 But interestingly not by Roosevelt, who thought that Wilson was
weak and did not possess a strong, masculine character, just as Reagan
apparently thought about Carter.

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