Hollywood’s Spin on America


 I’m no Methuselah, but I can still remember a time when Hollywood was unapologetically pro-America. From conveying our ideologies and ingenuity to the integrity of our armed forces, the motion picture industry once served as a proud ambassador for the land it calls home. Oliver Stone? Michael Moore? Granted, but they felt like the exception. Now they appear to be the rule.

What happened? Why are filmmakers less likely to wave Old Glory? Why do they shy away from depicting America as the world’s hero?

Maybe it’s the burgeoning overseas box office. Perhaps studios are worried that foreign audiences will reject action movies that feel like star-spangled propaganda. Or it could have more to do with changing attitudes and agendas within Tinseltown itself. Truth be told, it’s probably some combination of the two.

This reality came home to me again recently when I saw the zombie actioner World War Z. In it Brad Pitt plays a heroic American, but the movie hedges by having him represent the United Nations rather than the red, white and blue. Then, after America’s “best hope” stumbles badly, it’s up to Pitt and the world community to rally together and combat the epidemic. There’s nothing wrong with such internationalism, but it’s the latest evidence of a disappointing trend—Hollywood’s reluctance to prop up the U.S.A. in a more noble, chivalrous light.

“In some ways the most obvious example is the biggest movie at the box office of all time, that being Avatar,” my colleague Adam Holz explained on this week’s Official Plugged In Podcast. “It’s impossible to sit through Avatar and see it as anything other than a critique of imperialism, of warlike attitudes, of arrogance, of disregard for other places … and we’re supposed to say, ‘Oh, yeah, America is just this big rampaging bully that goes other places and destroys people, and forests, and everything else. I was really turned off by it, but the fact that it made so much money would suggest that there’s a market for it.”

Fortunately, the majority of that podcast conversation (#209) focused on wonderful patriotic movies that warm our hearts and fill us with national pride. They’re out there. Sports movies. War movies. Old movies. With that in mind, which films make you proud to be an American? And what do you think about the overall image of the United States being exported to theaters all around the world?

As promised, here are the answers to yesterday’s July 4th trivia challenge. If you haven’t already done so, consider taking our Patriotic Pop Quiz: 1. The Patriot; 2. American Gladiators; 3. Born in the U.S.A.; 4. Captain America; 5. Fievel; 6. Katy Perry; 7. Apollo 13; 8. Lee Greenwood; 9. Stephen Colbert; 10. Yankee Doodle Dandy; 11. Whitney Houston; 12. Patton; 13. “American Pie”; 14. America’s Army; 15. Rocky IV; 16. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; 17. Will Smith; 18. Neil Diamond; 19. Saving Private Ryan; 20. Lake Placid, N.Y.

Who wrote this?

Senior Editor for PLUGGEDIN.COM. In addition to hosting the weekly "Official Plugged In Podcast," Bob also writes reviews, articles and Movie Nights discussion guides, and manages areas of this website. He has served at Focus on the Family for more than 20 years. Since 1995, Bob has penned "High Voltage," a monthly column that answers children's entertainment questions in Clubhouse magazine. He has co-authored several books, including Chart Watch, Movie Nights, Movie Nights for Teens and, most recently, The One Year Father-Daughter Devotions. Bob is also co-host of "The Official Adventures in Odyssey Podcast."

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Kendall Litzsinger More than 1 year ago
unfortunately it is the primitive right that is what's wrong with america. your party isn't perfect either. 
Steve Crespo More than 1 year ago

--Unfortunately, the Leftist mindset that has been steadily drummed into our culture for decades through academia, and the media has taken root to the point where un-American themes are just plain expected.



Alyson Scott More than 1 year ago

--I agree with the first three comments. It is far more harmful for the media to whitewash reality than to focus too much on the dark side (and there are patriotic movies like y_w said). Maybe some people are uncomfortable with the negative portrayals because they hit too close to home. Our opinion of America should be based on historical and current facts, not movies. I am proud to be an American, but I also acknowledge that America has committed many atrocities, from the Native Americans to present-day. Also, fundamentalists are constantly talking about all the things they don't like about America, so why do you expect others to be different?    

Scott Jamison More than 1 year ago

--It's also helpful to remember that with older Hollywood movies, they had to pass the Hays Office; so any criticism of the American system or American government or American effects on other countries had to be veiled or carefully moderated so as not to upset the authorities who could ban or gut your film.

As for World War Z...yeah, threat to the entire world.  If anything, it could have used more of a United Nations stance, rather than less.  An American is the protagonist of the movie because it's made in America, but America doesn't have to be the hero of the movie.

syd collings More than 1 year ago

--''Why do they shy away from depicting America as the world's hero?''

I think that's a dangerous question that highlights America's self-aggrandization. The world is bigger than one country. It's about all of us, not just America. World War Z was a about a zombie apocalypse that affected the entire world. Thus, the hero was saving the world and represented the interests of the world.

This kind of attitude is the answer to  'Why do they hate us?', because such attitude comes off as arrogant and self-important.

Rebecca Greer More than 1 year ago

--I get what you're saying, but I have to respectfully disagree. I don't think it's always a bad thing to portray America in a less favorable light once in awhile, because, let's face it, we're not always perfect. We've made a lot of mistakes over the years, particularly in matters of foreign policy and foreign relations. America is a great country and we've done so many good things, but I think nationalism can be a dangerous thing. When we always see ourselves as "the world's hero" we don't learn from our mistakes and show an arrogance and disregard for other people and cultures. That being said, I don't think patriotism is wrong, not at all. We just need to remember that we aren't the only ones in world, and we're not always the hero. Also, I can think of many pro America movies released in the last several years. Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, White House Down, Olympus Has Fallen, Man of Steel, Act of Valor, all three Iron Man films, Captain America, just to name a few.