by Christine Anne Holmlund
Cut, no. 35, April 1990, pp. 85-96
A New Cold War rages on movie screens across the United States. Scores of recent Hollywood films, most of them genre films, pit the United States against Russia or against Russian satellites. The films also marshall U.S. and Allied support behind U.S. foreign and domestic policy. TOP GUN (Scott: 1986), HEARTBREAK RIDGE (Eastwood: 1986), WHITE NIGHTS (Hackford: 1985), THE HIGHLANDER (Mulcahy: 1986), RED DAWN (Milius: 1984) and the three Rambo films (FIRST BLOOD (Kotcheff: 1982), RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD, PART II (Cosmatos: 1986) and RAMBO III (Stallone: 1988) represent a few, obvious examples of this widespread and diverse phenomenon. Other, less overtly xenophobic and chauvinistic films also inscribe and articulate New Cold War concerns.
Despite much talk about New Cold War films as a current Hollywood trend, few critics understand the scope and functioning of New Cold War ideology in movies. All too often, both the popular press and more academically oriented film critics dismiss these films as manipulative and "bad," overlooking the films' value as entertainment. Such critics emphasize ideological containment and ignore the possibility of counter-hegemonic readings. Even Andrew Britton's perceptive "Reaganite Entertainment" occasionally succumbs to these tendencies. Britton focuses on films made in the late 70s and 80s, and he interprets them in light of what he calls Reaganite ideology. He does acknowledge that "the films' negation or recuperation of history has the effect of a potential weakness as well as a strength." Yet he concludes that in these films Reaganite ideology emerges victorious, if empty. His analysis glosses over contradictions within the film texts, and it ignores the divergent reactions found among individual audience members and among audience subgroups defined by race, sex, class, sexuality and subculture.[open notes in new window]
The films' success does not simply result from their enthusiastically presenting a New Cold War. Their strongest appeal often comes from the way they revert to earlier U.S. value systems, or from how they include value systems implicitly or overtly opposed to New Cold War tenets. In other words, these films contain something for everyone. Ideology becomes embedded in and interwoven with entertainment. Cultural diversity and division are not just ignored, they are integrated into the film fictions. As a result, these movies are not simply expressions of New Cold War ideology, they also constitute it and undercut it in the process of incorporating a variety of personal and social anxieties and desires into a representational mode.
I examine here three recent Hollywood films to explore this process. I have chosen to analyze DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS (Mazursky:1985), ROCKY IV (Stallone: 1985) and ALIENS (Cameron: 1986) for two reasons. First, they are either sequels or remakes. While we could dismiss them as purely formulaic, we can use the fact that they are sequels and remakes to grasp the historical dimensions of how Hollywood cinema has inscribed New Cold War ideology. How films incorporate new cultural, historical and ideological material becomes more than usually obvious when we compare sequels and remakes to each other and to the original films.
Second, each film represents different genre mixes — one is satire and farce; another, sports and adventure; and the third, horror and science fiction. In spite of such genre variety, all three films rely on a New Cold War's premise and promise for their plots, characters, and/or settings. The genre range demonstrates the phenomenon's pervasiveness at the same time that it helps us identify the elements which constitute this ideology.
To analyze these films, I will concentrate on how roles within the family, relations of race and class, and relations between the dominant culture and yuppie and punk subcultures serve as nodal points for cinema to elaborate current ideological concerns. In New Cold War films like these, I will argue, economic fears become rewritten as sexual dilemmas, and white subcultures and racial minorities become subsumed within or behind the white middle class family. Yet the presence of strong female, non-white and/or counter-cultural characters does indicate that social change has occurred and is occurring. Like a thread that runs throughout their fictions, all three films depict a resurgent United States' posture of strength, yet the films also refer constantly to fear of weakness. Memories about both Vietnam and social protest coexist and collide as cinematic fictions use the past and future to shore up, disguise or replace the present.
For us as activists and critics, these films provide an opportunity to raise crucial political, theoretical questions. Why are these films so successful at the box office? Why do women as well as men, blacks as well as whites relish Rambo, Rocky and Ripley? Do such films merely inscribe the ideology of a dominant, right-wing, New Cold War — or Reaganite ideology, as Britton suggests — or is their message broader and more contradictory? How, where, and why might audience reactions differ? These questions and their answers would not just indicate relations among author, text, and reader but also a possibility of and necessity for social and political resistance and change.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE: DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS
At first sight Paul Mazursky's comedy, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, does not seem to have anything to do with the New Cold War. A remake over fifty years later of Jean Renoir's pre-Popular Front film, BOUDU SAUVE DES EAUX (BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING, 1932), Mazursky's film gently satirizes the guilty complacence of Beverly Hills nouveaux riches and North American consumer culture in general without overtly addressing questions of foreign or domestic policy or, as Renoir's film does, without hinting at possibilities for class solidarity and structural change.
Instead, DOWN AND OUT uses the family to act out and cover up New Cold War desires and anxieties. In DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, the Whiteman family acts both progressively and traditionally, capable under strong paternal leadership of absorbing any and all subcultures, from punks to gays to blacks to Mexicans and a host of others. In much the same way, the political rhetoric of the Carter and Reagan administrations appealed nostalgically to the security the nuclear family supposedly offered. In this way the government deflected attention from the economic and political gains achieved by the women's, black and gay movements of the 1960s and 70s and weakened the appeal of counter-cultural movements like the hippies and the punks. Within the political framework of the late 70s to late 80s, governmental allusions to both domestic prosperity and Soviet threat sidestepped the economic and political challenges posed by First World countries or power blocs (Japan, OPEC, Europe, etc.). It also inhibited understanding the indigenous threats to U.S. dominance in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
The politics of DOWN AND OUT are more liberal or at least more contradictory. The film both acknowledges and subsumes sexual, racial, class and national difference. Yet in the broader context of New Cold War rhetoric, fluctuations like these commonly occur because liberals and conservatives do not stand necessarily opposed. On the contrary, as sociologist Alan Wolfe convincingly argues, the myth of a New Cold War has its political origins in the semi-conscious alliance between liberals and the radical right which has dominated U.S. politics since World War II.
DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS takes as its subject, homelessness, a favorite theme of the mid 1980s. Dave Whiteman (Richard Dreyfuss) and his family adopt a street person, Jerry Baskin (Nick Nolte) when Jerry tries to drown himself in their swimming pool. Although Dave tries to convince Jerry to go straight and get a job, Jerry refuses, preferring to lounge around the house, drink lo-cal sodas, play the piano, and screw Dave's neurotic wife (Bette Midler), his Mexican maid (Elizabeth Pefia) and his anorexic daughter (Tracy Nelson). Despite the comic mishaps Jerry provokes, at the end of the film the Whiteman family welcomes him as one of its members, but not having him marry into it.
Ostensibly class difference lies at the heart of DOWN AND OUTs humor. Yet like so many Hollywood films, this film finally remains indifferent to class. Unlike the tramp in BOUDU, Mazursky's bum does not function so disruptively within the family. Just the fact that the director chose the family swimming pool rather than the Pacific ocean for Jerry's suicide attempt indicates how Mazursky domesticated and privatized the politics of the original BOUDU. There M. Lestingois' (Charles Granval) rescues Boudu (Michel Simon) in a public setting. Renoir structured his film around class difference in 1930s France. As Christopher Faulkner puts it, in BOUDU, "the whole point... is to preserve the sense of the incompatibility of two social classes and the irrevocable barriers between them."
Similarly, Jerry and Boudu have opposed characterizations. As befits the first R-rated film from the Disney studios, Jerry seems amazingly well-bred, capable of reciting Shakespeare and playing Debussy. As a result, several critics have remarked that Jerry functions more like an innocent apolitical left-over hippie than a social pariah or anarchist (Corliss; O'Brien, Ap. 11, 1986). In contrast, Boudu not only lacks cultural savoir faire, as Michel Simon portrays the character, he even has difficulty walking a straight line. The two films also have radically different endings. DOWN AND OUT's narrative, in contrast to BOUDU's, does not need to marry Jerry off to the maid, and thus has no need to confront a threat of "miscegenation," a spectre which vies with homosexuality for the title "all-time worst nightmare" in the squeaky clean universe of Disney thought. Jerry's extraordinary sexual appeal, virility and promiscuity might exclude him from Disneyland, but in the context of a Disney film for adults, they guarantee heterosexuality — on which the Disney empire rests. By ending with Jerry's return to the family, DOWN AND OUT rejects BOUDU's most utopian and anarchic moment. At the end of the original film, Boudu literally jumps ship to return to the river and a bum's happy life. The final shots even suggest a kind of carefree lumpensolidarity — a line of bums file past Notre Dame Cathedral singing Boudu's theme song, "Sur les bords de la Seine."
Like BOB AND CAROL AND TED AND ALICE, Mazursky's first film (1969), DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS deals far more with middle class sexual dilemmas than with conspicuous consumption or class relations. Because DOWN AND OUT defines all problems in sexual, not economic terms, class never really presents a problem. Dressed in an expensive lounging outfit and surrounded by objets d'art, Barb Whiteman explains to Jerry: "I used to go shopping for gratification. But that's like sex without a climax, you know." For Barb, sex, not money, remains the real issue. Jerry the bum has the answer to her needs: he knows the rules better than anyone. A 1980s Lady Chatterley's lover, he gives Barb the climax she's been craving, and he solves all the other family members' problems as well. He brings the gay punk son, Max (Evan Richards), out of the closet, persuades the anorexic daughter to eat, turns the Mexican maid on to Che and Mao, befriends the dog, and eases Dave's guilt at being so rich, all without ever getting at the economic and/or social roots of their or his problems.
Of course BOUDU, like DOWN AND OUT, worries about a decline in masculinity, virility and/or sexuality in the middle classes. M. Lestingois and Dave Whiteman are both wimps. However, the images in DOWN AND OUT insist on the fact, constantly contrasting Richard Dreyfuss' skinny little body with Nick Nolte's hulking frame in medium two shots. In BOUDU, as Janet Walker and Luli McCarroll argue, the middle classes repress sexuality; in DOWN AND OUT, the middle classes extend the range of "tolerable" sexuality. Indeed, because DOWN AND OUT translates all social ills as sexual problems, the film becomes a kind of Freudian "talking cure" for 1980s United States. Going the New Cold War patriarchal family one better, the ending offers us two dads for the price of one: Jerry joins Dave Whiteman as head of the family. Trapped in the narrow hallways of the Lestingois house, Boudu remains a destructive child; in the wide open spaces of the Whiteman mansion, Jerry stays on there as an understanding, tolerant, contented, virile father who knows best.
DOWN AND OUT is so preoccupied with creating one big happy family that it ends up promoting the wealth it sets out to mock. As in countless other Hollywood films, economic anxiety becomes contained and displaced by an insistence that money isn't everything and that the poor often live happier than the rich. When Jerry takes Dave to the beach to meet his friends and sing folk songs, they seem more like Boy Scouts on an overnight or hippies at a hootenanny than impoverished street people. And in this film about poverty and homelessness, only the rich daughter feels hunger. In the present context of world economics, this is absurd. It is funny only to those who do not face need. As one critic writes about Dave Whiteman's boast, "I ate garbage last night, Barb, and I loved it!": "The movie had better find its audience in this country, because no one else in the world would possibly understand it." (Denby, Feb. 3, 1986)
The mystification of poverty which pervades DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS functions today to justify right wing domestic policies fueled by the myth of the New Cold War, specifically abolishing welfare programs and instituting a regressive income tax. At the same time, however, it suggests U.S. nostalgia for the economic security of the 60s and 70s. The decision to portray Jerry Baskin as a cultured hippie rather than as a bona fide street person stands as a case in point. Hippies could afford to turn on, tune in and drop out. As the sons and daughters of the middie classes, they posed no real threat to society. "[DOWN AND OUT] isn't about the U.S. middle class reaching out to understand something ugly and terrifying, but reaching out to one of its own," comments Tom O'Brien (Ap. 11, 1986). Like many 60s hippies, Jerry returns to his middle class roots, becomes a yuppie, serves as a consultant and, after a feeble attempt at emancipation, returns at the end of the film to drink a cup of Cappucino with the Whiteman family. Gone is Renoir's fondness for "le gros rouge" (cheap red wine), that mark of proletarian culture and male bonding.
The need for consensus at home thus stands as a major message in DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, and one which marks it as a New Cold War film. Like Jerry the hippie, gay and punk subcultures and a variety of racial subgroups become integrated into the Whiteman family. The working class origins and anti-bourgeois stance of the punks, provocatively analyzed by Dick Hebdige in Subculture, become mere fashion statements in DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS. Jerry reassures Max about his choice of lipstick: "You can go with more orange, definitely more orange." At the end of the film, Max gets welcomed back into the family fold. His homosexuality seems just a problem of communication, not a real problem, and his punk identity remains coded in consumer terms rather than as social criticism.
Similarly, the film both emphasizes and negates the reality of racial discrimination. It shows racial minorities visible everywhere, and everyone — Blacks, Chicanos, Iranians, Japanese, Chinese — seems happy, healthy and wealthy. The Mexican maid and the Japanese gardener have status as part of the family and enjoy financial success to boot. The maid has her own credit card while the gardener owns a condo in Hawaii. No question of deportation here: these are our aliens. Servants, business associates, workers or friends-everyone loves the Whitemans.
However, the sheer repetition of this cheery message reveals the anxiety which underlies new Cold War rhetoric. The threat posed to U.S. economic dominance by other countries, more overtly acknowledged in a film like GUNG HO (Howard: 1986), becomes contained in DOWN AND OUT by trotting out earlier myths of racial and cultural assimilation, success and love. The narrative structure depends on Thanksgiving and Christmas, holidays symbolic of U.S. benevolence. A madcap chase scene during the Whiteman's Christmas party even unites everyone — the family, their black and Iranian neighbors, Japanese friends, a delegation of Chinese industrialists and a Mexican mariachi band — in the swimming pool from which Dave rescued Jerry at the beginning of the film.
The racism which lurks beneath much of DOWN AND OUT's humor does surface abruptly, if briefly, when Dave and Jerry visit Dave's hanger factory in Tiajuana. The sequence begins as a tribute to the wonders of technology: we see machines in close-up magically pump out hangers. Dave explains to Jerry that low cost (i.e. little human labor) means high profits. He boasts that his workers stay happy because he provides such a good health care package, then calls a Mexican worker over and orders him to show his teeth and smile. The image vividly recalls slave markets.
The film depicts bourgeois fears of the working class and lumpen proletariat most obviously, and less mixed up with liberal messages of equality, when the narrative approaches questions of sexuality, health and class. "He might have herpes!" Barb shrills when Dave gives Jerry mouth to mouth resuscitation. Only when Jerry is "made over" does he really exude fitness, and only then can he heal others. The 1980s fear of sexually transmitted diseases did not concern the characters in Renoir's film.
DOWN AND OUT, like SOUL MAN (Miner: 1986)and other recent comedies, skillfully combines the 70s message that it is OK to "do your own thing" with a more conservative 80s message that anything goes as long as white male access to social power structures remains guaranteed. By foregrounding sexuality and acknowledging if backpedalling race, class and subcultures, DOWN AND OUT speaks to the New Cold War being fought on the U.S. domestic front and with U.S. allies, at the same time that it points to the continuing influence of 60s and 70s countercultures and political movements. Though the film has no allusions to a Soviet threat and virtually no allusions to the seditious seductiveness of Marxist philosophy (aside from the shots of the voluptuous Mexican maid reading Mao), other fears and fantasies of today's resurgent U.S. do occur, among them the challenges of foreign economic competition, the need to stay physically and psychologically in shape, and the continuing dream of the United States as a melting pot where everyone comes out white, male and middle class.
Nonetheless, through its tolerance of deviant subcultures DOWN AND OUT goes far beyond what the rightwing proponents of a New Cold War ideology would ever accept. By diluting the purity of the New Cold War myth, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS broadens its appeal at the same time that it guts the politics of the countercultural and/or subcultural ideologies on which it also draws. In this film, opportunities for audience identification with and distance from both the narrative and the images are multiple and complex. With such a mixed bag of tricks, small wonder that DOWN AND OUT has enjoyed such box office success, while BOUDU provoked a riot at its premiere and closed after only three days (Sensonske, Martin).
PATRIARCHS MEET PUNKS: ROCKY IV AND FOREIGN WAR
Unlike DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, ROCKY IV is instantly identifiable as a New Cold War film. The plot blatantly pits Us against Them, the U.S. against the U.S.S.R.. It incarnates in the bulky shapes of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and Ivan Drago (Doiph Lundgren) the New Cold War tenet that an increasingly ominous Soviet presence threatens U.S. economic and political interests. Like DOWN AND OUT, ROCKY IV weaves domestic issues relating to the family, gender roles, race and subcultures in with an obvious obsession with foreign policy. More than DOWN AND OUT, though, the film tries, in Andrew Britton's terms, to "mandate ... choral support" from the audience, to unite a wide variety of subgroups in support of its basically ultra-right wing message.
Yet because the film tackles so much within the simplistic framework of the highly formulaic Rocky series, contradictions occasionally emerge to fissure its conservative message. Tania Modleski has claimed that open-endedness and an absence of plot and character development in recent formula and genre films inhibit audience identification and jeopardize the construction of the bourgeois ego. Such a claim may or may not hold true for the diverse audiences of the Rocky films; clearly, ROCKY IV flouts audience expectations as much as it fulfills them. Audiences think they know what they will get from a film labelled ROCKY IV, both because it is a sequel and because it so obviously fits into the action-adventure genre. Viewers pay for a story and pictures which will once again demonstrate Rocky's macho prowess. But ROCKY IV deviates in certain key ways from the rest of the series. Unlike in the other films, narrative tension here centers on Rocky's fear of weakness and aging. The plot is more overtly political, with the training and fight sequences set in Russia. And Rocky's opponent is white, not black. Although ROCKY III also asks whether Rocky still "has the eye of the tiger," the question there is phrased in personal, not national or international terms. In ROCKY IV, in contrast, conservative phobias vie with conservative fantasies for screen time.
In ROCKY IV, Rocky Balboa, archetypal explorer, retraces his steps, going from the New World to the Old. He returns to the ring in Russia on Christmas day to avenge the death of his best friend, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) at the hands of Soviet superhero Ivan Drago. As in DOWN AND OUT but far more paradoxically so, the film once again invokes the myth of Christmas as the holiday of peace and harmony, now to disguise U.S. aggression. Throughout the film, the cultural and political differences between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. are emphasized and exaggerated. As in all the Rocky films, ROCKY IV begins with a fight sequence, but here it looks stylized and abstract, a series of extreme close-ups of a red,white and blue boxing glove pounding into and then in slow motion pulverizing a red glove decorated with a yellow hammer and sickle. Later lengthy parallel-editing sequences show Rocky training in Siberian ice and snow, running up mountains, chopping wood and lifting his friends on his back while Drago receives steroid injections and works out in a Moscow gym equipped with the latest body-building machines. Newspaper and magazine headlines, TV news commentaries, and real-life sports commentators like Warner Wolf are interwoven in the film narrative to document the authenticity of the final fictional battle. In this way the narrative simultaneously acknowledges, frames and subsumes history and reality.
The outcome of the final battle never remains in doubt. While Rocky and Apollo fought to a draw in ROCKY, the first film in the series (Avildsen: 1976), Rocky has won every fight since: first against Apollo in ROCKY II (Stallone: 1979), then against Clubber Lang (Mr. 1) in ROCKY III (Stallone: 1982). Both audiences and critics recognize Rocky's mythic qualities. He represents the U.S. dream that, with hard work, courage and faith, a working class ethnic man can make good, especially in the realms of sports or entertainment.
But ROCKY IV represents a significant departure from the rest of the series' emphasis on class, race and upward mobility. The original film is typical of an early 70s variant of success-myth films in which, as Chuck Kleinhans puts it, the working-class origins [of the heroes] are central to the narrative." ROCKY IV combines Rocky's traditionally-based persona with that of the New Cold War hero, Rambo. Gone are the long shots of the first film which anchor Rocky in the space and time of mid 70s Philadelphia working class neighborhoods. Gone too, the comparatively rich dialogue and the portrayal of Rocky and his pals as losers. Like the characters portrayed by Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger/ and Chuck Norris, Stallone's fourth Rocky and his Rambo represent tough, invincible warriors, always ready to fight the good fight though they have almost nothing to say about it. Apollo's almost monosyllabic eloquence before his exhibition bout with Drago sums up the film's message. As the sound track from Rocky blares in the background, Apollo tells Rocky,
Spectacle is more important than speech in the actionadventure genre as a whole, it is true. But in in referring to this film even more than to the other ROCKY films, critics overwhelmingly labeled ROCKY a cartoon or comic strip character, so devoid do his actions seem of psychological motivation (Goldman; Kroll; Denby, Dec. 12,86; Schickel, Dec. 9, 1986). Rather than articulate New Cold War concerns, Rocky embodies them. "I just gotta do what I gotta do," he tells Adrian.
Worries about the shape and status of the male body replace class, sex and even romance as major narrative concerns. In ROCKY IV, Rocky's body and the body politic become presented as identical, while Rocky's more important fight is internal, not external. In true 80s rightwing fashion, discipline and freedom are presented as two sides of the same coin, with individualism (good) pitted against self-indulgence (bad). (Wolfe) The real narrative crisis thus occurs towards the middle of the film and not during the final fight scene, as Rocky wonders whether he should or could fight again.
A montage of clips from the earlier films, slow-motion shots of the Drago/Apollo fight, and close-ups of Rocky in his car are coupled with pounding rock lyrics. The images clearly label his earlier victories as past, while the words of the song stress his present dilemma: "There's no easy way out. There's no short cut home. There's no easy way out. Giving in can be wrong."
The sounds of rock 'n roll and the rhythmic editing of music videos replace the religious iconography of the earlier films, and offer hope of Rocky's rejuvenation if not resurrection. Pre-fight Soviet rhetoric plays on U.S. fears of inadequacy. "The defeat of this little champ [Rocky] will be a perfect example of how pathetically weak your society has become," says the chief Soviet trainer at a press conference. In response, the training sequences repetitively display Stallone's muscular body as tauter and leaner than ever before while the narrative describes Rocky's regimen as a return to nature and pioneer values. The film uses conventional, ideologically coded and ideologically loaded rites of purification which the warrior hero must undergo. In this way, New Cold War rhetoric becomes fused with macho anxieties and earlier U.S. myths.
Like DOWN AND OUT, ROCKY IV seemingly associates weakness with capitalist accumulation. The film contains this weakness by proposing yuppies as a kind of effete, emasculated, pseudo-class, unworthy of organized opposition. Ultimately both films condone and promote materialism. "This house, the cars and all the stuff we've got, that ain't everything," Rocky explains to Adrian, echoing her admonitions to him in ROCKY III. To prove his sincerity, he temporarily and rhetorically gives up all his wealth and thereby proves he is worthy of it. Fond of dichotomy, like all action/adventure films, ROCKY IV posits a world where punks square off against yuppies. Like many other recent genre movies — HIGHLANDER (Mulcahy:1986), THE TERMINATOR (Cameron: 1984) and BLADERUNNER (Scott: 1982) to name just three — ROCKY IV employs the punk subculture's insistence on visual style for its own narrative and spectacular ends. The bad guys, Drago and his Russian wife, Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen), are costumed as punks. They have short, spikey hair cuts, they wear fashionably chic punk clothes with padded shoulders, and Ludmilla wears two earrings on one ear. Extreme low angle close-ups position Drago as a monster, while medium shots and long shots stress his enormous size and suggest he is part man, part machine.
The negative characteristics of late capitalism in the United States simply become displaced on to a visibly different, threatening Other. The film's paranoid insistence on dichotomy denies the complexity and fragmentation of social life in advanced capitalist countries. Instead the oppositions between yuppies and punks become, to quote Fredric Jameson, "a privileged representational shorthand for grasping a network of power and control too difficult for our minds and imaginations to grasp." The casting of tall, blond Scandinavians — ideal Aryan übermenschen — as Russians collapses history still further. In ROCKY IV's visual logic, Reds equal Nazis.
So much does the film rely on dualism that it has room for only one enemy. All subgroups and subcultures except punks rally to Rocky's side. As in DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, not only women and children but even blacks become part of the big happy U.S. family which Rocky heads, though here domestic affairs play second fiddle to foreign policy.
Nowhere does this become more apparent than in the film's portrayal of blacks. Unlike all the other ROCKY films and even more than in DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, race does not pose a problem in ROCKY IV. Apollo eagerly enlists in the New Cold War, responding to Drago's challenge when Rocky turns it down. Apollo's Las Vegas exhibition bout with Drago is a masterpiece of spectacle, shot in reds, whites and blues and replete with dancing girls, fireworks and rock music. Mr. Soul himself,
James Brown, belts out "Livin' in America" as Apollo prances out, dressed in his Uncle Sam costume from ROCKY II. The more blatant racism of the earlier films surfaces only in Apollo's cocky lack of preparation and prefight macho posturing. Because in this film Apollo acts both foolishly and bravely, blacks and whites in the audience can mourn his death with Rocky and vow a common vengeance. At the same time the story line absolves whites and Rocky of guilt since the underlying message remains: Apollo deserved to die because he was unprepared and weak.
As for women, all the ROCKY films assign them roles only within in the context of the family — as wives, sisters and mothers. ROCKY IV adds to traditional family values an ideological agenda. The family becomes just another sports arena for broadcasting New Cold War messages, and politics replace relationships and romance. "I fight so you don't have to fight," Rocky tells his son. The interactions between Rocky and Adrian, a prime focus of the first film and still important in the second and third, here recede into the background. While Adrian initially shows great concern for Rocky's welfare, ultimately she realizes her country's honor is at stake and joins her husband as he trains in Russia.
Reaction shots of Adrian, Ludmilla and Apollo's wife pepper the fight sequences. The way Ludmilla is filmed adds a layer of ambiguity to the film's clear-cut ideological message. The film shows her far more often in close-up and extreme close-up than Adrian; she looks far more glamorous and exotic; and she has the larger speaking role. Indeed, she speaks for her man, who thereby loses a degree of male power. For women in the audience, the conflict between spectacle and narrative — the one favoring the villainness, the other the heroine — offers a choice of female characters with whom to identify, at the partial expense of ideological unity.
Thanks to the multiple ideological concerns ROCKY IV contains within its formulaic narrative, Rocky's final victory pleases everyone. Small wonder that almost half the audience for ROCKY IV is over 25 and almost half is female (Goldman). Part of the film's charm derives from its predictability. By round fifteen, blacks and whites, young and old, women and men, yuppies and punks in the movie theater all chant "Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!" along with the Russians in the film. The decibel level of their enthusiasm exceeds that of all the earlier films. Even Drago finally adopts U.S. values and asserts himself as an antiauthoritarian, individualist punk. "I fight to win — for me!" he bellows at the KGB agent who has been berating him, then throws the agent bodily out of the ring.
Constantly shifting camera set-ups, reaction shots, camera angles and pans draw everyone into the action. Rocky's final victory speech has a brilliant incoherence, managing to appeal to pacifists and Cold War advocates alike. His words reflect the average U.S. citizen's mistrust of government bureaucracy and fear of nuclear war. At the same time, the images offer us the satisfaction of knowing that David can beat Goliath. With elaborate and inarticulate pauses, panting all the while, Rocky says:
Even the Politburo must stand and cheer. The United States is not only resurgent, it is victorious. Humanism and aggression stand side by side in this closing sequence, just as they do in the rhetoric of the New Cold War. History becomes collapsed. ROCKY replaces the casualty figures of nuclear annihilation with the 20 million dead of the Second World War. The film delivers its good-will Christmas message of hope on U.S. terms, but it masks those terms by ending as it began, with the nuclear family. In this way, Rocky's last words and the film's images echo those of ROCKY II. But now Rocky's message of love goes out to his son, not to Adrian, as the boy sits at home in front of the TV: "I just want to say one thing to my kid who should be home sleepin'. Merry Christmas, kid! I love you!"
As in DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, the final emphasis shifts from the specific problems of New Cold War U.S.A. to enduring patriarchal power. But new subcultures and subgroups have been integrated into the family, distorting and reinforcing the New Cold War ideology predicated on those values. Personal history replaces international history, and the way is paved for sequels to come.
FEMINISM MEETS IMPERIALISM: ALIENS AND NEW COLD WAR IN SPACE
ALIENS similarly embeds its references to current foreign policy concerns within the nuclear family. But here, unlike ROCKY IV, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS and most other New Cold War films, the hero is a woman, albeit one with an androgynous name: Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). In the context of an action-adventure cum science fiction cum horror film like ALIENS, the presence of a central female character who emerges successful and strong is exceptional. The switch from male to female hero indicates the extent to which feminism has infiltrated film and changed daily life.
At the same time, Ripley remains a token. Her status as hero focuses attention on sex roles at the expense of international — in this case, intergalactic — politics. Indeed, the film's strategy could be defined as a perverse reversal of the early 1970s feminist maxim, "the personal is political." In ALIENS, even more than in DOWN AND OUT and ROCKY IV, the political becomes rewritten as and restricted to the personal. With the exception of the sound track, every aspect of the film, from the mise-en-scene to the plot to the characters, remains tied to female sexuality, which in turn becomes defined via motherhood.
In actuality ALIENS' storyline rests on the premise of a foreign threat to U.S. imperialist economic interests far more openly than DOWN AND OUT does and far more ominously than ROCKY IV. It also critiques, as the original ALIEN (Scott: 1979) also does, these interests' callous inhumanity. In ALIEN, however, this inhumanity grounds the entire film. Big business (the Company) and technology (the ship's computer and the robot/scientist) seem allied as much if not more against the crew members themselves, who are slated to die, as against the aliens, who will merely be captured and brought back to the United States. Thus, while female sexuality remains a major concern in ALIEN, the film deals with other issues. In ALIENS, in contrast, the overt political overtones of the film's beginning recede into the background and become subplots as soon as Ripley and the Marines leave the earth. Big business less obviously represents the bad guy because audience antipathy stays focused on a single individual, Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), the yuppie company representative. The sequel also vindicates technology. The robot, Bishop, (Lance Henriksen) initially an object of fear, becomes a hero, more "human" than the space ships and the advanced weapons systems but just as synonymous with progress.
ALIENS begins where ALIEN left off, with Ripley and her cat deep in hypersleep somewhere in outer space. On her return to earth 57 years later, Ripley confronts the same profit-hungry corporation which in the first film engineered the destruction of her ship and crew. Despite her protests, a new generation of corporate executives perfunctorily terminates the investigation of the earlier disaster. But when an entire colony of U.S. settlers on a remote planet is mysteriously wiped out, the company turns to Ripley for help. After much debate, Burke persuades her to accompany him and a Marine rescue force as an advisor.
When Ripley, Burke and the Marines arrive at the cobny, they discover a waif-like little girl nicknamed Newt (Carrie Henn). She alone has evaded the aliens by hiding in the air and heating ducts of the settlers' bioworld. Ripley feels a kinship with Newt, the only other person to have experienced and survived an alien attack. Their relationship quickly deepens. In shot/reverse shots, close-ups and medium two-shots, the film chronicles an awakening mother/ daughter bond between the two. As the aliens come ever closer, Ripley repeatedly risks her own life to save Newt. The most dramatic example of motherly self-sacrifice occurs near the end of the film. Even though the planet is about to explode, Ripley returns, alone but armed with every weapon in the Marine arsenal, to rescue Newt from the clutches of the giant serpent-like mother alien. She sets the alien's eggs on fire and wisks Newt back to the space ship/ womb just in time.
In ALIEN Ripley's maternal qualities are suggested only by her love for her cat, Jonesy. In ALIENS, in contrast, Ripley incarnates heroism and motherhood for both ultraconservatives and feminists. Her devotion to her child has clear appeal to rightwing proponents of traditional sexual politics at the same time as her independence, autonomy and androgyny fly in the face of conservative ideas of what a woman is and should be. Feminists, on the other hand, champion Ripley because she stands on her own two feet, yet does not hesitate to care. Also, she successfully combines blue-collar and managerial skills (she works as a loader before becoming a military advisor). By going it alone, against gender stereotypes and all odds, Ripley proves single mothers can be successful parents.
This brings a welcome change from the nurturing male single parent movies of the late 70s and early 80s like KRAMER VS. KRAMER (Benton:1979), MR. MOM (Dragoti:1983) and even BEYOND THE THUNDERDOME (Miller: 1985). Like Mad Max, Ripley is not just a single parent, she is also a child finder — a quintessentially 1980s concern. She seems more adept than either Kramer, Mr. Mom or Mad Max at juggling the dual pressures of work and family which confront and tantalize the majority of women, not just feminists, in the 1980s. Anxious to improve their economic status while often still wanting traditional female roles as mothers and/or wives, women today must more than ever negotiate and resolve societal contradictions within their personal lives. They often have educational preparation and high expectations, but affirmative action has failed them, social services have been gutted, and pay inequities continue unabated. By identifying with Ripley, women find not only hope for success, but also, consciously or unconciously, the satisfaction of vengeance.
As a character Ripley is assigned phallic attributes at the same time as she is clearly marked as heterosexual. The narrative hints at a romance between her and Hicks, the nicest male Marine (Michael Biehn). In ALIENS as in ALIEN, she periodically functions as a reassuring female fetish object.. In her underwear, as Barbara Creed notes, her "body is pleasurable and reassuring to look at. She signifies the 'acceptable' form and shape of woman." Most of the time, however, Ripley wears baggy clothing and moves assertively. When she climbs into her loader machine to fight the mother alien, all her femininity disappears: she becomes a man. One of ALIENS' mixed messages is thus very similar to the messages of DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS and ROCKY IV. To act, one must have muscles and one must, if not be a man, at least masquerade as a man. In fact, several critics have referred to Ripley as "Rambolina" (Kopkind, Korpivaara, Crouchet, Small, Kael). On some level, all three films encapsulate what women and men of the 1980s know: society still defines success in male terms.
The film similarly incorporates ambiguous portrayals of the secondary female characters. The depiction of Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), a career soldier who out-machos everyone, offers the clearest example of the film's play with sexual politics. "Hey, Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?" a male Marine asks as she effortlessly executes a series of overhand chin-ups. "No, have you?" she replies. Throughout the film she not only defies sex roles, she also challenges the definition of female sexuality as heterosexuality. With her muscles, her red bandana and her aggressive stance, Goldstein plays the character as dyke, Latin American revolutionary, and U.S. career soldier rolled into one. The narrative insists on Vasquez' heroism. Like Apollo in ROCKY IV, she volunteers for the toughest assignments, and at the end she resolutely sacrifices herself for her comrades and her country. Nowhere does ALIENS mention the possibility of a direct bonding between women other than that between mother and daughter. What "bonding" exists between Ripley and Vasquez is mediated through nationality. They are on the same side in an imperialist war, not sisters or lovers. Because the film hints that Vasquez is gay but emphasizes her courage, the character appeals to a wide spectrum of audience members, from radical lesbians to arch conservatives.
On the whole ALIENS is more concerned with the traditional female body than with androgynous or masculine female bodies. Women are linked with reproduction, sexuality and carnality throughout the film. These associations become most obvious when projected onto the aliens or transposed to the background sets. In ALIEN the enemy "mother" is the ship's computer, not a female creature. There the mise-en-scene betrays the film's preoccupation with the riddle of femininity more than the design of the monsters does. They look like sexless blobs. In the attack on the near naked Ripley at the end of the movie, they become male rapists. In ALIENS, in contrast, the monsters are insects, ruled over by a queen. As Penelope Tarratt notes in "Monsters from the Id," science fiction films often couple insect fear with a dread of the phallic mother as they reenact repressed sexual desires.
Ripley wreaks vengeance against a creature distinctly coded in terms of male-defined femininity. The alien mother's snarling mouth represents a veritable vagina dentata. Feminists may interpret this bad mother in terms of rightwing women who live to breed and to attack others who do not share their reproductive agenda. Such an interpretation is possible given the film's feminist leanings. However, the overriding effect of the alien queen's portrayal as a "single mother" is to displace and subsume women's rebellion against patriarchal power structures and men onto an archetypal myth of Woman, and to direct women viewers' anger against other women. Seen in this light, Ripley's killing of the alien queen appeals to men as much if not more than it appeals to women, for by it Ripley protects men from their dread of women.
In the final analysis, ALIENS' ideological slipperiness stems less from its blend of misogyny and feminism than from its combining these traits with militarism and imperialism. The film hides international politics behind personal and family politics more skillfully than either DOWN AND OUT or ROCKY IV do. Not surprisingly, critics ignore ALIENS' militaristic and imperialist premises while discussing or at least mentioning such premises in reviews of other science fiction and adventure films, whether Rocky IV, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (Spielberg:1981) or STAR WARS (Lucas: 1977). Critics may debate ALIENS' attitudes towards women and Woman, but the right of Ripley, the U.S. Marines and the "terraformers" to occupy and colonize another world goes largely unquestioned (Kopkind; Creed; Ansen; OToole; Schickel, July 28, 1986).
In many ways ALIENS has a far more bellicose narrative than either DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS or ROCKY IV. Sexuality, war and colonization constantly overlap, especially in the substrata of the film. The sets (the space ships and the artificially constructed, selfcontained world of the colonists) resemble wombs, as they did in ALIEN (Creed, 1986). More overtly than in ALIEN, they also evoke colonialism and the jungles of Vietnam. The artificial bio-world of the settlers is dark, shot in blues and greys, claustrophic, full of tunnels and pipes, hot and often steamy. With their guns pointing out in front of them, the Marines seem like penises impregnating the colony, sperm searching for alien eggs, and warriors seeking to protect imperialist interests by destroying the enemy. The portrayal of the aliens also links sexuality and war. Their unexpected and violent emergence from their victims' stomachs suggests a combined fantasy of how babies are born, invasion and occupation all at once. The incredibly rapid growth of these "babies," their tails and the sticky white secretions they leave behind suggest erections, penises and ejaculation while also inscribing right wing fears of widespread and uncontrollable popular uprisings.
As in DOWN AND OUT and ROCKY IV, domestic and foreign policy issues become tightly entwined. Once again, a Hollywood film mobilizes women, blacks, Latinos, proletarians and punks in support of colonialism and imperialism. The multi-racial mix of the Marines recalls the extended family in DOWN AND OUT and the united front of blacks and whites in ROCKY IV. Everyone functions in peak physical shape, with the exception of Burke, who looks flat-chested and thin. But as with ROCKY IV's emphasis on training and fitness, ALIENS' insistence on bodybuilding betrays the United States' anxiety that, as in Beirut and Vietnam, it will once again be caught off guard or found unprepared. Fear of contagion by AIDS-like diseases replaces fear of aging or weakness, perhaps because ALIENS deals with colonialism (Kopkind). As Edward Said notes, the association of the colonial other with disease, insanity and sexuality typifies colonial discourse.
As in other New Cold War films, the film invokes the iconography of yuppie and punk subcultures to create a world of clear-cut binary oppositions. But while in ROCKY IV "yuppie" signified weakness to overcome, here it signifies cowardice and treachery to wipe out. Burke, the yuppie, becomes the depository of the negative characteristics of U.S. imperialism, much as Drago and Ludmilla, the punks, do in ROCKY IV. In ALIENS the underlying binary structures simply become reversed. The film valorizes punks; here, the Marines, not the Russians, sport spike haircuts, chains and black fingerless gloves.
Lighting, camera angle and movement, editing, music and ambient sound all encourage and reinforce jingoist audience identification with Ripley and the Marines as good Americans. Flares and napalm blasts provide bursts of white, while reds and blues flood the screen during moments of crisis. Low angle shots, a constantly moving camera and rapid editing leave little time for thought. As in THE TERMINATOR, Cameron's first film, another ominous surprise awaits just around the corner. Drums, gunfire, explosions, screams and yells echo, conveying a sense of urgency and danger.
Allusions to other war films and references to U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and Cambodia, absent from ALIEN, permeate ALIENS. A scene reminiscent of THE DEER HUNTER (Cimino: 1978) evokes the U.S. soldiers' boredom and jaded search for thrills in Vietnam. For example, as lunchtime entertainment, the robot "Bishop" stabs a knife between the outstretched fingers of a Marine's hand. ALIENS' characterization of the Marines as insubordinate, combat-wise troops led by an incompetent lieutenant replays a cliché found in Vietnam war films from APOCALYPSE NOW (Coppola: 1979) to FULL METAL JACKET (Kubrick: 1987) and PLATOON (Stone: 1987). Here the lieutenant's refusal to let the Marines stalking the aliens fire because they are under a nuclear reactor recalls not only the field experiences of Marines in Vietnam but also the helplessness of the Marines in Beirut. And the hurried departure of Ripley, Newt, Hicks and Bishop in the space shuttle calls to mind the last minute airlifts from both Saigon and Phnom Penh.
ALIENS goes far beyond other, more realist, war films. Because it blends science fiction, action-adventure and horror genres, fantasies replace facts and outweigh fears. The film tells us that not only can the United States win imperialist wars but even survive nuclear ones. In this film, conventional weapons prove insufficient, as in Vietnam, but in space nuclear weapons presumably can function safely and successfully. The film conveys none of the terror of nuclear annihilation which permeated science fiction movies of the 1950s. When only Burke's voice urges restraint, to nuke or not to nuke never even becomes a question.
ALIENS' conclusion, like that of countless other New Cold War films, evades facing societal and political problems by apparently returning to traditional values. "I like to think the real message [of ALIENS] is love," Sigourney Weaver has said (Schickel, July 28, 1986). The film's final sequence recalls those of DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS and ROCKY IV. Ripley tucks Newt into her sleeping pod, and assures the girl that at last it's, "safe to dream." Their mother/daughter relationship ensures imperialism's continuation, just as the father/son relationship does in ROCKY IV. To depict Ripley as nurturer justifies and masks the film's violence and promotes a New Cold War characterization of U.S. foreign policy as defensive, not aggressive.
Contradictions inevitably remain. In many ways they become heightened because, unlike ROCKY IV or DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, ALIENS takes the economic and political gains of an oppositional movement — the women's movement — as its raison d'etre. The portrayal of Ripley and Vasquez as strong, independent, likeable women warriors threatens the patriarchal values on which New Cold War ideology relies even as the film collapses feminism into imperialism. ALIENS does use many stereotypical images of women as mothers, daughters, bitches and bull dykes. But for all its fondness for convention, it acknowledges that motherhood has changed, and that women's identities and roles have multiplied. In this film as in society, victory in Vietnam is patently a fiction; single, working women are demonstrably a fact. The dread and the desires attaching to women and to war operate here on different registers. ALIENS' mass appeal — and its subversive potential — lie in the gaps and bridges it creates and negotiates between the two levels.
Because they belong to different genres, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, ROCKY IV and ALIENS seem to address different questions and to work in different ways. Closer examination reveals the films have much in common. All three employ, promote, dilute and dissolve a New Cold War ideology specific to the United States of the late 70s to late 80s, an ideology absent from the original film or the preceding films in the series. All three replace the political with the personal, rewrite economic concerns as sexual problems, and end by returning to tradition. Drawing on earlier romance and success myths, all three films disguise military aggression as nurturance and love, even as they dramatize the need for domestic unity in the face of external threat.
But the fact that these films promote nationalism, patriarchy and imperialism ultimately means less than their obsessive organization of current fears and fantasies surrounding sexual, racial, subcultural and class difference. Contradictions constantly emerge which point up ambivalences in New Cold War ideology itself, perched precariously as it is between conservativism and liberalism, the old and the new. Because the films attempt not only to address but also to entertain a variety of subgroups and subcultures in their intended audience, they undercut and extend rightwing ideology. In particular, the films incorporate references to oppositional movements of the 1960s, 70s and 80s and construct alternative points of identification. When DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, ROCKY IV, ALIENS and films like them include blacks, gays, lesbians, punks, Mexicans, Japanese, and other subgroups within the traditional nuclear family, when they promote working mothers as single heads of household, and acknowledge or even excuse male insecurities, they dilute and occasionally undermine the purity of New Cold War rhetoric.
The very effort these films make to transcribe and channel current social contexts so as to ensure a unified audience response betrays the existence of multiple audience responses, and hints at the continuing appeal of progressive political movements. In the final analysis, the mixed ideological messages and confused styles of address characteristic of DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, ROCKY IV and ALIENS demonstrate that subgroups and subcultures have become more, not less important in today's film audiences and in society as a whole. There are several "correct" responses to these films, and these responses are anticipated by the film text and in excesses that point beyond the text.
These films do not merely bracket reality by solipsistically referring to themselves and other media products, as Andrew Britton argues. They do not merely construct entertainment as separate from and in opposition to life. Bntton's concentration on the film texts he analyzes works against his exploring how audiences use these texts, and his methodology blinds him to the contradictions contained within the films. Looked at from the point of view of the audience, the very category "entertainment" proves more complicated than critics usually acknowledge. Since individual audience members have different relations to labor, gender, sexuality, race and subcultures, viewers also have different relations to, expectations of, and uses for entertainment. As Gina Marchetti argues with reference to the functioning of class and ideology in THE A-TEAM, popular films like these address, subsume and reconcile audience differences in order to make money, yet the contradictions they raise cannot be completely contained. Rather than emphasize, as Britton does, the monolithic pervasiveness of "Reaganite" or New Cold War ideology in today's film texts, we should, to quote James Collins,
Marxist and feminist mass media critics face a difficult task. How do we map the intersections, overlays and divergences among mass culture, dominant ideologies, representation and history, while neither denying nor oversimplifying the category of the subject? I would maintain it is too soon to characterize and categorize the relations between today's popular films and society as fixed, or to view a priori any form of popular culture as "bad" and manipulative. To do so means ignoring points of opposition and vulnerability which inevitably exist within, and despite, dominant discourses. Instead, as Dana Polan suggests, we should engage in an ongoing analysis which studies individual texts within their larger intertextuality, and within the overall operations of capitalism today. In this spirit I have analyzed New Cold War ideology in DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, ROCKY IV and ALIENS. I secretly hope, of course, that in sequels and remakes to come, aliens will populate Beverly Hills and cheer as Ripley razes Rocky.
Notes and bibliography continued on page 2