During World War II, the United States and the German governments used documentaries to support their cause. The United States used films by Frank Capra, including Why We Fight (1943), which told soldiers who were sent off to war why they were going. In Europe, they would be fighting for freedom against dictatorships. Similarly, Hitler produced Triumph de Willens (1934), which demonstrates how the Nazi regime gained popularity in Germany.
During World War II, the United States was fighting a war overseas. Most Americans had few personal connections to the war they were fighting. Capra’s films educated soldiers and taught them about what they would be fighting for. Hitler’s “documentaries” essentially served the same purpose.
Today, we are fighting a very different war. We are not entering a foreign land to fight in the name of freedom, but rather this time we are fighting for our own freedom. Everyone has seen the twin towers; many people at Cornell have been personally affected in some way by the September 11 bombings. Anthrax is infiltrating mail to the offices of our government and news media. We have all lost some sense of personal safety. To some extent, we are all already victims of the war.
This time, the war has come to us. Even the pacifists are left without a choice: we must fight back. For this reason, it seems absurd that, according to a New York Times article last Saturday, Hollywood wants to play a role in this war. Looking back to World War II as a model, they want to incorporate antiterrorism themes into television shows and movies and make documentaries about newly urgent matters like the threat of Anthrax.
By merely watching only a moderate amount of television and glancing at newspaper headlines lately, one has to ask — is this really necessary? Most Americans are against terrorism, and those that aren’t are terrorists. For the Americans that are already against terrorism, these television shows and movies are probably not going to make them more antiterrorist than they already are. And as for the covert terrorists that do exist among us, if they are connected with the Taliban, it is against their beliefs to view Western entertainment.
Furthermore, I don’t think that there is anyone in the United States right now who needs to be warned about the threat of Anthrax. I think Hollywood could better use its power to replace the mint candy samples distributed at movie theatres across the country with mild sedatives to calm the already super-paranoid population.
Our environment is already saturated with information about terrorism, its threats and its realities, and about the bombings in Afghanistan. What Americans need right now is not for these topics to infiltrate our television shows and our movies — which are possibly our only refuge lately. We need to be able to escape to places like Smallville, and into the lives of strange characters like Derek Zoolander, where reality is different and the threats posed by the super villains are not real. What Americans need is not for Hollywood to teach us about what we already know. Instead, we need Hollywood to take us away from the not-so-super reality with which we have become all too familiar.
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