‘Top Gun : Maverick’ — Not Feelin’ It
After two decades of unsuccessful wars it is hard to believe that this entertaining, entertaining commercial for
has any effect.
Just got back from watching the new Top Gun movie. This movie has been around for some time and it is still a huge hit. The movie was exactly what I had hoped for: it was about Tom Cruise and men as well as technology. The movie ended with a bang, despite some amazing air flight scenes and air combat scenes. As I walked back to my house, I attempted to find out the reason.
The first Top Gun film came out in 1986, when the US was in full flush of the Reagan-era patriotic revival. We were still involved in the Cold War but Gorbachev was on the scene and it seemed like we would win. The American feeling of confident was hard to describe. This confidence was best expressed by hallowing military personnel. It had to do with overcoming the demons that came from our Vietnam defeat and the Iran crisis. Tom Cruise was 24 years old in 1986; he was the face of America’s brash new sense of itself.
Tom Cruise is 60 today. True, he looks damn good for 60, but he is still puffy and soft around the edges, and doesn’t have the swagger he used to have. He looks a lot like America, you know. This is why I believe the new Top Gun looks so dull. Given the events and wars of the last twenty years, it’s difficult to connect with. Perhaps it is just me but tonight, as I sat in the cinema, the film was enjoyable on a superficial level. However, it made it clear that I am no longer an audience member for the shallow, shiny war movie.
The lessons of Andrew Bacevich’s 2005 book The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War have sunk in. This graf is from the book and discusses the effects of the first Top Gun
“Sans messy ambiguities.” In this new film, US Navy pilots are on a mission in which they attempt to eliminate a nuclear weapon facility located in unnamed countries whose nuclear program is threatening “our allies” in the region. Although you may be thinking of Iran, the actual battlefield is in Alpine. This war film is designed to please no one. It seems to be a nostalgic exercise, trying desperately to recreate the Reagan-era magic.
On my walk back, I realized why the movie bothered me. It was the Bacevich Point, which explains how films like these made Americans more inclined to support war. Here is a transcript of the retired US Army colonel, historian, and sometimes TAC contributor, talking about his book the year it came out:
In my new book I argue that, just like the domestic policy component, the foreign policy components of the cocktail were there before 9/11 occurred, particularly the infatuation with military power and the belief in the American mission. The former is not new. The American colonies have a sense of mission. American leaders have referred to John Winthrop’s sermon “City on the Hill” over and over, in order to show that they are a special country. There have been two main ideas throughout American history about how to accomplish this mission. The first is to be an example of God-fearing communities, using the language used by the founders (or Ronald Reagan and Woodrow Wilson) to describe a democracy. The other camp believes that America should assert its presence in the world by aggressively pursuing its mission–made most explicit in Woodrow Wilson’s famous line about making the world “safe for democracy. “
What is new today is the other component of the cocktail, a confidence that the American mastery of warfare now puts us in a position as never before, to aggressively pursue our mission in the world. After 9/11, President Bush clearly articulated that proposition in vowing to make an end to evil. If we were not already predisposed to believe military power was our strongest suit, he could have failed to convince the American public of the possibility.
More on “the new aesthetics of war”, as Bacevich calls it:
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… The film Top Gun was the number one hit the year it came out (1986). Contrary to Vietnam movies, which showed the filthy and exhausted side of war, Top Gun presented a portrait of attractive pilots wearing starched white uniforms. It was a departure from American culture’s traditional view of war, which had been dominated by the dangers of military combat. According to Top Gun, war can be clean, high tech, and glamorous–an image reinforced in Tom Clancy’s books.
American pop culture created expectations of what war would look like. This made it more appealing to Americans to engage in military conflict. The reporting about the Kosovo War was all about pilots and the glamour side. This almost made war appear to be an antiseptic enterprise. It was very misleading. As we saw in Iraq, war can be messy and unpleasant.
He is right. It’s something I still remember. It’s not the fault of Tom Cruise that George W. Bush started the terrible Iraq War. But movies such as these helped to convince us that war was something else. After all the military disasters over the last twenty years, it’s not something I want to buy. This time, not this. Clearly I’m in a minority here, as Top Gun: Maverick has just become one of the top ten highest grossing movies in US history.