Red Dawn, The Ultimate Red Scare Propaganda Film



Before I start I would just like it to be known that I am talking about the original 1984 version of this film. The remake is really, really bad so avoid it at all costs! Trust me, I’m doing you a favor by telling you not to watch it.

Awww…the 1980’s, the decade of bad perms and Ronald Reagan. I was a teen during that time and Reagan would go on and on all the time about how the Soviet Union was the ‘evil empire’ and how we should all be afraid of them and want them dead at the same time. A lot of Americans totally drank the Kool-Aid and hated them. The Cold War had been escalating for close to 40 years and Reagan elevated the anti-Soviet rhetoric to such a level that we came damn close to being totally annihilated. All in all it was a really tense time to be alive. The nuclear disaster TV films The Day After and Threads both came out during this time and if you haven’t watched them go seek them out because they have totally different takes as to what would happen after a nuclear war.

Red Dawn is a product of its time and one of those kind of films that I can watch again and again and have fun doing so. Why? Because it is obviously a ‘red scare’ film. Lots of ‘red scare’ films had been made leading up to this but this particular one makes no bones about it. The story is simple, the Soviet Union, with the help of Cuba, invades the middle of the US and a group of teenagers become guerrilla fighters in order to stop them. Yep, that’s it. The entire film has a vibe that is supposed to make you feel proud of being an American, but it doesn’t really affect me in that way. Rather, I see it as a milestone in American propaganda. It’s a piece of cinema history that perfectly shows the brainwashing that was going on in America during the time.

John Milius

John Milius

Red Dawn was written and directed By John Milius, the man who directed the original Conan The Barbarian. He is well-known for having right-wing beliefs and is believed by many, according to a documentary about him that I have seen, to have purposely pissed of Hollywood in general just so that he could. Seriously, this man is a contradiction in terms. On the one hand he is a really good filmmaker when given the chance, but on the other hand he wants to rebel against the Hollywood system that enables him to make films. This film pretty much ruined his career because it is so right-wing that those who hated Reagan, a lot of Hollywood, didn’t want to work with him any longer. He mostly wrote for TV after this, including creating the series Rome. See, I told you he’s good! I’m as liberal as they come but I can appreciate a good filmmaker, no matter what their personal politics are.

There is no doubt that the ideas that Red Dawn contain now look dated, but there is still a huge amount of American exceptionalism that poisons the ability of the American government to see the forest through the trees. The idea that America is all-powerful, and that all other forms of government are obsolete has never truly died away. Sure, more people are awake now compared to the 1980’s, but when you grow up American you are taught from a very young age that you live in a special place and that you have to protect it at all costs. I feel that’s why Red Dawn works so well, it shows teenagers taking that idea to heart and protecting their country against invaders.

In the future I think that Red Dawn will be looked at as a time capsule of the prevailing attitude of America during the 1980’s towards the Soviet Union, and how propaganda was used to try to cement those ideas into the minds of the American film going audience.

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