As he wrote in the 1998 book Stolen Valor, (excerpted here) in the 1980s and ’90s, former Vietnam war vet B.G. Burkett spent years and a fair amount of resources fighting the myth of the crazed Vietnam vet. In the 1970s, and early ’80s, that character was a stock figure promulgated by Hollywood in films ranging from Taxi Driver to the Deer Hunter to the first Rambo movie, and as the baddie-of-the-week in numerous TV crime dramas. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that finally, TV series such as Magnum P.I., the A-Team, and Miami Vice finally made Vietnam vets the good guys. (As Ben Shapiro writes in Primetime Propaganda, Magnum’s producer Donald P. Bellisario, a former Marine Sergeant, treated Thomas and T.C. and Rick as the equivalent of World War II vets who had simply done their tour of duty, and were now using their skills to solve crimes in Hawaii.)
Flash-forward to 2014. Jim Treacher asks — SPOILER ALERT — in Liam Neeson’s Non-Stop, “is the son of a 9/11 victim a good guy or a bad guy?” “Well, it’s Hollywood we’re talking about here,” Treacher adds. “Take a wild guess:”
So, 12 years on, it’s finally considered okay to turn a 9/11 survivor into a movie villain. A plane hijacker, no less.
I guess it was inevitable. You can’t make a Muslim the bad guy, because that’s racist. Why not make it a victim of Muslim terrorists? Who’d be expecting that? How edgy and daring. Move over, Rod Serling!
Speaking only for myself, I’d been planning to see this movie. Now I won’t. Ever.
Treacher concludes “Up yours, Universal Studio.” Their decision to sign off on this film is all the more remarkable considering that all of the ’80s crime dramas I mentioned above that helped to rehabilitate the rep of the Vietnam War veteran were produced by — you guessed it — Universal Studios.
As Turner Classic Pictures recently noted, in the 1970s, Universal was the last studio more or less making the assembly-line product of the old Hollywood Studio system. By now though, all of major studios bear the names given to them by their founders decades ago during Hollywood’s golden era, but those people shuffled off this planet long ago — along with their pro-American worldview.
Update: Of course, for next decade or so, there will always be one villain that’s acceptable to Hollywood on both the big and small screen: “NBC’s ‘Blacklist’ Photoshops Fictional Criminal Socializing With Tea Party Republicans,” including Allen West and Ted Cruz, as the line between NBC and deranged MSNBC becomes increasingly blurred.
More: From the comments section, a profile of Burkett from 2005: “Dropping the Bomb on Vietnam War Myths.”