In the April issue of Atlantic Monthly (not yet available online), Ross Douthat has a smart, provocative (and at times disturbing) essay about Hollywood’s recent response to 9/11 and the Iraq War. Many conservatives, such as Peggy Noonan, hoped for a new, steely seriousness, a return to manly Cold War values. It didn’t turn out that way — certainly not with Pirates of the Caribbean becoming the big, new global franchise.
But it wasn’t just the reassertion of America’s usual frivolity that caused the 9/11 moment to be stillborn; it was the swiftness with which the Iraq War replaced the fall of the Twin Towers as this decade’s cultural touchstone. It’s Halliburnton, Abu Ghraib and the missing WMDs that have summoned up a cultural moment…. Conservatives such as Noonan hoped that 9/11 would bring back the best of the 1940s and 1950s, playing Pearl Harbor to a new era of patriotism and solidarity. Many on the left feared that it would restore the worst of the same era, returning us to the shackles of censorship and conformism, jingoism and Joe McCarthy. But as far as Hollywood is concerned, another decade entirely seemed to have slouched round again: the paranoid, cynical, end-of-empire 1970s.
We expected John Wayne; we got Jason Bourne.