Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ronald Reagan and The Day the Earth Stood Still

The 1951 production of The Day the Earth Stood Still made an impact on Ronald Reagan according to Robert Toplin:
Ronald Reagan, an avid fan of movies and sci-fi flicks in particular, liked the film’s suggestion that an outside threat could inspire leaders of the world’s nations to put aside their differences and band together in a common cause for security and peace.

Reagan actually would reference the movie in political situations:
In his second term in the White House, when Reagan began moving away from bellicosity and toward negotiations with the Russians, he referenced the message of Blaustein’s movie in diplomatic discussions. In his first face-to-face meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev at Geneva in 1985 the President expressed confidence that the Americans and Soviets would cooperate if they were threatened by aliens from outer space. After the meeting, Reagan returned to the U.S, where he repeated the idea in a speech to high school students in Maryland. As biographer Lou Cannon points out, later Reagan inserted a reference to the idea in a 1987 address to the United Nations. The President knew that some of his advisers disapproved of the example, but he sensed that the story provided a simple and memorable way to express hope for understanding among the superpowers. He applied the movie’s example to real-life problems, saying, “I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?”

Several key figures on the Reagan team were uncomfortable with the President’s frequent references to The Day the Earth Stood Still. National Security Adviser, Colin Powell reportedly rolled his eyes when he heard several comments about the movie, dismissing Reagan’s interest as an obsession with “little green men.” Secretary of State George Schultz thought the President’s references to the Hollywood film were na├»ve. When news about Reagan’s fascination with a science fiction movie came to light in the 1980s, a Washington Post writer sarcastically headlined his column, “Jumping Jupiter! Reagan and the Space-Invader Hypothesis.”

Journalists and historians often raise questions about Reagan’s efforts to draw political messages from Hollywood productions, noting that the President frequently confused fantasy with reality. They point out that Reagan sometimes assumed an event in a movie occurred in real life, as when he told attendees at a Congressional Medal of Honor Society meeting about a commander of a B-17 bomber in World War II who chose to go down with his crewmen rather than bail out. Reagan evidently got the idea from a Hollywood production, A Wing and a Prayer, or from a Reader’s Digest article.

While, as Toplin points out, not all of Reagan’s comparsion were spectular, but some they really made an impact:
Sometimes the President’s comments about movies were superficial or mistaken, but at other times they were pertinent and insightful. In those better moments of drawing lessons from cinema, Reagan exhibited a modern approach to popular culture that some of his detractors failed to appreciate. Those critics preferred references to ideas in print; they looked suspiciously on examples drawn from Hollywood pictures. Reagan, who spent much of his life in Hollywood, believed cinema could do more than just entertain. He cited examples from the movies as useful points-of-reference for thinking about life and making judgments about social and political questions. In our time lots of Americans are comfortable with Reagan’s approach to film.

1 comment:

M said...

My respect for President Reagan grows. I love this movie. The new version of it is not good though.