In my current list obsessed state, I’ve been working through the NFR list at a furious pace (I’m up to about 360 of the 500), which lead me to watch a couple of WWII documentaries filmed by Hollywood directors (William Wyler and George Stevens respectively) aimed at helping the war effort.
I’m very much intrigued by the relationship between Hollywood and WWII, as there was virtually universal support by Hollywood of the war effort, with various directors and actors enlisting (James Stewart, George Stevens, William Wyler among many others) and many actresses getting involved in humanitarian efforts (Myrna Loy), selling war bonds (Carole Lombard), or simply by being dutiful wives living in humble army accomodations (Gene Tierney). This in addition to the wealth of war pictures made during the period…all of which seemed to aimed at villifying the heinies and glamorizing the allies.
I’m struck by the contrast between that era and modern times…where U.S. involvement in war is marked by public dissent, political strife, and an almost universal opposition by those in the arts and in Hollywood. Furthermore the art created about war during these times is always critical, cynical, or satirical. No one makes good ol’ fashioned propaganda no more.
I’ve been wondering about what caused such a radical shift in ideology among the arts community…from united support to dissidence. Obviously the calamities of Vietnam and the radicalism of the 1960’s did a great deal to undermine the sense of patriotic fervor regarding the war. Interestingly in stark contrast to WWII, Hollywood generally avoided making pictures that dealt with the Vietnam war effort. John Wayne‘s ridiculously patriotic “The Green Beret” was one of the few films of the era to depict the American involvement in Vietnam, and was met with general disdain upon its release. The younger generation was not interesting in mythmaking about the war.
I think the dissolving of the studio system in the early 1950’s also did a great deal to shift Hollywood’s war ideology. With actors, directors, producers, and writers no longer bound to a singular studio, it became much more difficult to present a cohesive ideology in the movie industry. More daring films could be made, and the talent wasn’t obligated to toe the line for fear of reprisal.
I realize I’m overly sentimental and nostalgiac in writing what I’m about to write, and the fact that I didn’t live during WWII means I can only see it through rose-colored glasses, but a big part of me wishes we could go back to that time again. Reading various accounts of Hollywood folk from the era, I’m struck by the level of cohesion there was amongst the movie industry, the media, and even the general public. The sense was that the war was worth fighting, that licking those japs, or kicking those krauts…or even “sinking the japanazis(!)” was a goal that everyone could get behind. It was good vs. evil. I’m in awe of the idea of unity and teamwork and of a supportive homefront. I like the idea that it was honorable and right to serve your country dutifully, knowing full well the risks. Jimmy Stewart enlisted, ditto Ted Williams, and neither were given cushy promo gigs, they both fought admirably in real battles. They gave up highly paid, highly publicized jobs in order to serve. That strikes me as rather heroic.
I’m aware that the homefront wasn’t as unified as I imagine. I know that the U.S. didn’t enter the war for 2 years and that there was a huge support for maintain an isolationist policy…that American involvement in the war was purely out of self-interest. I know that anti-semitism was still going on in America, even as it was being fought against overseas. I know there were the Zoot Suit Riots, and segregation both at home and in the service. I know there was sexism and opposition to women in the workplace. I know that there were Japanese internment camps and anti-German sentiment. I get all that.
But I want to believe in the myth that people at one point worked together, that fighting for your country didn’t make you a murderer or a baby-killer, I want to believe in John Wayne and unity. I want to believe things were simpler once upon a time. I want to believe in America (I’m Canadian by the way).