Do Hollywood Portrayals of Veterans Matter?

By Hamilton, John E. | VFW Magazine, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Do Hollywood Portrayals of Veterans Matter?


Hamilton, John E., VFW Magazine


Yes, they most certainly do. Unfortunately, veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq might have their images shaped largely by Tinseltown.

As the two-part VFW magazine series Veterans on Film clearly shows, story lines and characters greatly impact societal perceptions of veterans. This has been the case since the very founding of VFW when movies about the SpanishAmerican War emerged.

It was not until the Korean and Vietnam wars, however, that cinematic portrayals became consistently negative. Post-Vietnam during the 1970s and well into the 1990s was the absolute nadir.

Vietnam vet Michael Lee Lanning in his landmark 1994 Vietnam at the Movies, wrote: "The overwhelming majority of those to whom Tve spoken admit that the major influence on their perceptions of the Vietnam War has been Hollywood's motion pictures. ..Vietnam War films are an insult to veterans and moviegoers...They systematically vilify the warrior."

There has been an outstanding exception or two to this rule, but Lanning's conclusion still holds true today.

Sadly, things have remained unchanged in this regard. "The crazed war vet was a staple of American popular culture during and after Vietnam- the trained killer returned home to sow domestic discord and wreak personal vengeance," John Podhoretz wrote in the Aug. 7, 2012, New York Post. "Episodes of TV shows and movies made vivid and shameful uses of this trope. These cultural portrayals, rebroadcast endlessly on TV, have created an impression stuck in the national consciousness.

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