Good sense and a dash of humility might go a long way.
The American film Maverick, the long-anticipated sequel to the 1980s classic Top Gun, is thus far the highest-grossing film of 2022. Maverick sees Tom Cruise’s titular character from the 1980s film reporting for duty yet again to defend the United States and remind the world’s moviegoers why America is a special place. This generally positive and patriotic, if not nationalistic, message propelled people to their local theaters to watch a pro-American epic.
This, during a time when America’s generally Left-leaning elites had convinced themselves (and had done everything in their power to convince us “normies”) that the United States had “moved beyond” the parochialism of petty patriotism.
In that vein, some worried that the new Tom Cruise film was too jingoistic; that it set unrealistic ideals of the US military and reinforced negative stereotypes. Others more realistically predicted that Maverick, while a raucous box office success, was not the start of a new trend of pro-American films coming our way, and instead, recognized that Maverick represented the last gasp of a dying age.
Certainly, Maverick’s themes, characters, and story resonated with viewers in ways that no Marvel superhero film could. The film also did a good job of displaying a multiethnic cast of characters who, unlike how the Left often describes them, are not hateful toward one another or constantly looking for perceived slights from their white and/or heterosexual colleagues. In essence, this over-the-top film gives one of the most accurate and fair portrayals of race relations in a professional setting in years.
Given Maverick’s success at the box office, why aren’t dozens of similar films with the same positive, patriotic themes in the pipeline today? Why is it that, at least according to filmmakers, Americans must constantly feel shame and sadness about their country and the values it stands for while other nations (save for Russia) are not held to the same exacting, unpatriotic standards?
China: Where It’s Okay to Love Your Country
It turns out that many more Maverick-like films are in the works. These films are planned to be star-studded, big-budget, high-powered, patriotic displays of national greatness that will make the hearts of all citizens who watch these films swell with pride and send an unmistakable message that the country featured in these movies is vital for the global order.
Sadly, it is not American movie studios that are making these films. And the films are not centered on giving audiences patriotic displays of American greatness. Instead, these films are being produced in China and are being made to reinforce the narrative that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has concocted about how their regime and country are the essential elements of the international system—and to remind their audiences that a grave enemy lurks just over-the-horizon: the United States and its democratic allies.
Since 2015, China’s regime has produced a bevy of action films that center on young, brave Chinese soldiers who are deployed to Africa to stop rapacious Western—American—mercenaries from destroying the benighted nations there. These Wolf Warrior films have spawned a craze in China, attracting scores of young fans, prompting studios to make even more patriotic films, and making the production companies much money. While these films are hokey, the message is clear: China’s government is the last bulwark against America and her Western allies from devouring the world in a new wave of colonialism and hyper-capitalism. Because the CCP is strong and because the regime does not believe in the values of Western civilization, it can preserve for the Chinese people their cultural identity, national greatness, and sovereignty (even as the CCP desperately seeks to crush all dissent at home and absorb their neighbors into Beijing’s growing regional empire).
The “Wolf’s Milk” of Nationalism
In 2013, the great leader of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, sat down with Harvard University’s Dr. Graham Allison to discuss the future of Asia considering China’s rise. The late, great Singaporean leader—who is beloved both in Singapore as well as in China—lamented the fact that he believed Beijing and Washington were rushing toward war (Allison believes similarly and wrote Destined for War which warns about the impending conflict). Lee warned his audience of mostly college-age Chinese students that they were the products of the untrammeled prosperity that came in the aftermath of Beijing’s decision to open itself up to trade with the West.
The young people of China, therefore, did not grow up in the impoverished and oppressive way that their elders had under Mao during the Cultural Revolution. Singapore’s legendary former prime minister worried that having grown up with such prosperity, never having known the pain that their parents and grandparents had experienced, China’s youth were raised on the “wolf’s milk” of CCP-style nationalism that would make China prone to national arrogance as the years wore on.
China’s growing number of “patriotic” films reflect a newfound sense of cultural confidence—arrogance—of the kind that Lee and others feared was arising in China over a decade ago. Interestingly, with the rare exception of Maverick, most American films today are not only devoid of any semblance of patriotism, but they’re downright hostile to the very notion of pride in ourselves.
America in 2020 (and Beyond)
As a Chinese acquaintance once said to me about the “wokeness” raging across America today, “We already had our Cultural Revolution [in China]. It did not end well for us. It will not end any better for you.”
He was right. There’s been a marked uptick in those who believe we are likelier to be in a civil war over the next decade (40%) than we are to return Americans to the moon. Half of the country’s voters—especially our young people—are conditioned by the media, our educational system, and even some politicians to loathe America’s founding and our Founders as little more than a bunch of angry, tax-avoiding, white men who wanted to keep slaves rather than men who believed rebellion to tyrants was obedience to God (and let’s not even dare to mention God, or at least the Christian God, in public anymore!)
Our nation is not only more divided, but also lost and confused. Unable to look to our history as a guide for our future and unsure of what else to look for, Americans have become depressed, angry, and unwilling to differentiate between friend and foe.
Our pop culture is a great example of this.
While I am not in favor of making propaganda-as-entertainment as most authoritarian states do, the success of Maverick clearly indicates that most Americans, understandably, do not want to walk around with the feeling of abject shame hanging around their necks for simply having been born here. In China, the regime can send you to a labor prison camp, harvest your organs, then sell them on the black market, and destroy your family—all because you may have dared to utter a critical word about the regime. Yet, most Chinese citizens are more confident and loving of their nation and heritage today than most Americans are!
In fact, most Hollywood studios have been corrupted by easy access to gobs of Chinese money that they refuse to make more films promoting uniquely American ideals. These studios have been so thoroughly corrupted that they even refuse to employ actors, such as Richard Gere, who have made negative public comments about the brutality of the CCP toward their own people.
From Soft Power to Just Soft
It used to be that America’s pop culture was a potent weapon in our arsenal of soft power. American pop culture served as a universal entry point for winning the hearts and minds of people in the countries ruled by regimes inimical to the United States. American movies, for example, during the Cold War were so ubiquitous that the best the Soviets could do was to try to emulate these uniquely American forms of storytelling (and rarely did Soviet films ever rise to the potency of even the cheesiest American film).
Enemy regimes may have been able to lock the American government or even US-based businesses out of their countries but try to hold back the allure of American film and pop culture indefinitely and you’d have a better chance at growing wings and flying. With the embrace of nihilism and self-loathing, though, American movie studios have ensured that our pop culture is no longer an essential weapon in our arsenal of soft power.
How can a people whose elites are doing everything in their power to condition them to hate themselves and their country’s history ever be expected to compete and defeat more confident nations, like autocratic China?
The success of Maverick is proof that if Hollywood desires to become truly prosperous both at home and abroad the way it was during the heady days of the Cold War, the time is now to abandon the Left’s self-hatred and restore some American pride. If patriotism and self-respect weren’t the pathways to success in international filmmaking, China wouldn’t be doing its own versions.
Pride may go before the fall, but self-loathing assures our collapse.