The National Review goes near apoplectic over a remake of B-movie quasipolitical thriller Red Dawn that excludes China, the remake’s originally included villain, substituting North Korea.
[Red Dawn] was an overwrought action flick/melodrama, to be sure, but it was also a cultural marker: the age of détente was over, and the age of Reagan had arrived in full.
Hahahaha. Really? Anyways, moving along:
By contrast, the long-stalled remake has become a sick joke. To wit: MGM has taken the extraordinary step of digitally scrubbing the film of all references to Red China as the invading villains — substituting dialogue, removing images of Chinese flags and insignia etc. — because “potential distributors are nervous about becoming associated with the finished film, concerned that doing so would harm their ability to do business with the rising Asian superpower.” All without the PRC even uttering a single word of protest.
I’m less concerned with this appalling attempt at right-wing literary criticism than interested in what it says about the use of analogies, parables, and allegories in storytelling. NRO expects that the allegory absolutely must hit you over the head, or fail. This all seems contrary to the legacy of George Orwell, who wrote two of the most blistering anti-Stalin novels without ever using the word “Russia” or the name “Stalin.” 1984 lacks none of its moral force for being set in Orwell’s positively democratic home country of England, nor does Animal Farm suffer for taking place on, uh, a farm.
To the contrary, the more notable purely “conservative” allegories make no real attempt to mask message with story, assuming the reader must feel led to be led. On concluding the first of the Chronicles of Narnia, you’d have to be, well, reading a different book to not realize, “oh, the Lion is Christ.” From the sacrifice scene, the hook is clearly in your mouth, and you can’t help but feel it. Same (but worse) goes for Atlas Shrugged, which actually does devolve into a lecture by the end. Maybe it was never intended to be read as pure fiction… but I wonder if that wouldn’t have been a superior delivery mechanism.
Better the story that lets the reader draw his own conclusions, with the lesson, by allegory or otherwise, lurking in the background. Huck Finn‘s commentary on the American South and race relations generally hits harder for not trying. Roddenberry’s liberal utopia in Star Trek: the Next Generation unfolds seamlessly over the course of the show’s run without Picard, like Galt, setting out the author’s moral theory, point by point. Plutarch, who does state the moral lesson he wants you to draw, manages art by at least hiding the lesson in history.
This is preferable for the reader, per Tolkien:
I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presences. I much prefer history, true or feigned. … I think many confuse “applicability” with “allegory”; but the one resides to the freedom of the reader, and the other in the proposed domination of the author.
And more effective, even, if the author’s goal is to teach a lesson. If the reader can draw his own conclusions, they’re all the stronger for it (think Inception).
Similarly, if the new Red Dawn is intended to be a rallying cry against global communism, surely the viewer can be trusted to jump from “North Korea” to its more dangerous neighbor. And if he can’t, is the fictional exercise really worth the effort?
I have to close by disputing the premise. Did anyone actually walk away from Red Dawn with the urgent feeling of, “oh, Jesus, someone’s got to stop Russia”? Am I alone in thinking that was just… not the point? Similarly, one can conclude Fallout 3, an acclaimed roleplaying game set in Washington, D.C. 150 years after its nuclear devastation at the hands of a resurgent Chinese Empire, without feeling any hostility to China as it exists today. On the other hand, you do walk away from it with some strong feelings on mutated scorpions, and on nuclear war (“War? War never changes.”). Clear fiction, when not intended to carry a particular message, rarely does.