Inevitably Forgotten

        In Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street, the 1980s as a decade is portrayed as a negative and destructive time. These texts are completely different in style, audience, and execution; and yet they still give the same message and ask the same questions. There is always a darkness; and no man is safe from its temptation, especially in the pursuit of happiness. The question, “Is man inherently evil, or is man inherently good and his situations make him choose evil?” is asked and is a constant struggle throughout both texts and through the 1980s as a decade.

            During the 1980s the people of the United States were dealing with the aftermath of scandals, new ideals becoming more politically known, and the beginning of an era with a better, soon to be booming, economy. With these events being portrayed in the media and seeping into everyday life, the questions must be asked about the character a man or woman has and what that means for society.

            In Miller’s Batman, the tone overall is the dark and repressed anger coming from Bruce Wayne. He has hung up the cape and has been retired for ten years yet yearns for his younger days when he was fighting crime in Gotham. The reader witnesses various types of crimes being committed, but also follows with how the media portrays these crimes, if Batman is a hero or menace, and the “perfected psychopaths” created by their removal of society. While the theft, murder, and torture are crucial to the story, the media takes the stage when asking about the character of humanity. The news channel tries to tell the facts but ends up making a humorous spectacle of themselves and a menace out of Batman.[1] Talk shows pit people against each other trying to use science and psychology to provide evidence to their opinions but end up sounding ignorant, naïve, and ill trained.[2] A prime example is that of Harvey Dent, whose super villain alter ego is Two-Face. Dent is finally released from the psychiatric hospital once his face has been corrected with plastic surgery. His plastic surgeon and his psychiatrist both claim that Dent is ready to enter normal civilian society and should not be feared but instead should be welcomed with open arms. Not even a week later, Dent is missing and it soon becomes apparent that he is behind a major plot of theft and murder, essentially back to his old habits.[3]

            Dent was a product of his previous circumstances before the psychiatric ward as well as a product of the hospital itself. His psychiatrist and his plastic surgeon claim that he is rehabilitated because his outward appearance has been altered to its original state. However, being in a psychiatric hospital obviously entrenched Dent to fully become his Two-Face persona. The Joker has the same story, being locked up in the hospital and hearing the jabs and jokes about his demeanor could arguably have caused him to fall far past a place of rehabilitation.

            Wall Street’s Buddy Fox is another prime example of situational “evil” versus the predestined evil. Buddy starts off as a hardworking man and a respectful son of his father and his father’s lifestyle.[4] His family does not have much money, and while he does dream of making money, he is pushed to make drastic choices when he begins to owe money to his boss because his job is lacking. As the story progresses viewers see the anger, fear, and need for importance grow in Buddy’s character; similar to Batman in the Miller version. Buddy falls in line with the “greed is good” argument that Gekko makes in the movie, thinking that once he has more money he will be able to have the life he desires. His placement and his experiences with people like that of Gordan Gekko seep into his life and personality making him desire more. The people of the 1980s are consumed with consumerism and a desire to be heard, needed, or irreplaceable. These desires are found and explicitly rejected in both Wall Street and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

            The 1980s is reflected as a loud consuming culture especially between these two texts. Batman desires to be needed and useful; he wants to help because in his eyes he will be happy like he was in his romanticized past. Buddy wants to make money to help his family’s business, have a better house, and get the girl he feels he deserves. All these desires and long search’s happen for each character’s pursuit of personal happiness.

            This pursuit of happiness brings both characters to a place of darkness. Wayne becomes the Batman once again and Buddy partakes in insider-trading. Both become self-destructive behaviors that are helpful at first, but then bring a realization of sadness. Buddy and Bruce realize that not only was the pursuit in vain, but they are tragically replaceable. Needed and even desired for but a moment and then tragically forgotten and dismissed.

            The loud art, media, and politics of the 1980s brought about the desire for more and more. Whether that be in consumable goods, recognition, or moral obligation, the message is clear in Batman and Wall Street. More is better, and “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” The question should then be changed from “is man evil or good?” to that of “Is the pursuit of happiness worth it and does it really matter in the long run?” According to these texts that answer is “no”, the pursuit of what people believe to be happiness is not worth the darkness. All winning streaks end, the hero grows older, and people forget the rich in a matter of minutes. This makes the loudest and supposedly most memorable era in the twentieth century the culprit of a generation of individuals who had no choice but to be forgotten.

Click on the picture for “Greed is Good” :


Not All Fiction

The Things They Carried By: Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried
By: Tim O’Brien

Wars have been fought, men and women have served, and there have been those on both sides of those who support war and those who are against war. When reading about this great country, there seems to be the reoccurring theme of war itself that is found on many pages of American History books.  Reading about these wars tends to bring up the undeniable feelings of patriotism, nationalism, and at times even ethnocentrism being that the United States of America always seems to be on the victorious side of these wars. Even if the United States is not wholly on winning side, for example the United States Civil War, there are always morals that can be gleaned from such events. The Vietnam War, however, does not bring such warm feelings when discussed, making it one of the most difficult wars to research or try to understand.

            The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indo-China War, is relatively newer in terms of United States history and is somewhat difficult for historians to study how and what Americans understood about the war. This occurs for many reasons, one being that the war does not having enough of a time or generational gap between the events and the present time to form objective ideas or opinions about the events, experiences, and responses that transpired. While this can be seen as negative in many respects, this argument can also be used for the good of studying the infamous war as well as other events. The 1960s are just far enough away in the past to have the generation of who fought in or protested the war share its varied experiences on the war. This is seen with both the movie Full Metal Jacket and the novel The Things They Carried. While both sources are fictional, they can be used by historians to gain insight into the thoughts, emotions, and realities surrounding the men who went to fight overseas as well as the overall American viewpoint on the experience of the Vietnam War.

            Opening the first scenes in the painful and seemingly insanely difficult training camp, viewers are shown how the military pushed young men to become “cold, hard killing machines[1]”. While this seems to be expected or even needed to create Marines in the beginning of the film, the audience begins to realize that there are many issues overlooked with the men. There is an obvious lack of physical testing for medical issues before admittance into the Marines, as well as mental illness that is overlooked. One of the men who has a mental issue is pushed past the tipping point during his training and becomes obsessed with his rifle, of which he is taught that he cannot be a Marine without. On the day of his graduation from training, this man takes action by killing his Sergeant and himself. This is a horrifying demonstration to historians that while it is fictional, the realities of the lack of knowledge or care about the need for healthy men both physically and mentally was portrayed to Americans during training for battle. This already shows a seeming of foreshadowing of the later issues to follow in the Vietnam War dealing with mental illness during and after the stent overseas.

While historians and audiences both have the ability to view the nature of the inability to screen soldiers and the perceived toll it played on individuals and groups of men fighting together, books seem to have a way of giving an inside look at a particular person. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, gives a brilliantly open example of the authentic feelings of a group of men in the same platoon in Vietnam. His stories are all fiction, but being a Vietnam veteran himself, he pulls pieces of truth into each of his tales as he describes the turmoil of the men. He tells the descriptive tale of the internal struggle of deciding to go with the draft instead of running away to freedom. He tells of fear that takes different forms. O’Brien tells of the “moral freeze” how he “couldn’t decide, [he] couldn’t act, [he] couldn’t comport [himself] with even a pretense of modest human dignity”[2] when given the opportunity to run away to Canada. He gives readers a glimpse into the fear of war itself and the possibility of death awaiting him. Almost more importantly, O’Brien also shows the fear of embarrassment. He is afraid to run from the draft to Canada because of the dishonor that his action would bestow upon himself and his family. This fear tells historians about the conflict between doing what a person had thought to be right and what American society had expected of him. This shows how much the writer’s experience with society played a role in his version of viewing the war itself. The action of running from the draft and not going to fight was considered cowardice and unpatriotic in the eyes of others, especially the older generation who had fought in World War II just twenty years earlier. The novel also showed how this belief revealed the lack of knowledge the average American had about why the war was being fought. Many believed that it was just to stop communism and that it was to protect the Vietnamese people from this perception of oppression. However, as described in the novel, the reason was far more complicated and seemed less logical. This ignorance of the war and the trust bestowed on the government at the time is what brings O’Brien’s character to side with society. His character finally decides his fate. He says, “I would go to war – I would kill and maybe die – because I was too embarrassed not to.”[3]

Contemporary history is, and possibly always will be, a controversial subject to encounter and research. There will always be those against the idea that historians can view material so close to the present time to form objective opinions or give true facts on a subject. However, to completely do away with the idea of studying the past in hopes of helping the future cannot be acknowledged. While the sources are considered fiction in a technical way as well as serving entertainment purposes, Full Metal Jacket, The Things They Carried, and other sources should be viewed as educational resources for anyone interested as well as historians. These stories still have the abilities to show viewpoints about the particular times in a soldier’s career. They can also help readers and researchers understand the emotions and thoughts involved in different parts of the Vietnam War process, such as being drafted, boot camp, and returning back to an unsupportive United States society.  The hardest reality to face while viewing or reading about these men is the knowledge that both death and danger play major roles in both the personal thoughts and also the public viewing of a soldier in Vietnam making these sources informational to historians about how Americans understood the experience of the Vietnam War.

[1] Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket, Warner Bros., 1987)

[2] Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, (Boston: Mariner Books, 1990), Paperback