In 2020, the Russians take Paris - a trailer for Tom Clancy's EndWar
The Russians, Tom Clancy's old reliable villains, are back. The American techno-thriller author has lent his name to several computer games, including the intricate new title from Ubisoft known as EndWar.
The video game's back scenario? In the next twenty years, America deploys a space weapons system to protect the U.S. and Europe from nuclear attack, while a sullen Russia stays out of the missile shield club. A few years later, the world's peak oil doomsayers are suddenly proven right and all of the world's major oil producers - except for Russia - are found to have massively inflated their reserves. The resulting collapse of the world economy puts a remilitarized Russia on a collision course with the America and Europe.
Naturally, the reasons why Russia's grown-up Nashi youth would rather level Paris than buy it are never quite explained. (On this point, a pessimistic Russian might ask: where will Russia find enough men to maintain a powerful army in twenty years? But the game designers seem to get around this question by having most of fighting take place between robots).
"An Evil Empire" - President Ronald Reagan at the National Association of Evangelicals convention in 1983
At the time, many critics accused the Reagan Administration of being influenced by apocalyptic literature
Of course, Russians know that Russian bad guys are nothing new in American pop culture. The bestselling "non-fiction" book of the 1970s was Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth, which relied heavily on the author's own particular interpretation of American 19th century evangelical dispensationalist theology. In Lindsey's vision of the apocalypse, the Soviet Union was fated to launch a massive assault on tiny Israel - and then watch as its armies were destroyed by the Almighty. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992, Lindsey and his publisher made some updates to the book, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Iran, and China became the new "Gog and Magog" gearing up for Armageddon.
In 1983, when President Ronald Reagan delivered his famous "Evil Empire" speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, many of his critics seized upon the popularity of Lindsey's book with his audience as proof that Reagan was a religious fanatic itching for a nuclear showdown with the USSR. The Left Behind books, written during the 1990s by evangelical authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, opens with a similar storyline about a revanchist Russia attacking Israel. Left Behind was the bestselling fiction series of the last decade. (In case our Russian readers were wondering, the influential evangelical pastor Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life is now the all time U.S. bestseller in the non-fiction category).
Who can imagine an episode of VH1's "I Love the Eighties" without some reference to a cast member from the movie Red Dawn? Although in hindsight, the movie's depiction of a combined Soviet/Latin American invasion of the U.S. seems ridiculous, the screenwriter John Milius reportedly sought out former NATO Supreme Commander Alexander Haig for advice on creating a plausible scenario for World War III.
"A Russian doesn't go to the bathroom without a plan..."
The 1980s also featured the Cold War techno-thrillers (based on best selling novels) Firefox and The Hunt for Red October. The most memorable "Cold War" line from that movie probably came from a Navy Admiral played by future United States Senator and current U.S. Presidential candidate Fred Dalton Thompson, "A Russian [submarine captain] doesn't go to the bathroom without a plan." (incidentally, Mr. Thompson was also featured in the 1980s Cold War spy drama No Way Out.) If Thompson actually wins the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2008, the Russian media is likely going to have some fun with this soundbite.
Besides the legacies of the Cold War and the crime-ridden Nineties, the main reason Russians make such useful bad guys for Hollywood is political correctness. There are no powerful Russian-American groups that will flood the studios and networks with complaints when Russians are portrayed as drunks, thugs, spies, or terrorists. There is a Russian actor named Alexander Nevsky (who clearly models himself after Arnold Schwarzenegger, right down to the accent) who has had some success in Hollywood by refusing to play the part of these "heavies" - but very few Americans have probably seen him in Moskovska Zhara (Moscow Heat) or in the other movies where he plays a real "Russian action hero".
It should be said here that Russians are not always the bad guys in American novels, films and TV shows. Just seven years ago, Tom Clancy released his novel The Bear and the Dragon, which featured the U.S. allying with its former Cold War adversary against the new global superpower, China. More recently, Season 5 of FOX's popular television drama "24" featured a similar plot theme, with Chinese and Chechen villains plotting a wave of terrorist attacks in order to prevent an alliance between the U.S. and Russia.
On "24", Jack Bauer hunts terrorists with the help of the Russian ambassador
"24" is produced by one of the few Republicans in Hollywood, Joel Surnow, and this has led to speculation in the U.S. media about Surnow allegedly inserting his politics into the show. However, at the end of the twenty four hour day depicted in every season of "24", the real masterminds behind the terror plots invariably turn out to be a cabal of greedy tycoons supported by traitorous officials inside the U.S. government, rather than foreign terrorists.
The bottom line: Russians should not take this new wave of Russian bad guys in American popular culture too seriously. And foreigners should not conclude, based on the popularity the Left Behind series, that all Americans are dispensationalists who are eagerly awaiting the apocalypse. While EndWar's scenario of the U.S. and Russia going to war over missile defenses may seem ironic, at the end of the day, making video games is all about appealing to a target demographic, 99% of which is bored young men, all around the world.
If Russia and America did not go to war in 1962 when American nuclear bombers were on station around the clock over the Arctic Circle and Soviet missiles were sited eight minutes away from Washington D.C., then our two countries will never go to war - and we can all thank God for that.
An interview with the creator of Tom Clancy's "EndWar" game