Thursday, June 6, 2019

Looking Past the Hardcovers: Techno-Thrillers in Other Media

Writing about the military techno-thriller--



--I generally focused on print works.

This was for several reasons--because this is where the over century old tradition has been longest and strongest; because my training and experience was overwhelmingly in analyzing literary text; because I had spent a lot of time reading techno-thriller novels back in the 1990s and wanted to write about that, the more so as very little has been written of them.

Still, recently reading David Sirota's cultural history of the '80s Back to Our Future, the strongest part of which was its discussion of the marketing of pop militarism in the '80s in response to the "Vietnam Syndrome," I was struck by how little the print techno-thriller came up. Tom Clancy was, for two years running, the author of the year's top-selling novel (1988 and 1989), and the decade's top-selling novelist, on the strength of The Cardinal of the Kremlin and Clear and Present Danger (and The Hunt for Red October, Red Storm Rising and Patriot Games too), but save for an explanatory note for a single, brief, rather offhand, reference to Jack Ryan, the name simply does not come up. (Still less is there any reference to, for instance, Stephen Coonts or Larry Bond or the rest.)

Instead the discussion focuses on a number of films and TV shows--in particular, Red Dawn and Top Gun and G.I. Joe--and video games. This does, to some extent, reflect the fact that where his recounting of the relevant political history relies on solid scholarship to produce a robustly comprehensive picture of that side of the period, there is an element of personal reminiscence in his discussion of the pop culture. And Sirota was, as Goldbergs viewers remember, a young person at the time, much more likely to rewatch Red Dawn on VHS or play Contra on Nintendo than plow through one of Clancy's doorstops. However, that is exactly the point. A lot more people, of all ages, watched movies and TV, and played video games, than read books, even the bestselling books of the day, and this was all the more relevant with his focus in that portion of his study on the molding of the outlook of the young.

This does not seem to me to make the print techno-thriller less important or interesting. But, content for the time being with what I have written about that, it did suggest to me where my research might go from here, in the direction of all those works with which I was not unfamiliar (his generation is more or less my generation, and I sure did play Contra and the rest well before I picked up a book by Clancy), but to which I had been less attentive academically.

In fact, I have found myself revisiting the body of writing relevant to this side of film, television, and especially gaming history (because a "big picture" seems most elusive here). So far as I can tell it is much like those bodies of work on anything else to do with pop culture.

On the one hand there is journalism, more interested (often too much so) in retelling the personal stories of "industry players" in that manner so thrilling to devotees of the cult-of-the-tech-entrepreneur than offering comprehensive understandings of the subject matter, or much cultural or political insight; often downright sloppily researched and written; and frequently passing off material suitable for a decent article as a doorstop of a book (the easier for them to do because they have set their sights on telling a story, and telling it sloppily).

On the other hand there is scholarship, tending in the other direction, toward the overly narrow rather than the overly broad, normally in line with the fashionable academic obsessions (with regard to subject matter and methodology) I find . . . well, less than illuminating, especially when undertaking a project like this.

Still, that suggests to me that there is more to be said about the matter--and I hope to say something of it when I get around to revisiting the subject.

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THE MILITARY TECHNO-THRILLER: A HISTORY
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Why Was Hollywood So Slow to Capitalize on the Action Film?
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Nostalgia and the '80s
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Reading Ready Player One: A Few Thoughts
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My Posts on the '80s Action Film
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