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The Hollywood blockbuster guide to the politics of patriotism

Red, white, and blue screens
By PETER KEOUGH  |  August 23, 2012


Patriotism may be the last resort of the scoundrel, but lately it's proven a hot property in Hollywood. Those looking for a break at the multiplex from the flag-waving of the Republican convention next week or the Democratic convention next month might be dismayed to find more of the same on the big screen.

>> CHART: Are we voting at the box office? <<

That's because movies not only offer escape, they also hold a mirror up to what it is we are trying to escape from: thorny issues and tough questions like what is a patriot? Can any candidate claim to be one, or are they all scoundrels?

The accompanying chart (page 24) shows how over the last several months audiences, consciously or not, might have been picking their political ticket at the box office. Here's a look at some of the candidates they voted for.


Talk about wearing your patriotism on your sleeve. The outfit worn in Captain America: The First Avenger, which came out last July, has more stars and stripes than the flags on a candidate's podium. But then that film takes place during a simpler time, World War II, when the patriotic ideal was a lot clearer. Puny, underprivileged Steve Rogers signs up for the army and volunteers for an experimental procedure that will turn him into a superman. He doesn't do this for himself, but for the cause, and also to rescue his best friend, a golden boy from the upper class held as a prisoner of war. But the Nazis have developed their own übermensch, the Red Skull, and he seeks world domination. So here patriotism means putting aside class differences to save the country from a guy who looks like death.

Captain America made a respectable $170 million. Its black-and-white version of the red, white, and blue worked on the screen, and maybe more so in real life. Candidates seen in shades of grey suffered; a poll taken around this time showed that President Obama's approval level had sunk to a new low, 40 percent. But those who embraced extremes were on the rise. Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll. The moderate Tim Pawlenty finished third and dropped out, replaced by the radical right-winger Rick Perry.

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