Books by Susan Jeffords

Released: Dec. 31, 1993

Something new on the storied relation between Hollywood models and American culture in the Reagan years: an impressively documented, though frequently strained, argument that films like Rambo and Robocop rehearsed the same images of masculinity manufactured for the personal benefit of the era's leading politicians. Crisscrossing between Robert Bly and Richard Nixon, Jeffords (English/University of Washington) contends that the ``unified national body'' that Americans were seeking after the rudderless years of Vietnam and Jimmy Carter was configured in both blockbuster films and the Reagan White House as a masculine physical body—the hard body whose fitness, purpose, and courage could redeem the nation's individual failures of will. Jeffords traces a progression from Dirty Harry through Star Wars, Lethal Weapon, and Rambo (the apotheosis of the Reagan-Oliver North hard body) to Kindergarten Cop (which recreated Arnold Schwarzenegger as the kinder, gentler fantasy hero of the Bush years) and Disney's Beauty and the Beast (whose revisions from its source excused its male hero for his machismo by making its once-pivotal heroine merely the agency of his redemption). Curiously, the political analysis, bolstered by a formal battery of quotations, is generally more cogent than the close—and often amusingly tendentious—allegorical analysis of films like Back to the Future (Reagan's attempts to define his identity by rewriting history), Twins (like Rambo III, a hopeful view of the Reagan-Bush transition), and Batman (a figure for Bush's schizoid public identity). There's nothing unconvincing, though, about Jeffords's trenchant observations on the Reagan-Bush years as political theater. However Jeffords may stretch in some interpretations of individual films, she gives welcome new definition to the whole idea of the body politic. (Forty-two b&w photographs) Read full book review >