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					  Vietnam War Lit.(1):
          In Country
Surviving the War in the Popular
Culture
Outline
   Backgrounds:
       1) Vietnam War;
       2) Vietnam War Discourse;
       3) the South
   In Country:
       The Author and the Director ; Characters
       Starting Questions
       Vietnam: Experience and Responses
       Emmett’s and Sam’s Identity Crises –in and through
        popular culture
       Different Kinds of Solution
Vietnam War
   History in Brief: the country divided into North and
    South in 1954; the U.S.’s involvement (the last
    frontier) since around 1955; support forces arriving
    since 1961, intense bombing since 1965, withdrawal
    since 1969, and the total withdrawal in 1973, a few
    months after a ceasefire was signed in Jan. The fall
    of Saigon in May 1975.
   Whose war? Variously seen as an imperialist war
    (US vs. Vietnam), revolution (Communist), a civil
    war for reunification, a guerrilla war, a media war,
    and an American civil war
Vietnam War (2)
reasons:
 1. World savior, Manifest Destiny, the myth of the
  (last) frontier e.g. Why Are We in Vietnam? (Norman
  Mailer: Texas AlaskaVietnam) (Star Wars
  (another frontier)
 domino theory (骨牌效應)
 conservatism in the 60’s; optimism and nationalism
  inspired by JFK in the babyboomer generation
Strategies used: helicopter bombing, attrition (消耗戰
  the repeated taking and abandoning of the same
  territory in pursuit of a high enemy ‘body count’),
  pacification (involving intrusion into villages for
  enemy caches of documents and supplies)
Vietnam War (3) — Immediate
Consequences
   Atrocities:                      Vietnamese side
   A. American side:                dead: (from both sides)
   58,148 dead, 270,000              more than 4,000,000
    injured                           civilians and soldiers—10%
   Post Traumatic Stress             of the entire population
    Disorder, Agent Orange           displaced: 9,000 out of
   consequences in the U.S.:         15,000 villages
    another civil war—the anti-      destroyed: farmland, forest,
    war movement                      farm animals; all six of the
                                      industrial cities in the North
                                     affected: 200,000
                                      prostitutes, 879,000
                                      orphans, 181,000 disabled
                                      people, 1 million widows
 Vietnam War (4) —Long-Term
 consequences
1. Displacement: the displaced Vietnamese Amerasians,
    Vietnamese refugees
2. cultural representations of Vietnam war -- national
    denial at first, then burst of interest in Vietnam in late
    70’s—e.g. memoirs, fiction and films on “Vietnam war”
     the vets as misfits—suicidal, criminal, (e.g. Stuntman
      1980, Taxi Driver 1976, Deer Hunter 1978, In Country
      1989)
     Superhero (re-masculinization of U.S. culture): First
      Blood, Rambo; musical: Ms Saigon
     killing and other forms of brutality—Platoon; Born on the
      Fourth of July
     memoir: Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic (dir.
      Oliver Stone  Platoon, JFK, Heaven and Earth, …
Vietnam War (5) —Gender and
War
   “ Awright, ladies!…There are eighty of you,
    eighty young warm bodies, eighty sweet little
    ladies, eighty sweetpeas. . .Grab your
    trousers!” shouted the sergeant. “These are
    trousers…not pants! Pants are for little girls!
    Trousers are for marines! Put your trousers
    on!”
   --“THIS IS YOUR RIFLE LADIES I WANT YOU
    TO KNOW IT ALL EVERY PART OF IT!” (76,
    82) (from Born on the Fourth of July )
Vietnam War Films --FYI
   War experience:
   The Deer Hunter (1978)–American POW; Russian
    roulette --controversial
   Apocalypse Now (1979) -- Based on Joseph
    Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
   First Blood (1982) Rambo II, Rambo III
   Missing in Action (1984)
   Platoon (前進高棉 1986 – Oliver Stone 1st)
    Good Morning, Vietnam (1995) –radio DJ; * a
    comic version
   Forrest Gump (1994)
Vietnam War Films --FYI
   Post-War experience:
   Born on the Fourth of July (1989) (Oliver
    Stone 2nd)

   Also from Vietnamese perspective:
       Heaven and Earth (Oliver Stone 3rd)
       Surname Viet Last Name Nam
   Famous Vietnam Literature
Background: The South –
Related works
   The South –
       W. Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Flannery
        O’Connor, Bobbie Ann Mason, etc.,etc.
   Stereotypes of backwardness, country-style,
    etc.--美麗蹺家人 Sweet Home Alabama.
The Author and the Director
   Bobbie Ann Mason        Norman Jewison
    (1940-)                  Moonstruck
   Born and now lives in    Jesus Christ
    Kentucky                  Superstar
   A contemporary           Other People’s Money
    Southern writer         
The Characters
   Sam –Samantha
   Emmett – her uncle, for whom she serves as
    caretaker
   Irene—her mother
   Lonnie – her boyfriend
   Dawn's – her friend who gets pregnant
Starting Questions
   How do the veterans and the other
    characters in this film describe the Vietnam
    war?
   And how do the vets adjust to the life after it?
    How does Sam try to understand it?
Culture of the South – with clear
sexual and racial divisions
   Hopewell -- One of the
    veterans says of HBO,
    "`I wouldn't let my wife
    watch it.'
   Lonnie: for the stag
    party, gets panties from
    Sam.
   At the grandpa’s –
    ham, fried chicken,
    mashed potato, etc.
   The Blacks –one
    glimpse
   Dawn – pregnant and
    married young.
Vietnam Experience
   A bunch of kids out in the country;
   Souvenirs (Ears, tattoo);
   “We could have won.” (52:33) Earl lives in the
    future
   “It’s all a mistake.”
Vietnam Experience --selective
   Egret -- “That beautiful
    bird just going about its
    business with all that
    crazy stuff going on.
    Whole flocks of them
    would fly over. ... Once a
    grenade hit close to
    some trees and there
    were these birds taking
    off like quail, ever' which
    way. We thought it was
    snowing up instead of
    down. ”
Survivors’ Different Responses
-- MauMau
1. MawMaw says, "They                 Got only an closed casket
   wrote and told what a help          or a body bag—without
   he was to his country. I take       having a chance to ‘prepare
   comfort in that."                   the body’ and go through
Sam replies, "What good did            the mourning ritual.
   he do for the country?
   Everybody knows it was a
   stupid war, but fifty-eight
   thousand guys died.
   Emmett says they all died
   for nothing."
MawMaw: "Well, Emmett can
   talk. He didn't die. Dwayne
   was fighting for a cause...."
Different Responses --Irene
1.   Leaves the past
     behind and gets on
     with her life.
2.   New life
Post-Vietnam Experience --
Emmette
1.   Social misfit—refuses to work;
     watches TV (M*A*S*H reruns ),
     plays video games, feed rabbits
     and does birdwatching.
2.   Haunted by the past – physical
     symptoms (rashes, insomnia),
     emotional outburst; (29:00)
3.   Re-enact the past: Dug
     “trenches” to find a leak, set flea
     bombs. (31:40)
4.   Emasculated-- dressed in a
     "long, thin Indian-print skirt with
     elephants and peacocks on it."
     cooks dinner for Sam
     Post-Vietnam Experience –
     Emmette (2)
1.   By the swamp (1:35): “They’re still
     alive. …There's something wrong
     with me. I'm damaged. It's like
     something in the center of my
     heart is gone and I can't get it
     back."
2.   Sam replies, "But you cared
     enough about me to come out
     here." . . . Sam says, "I wish that
     bird would come."
3.   Emmett explains, "If you can think
     about something like birds, you
     can get outside of yourself, and it
     doesn't hurt as much. That's the      guilt feelings of
     whole idea. That's the whole           the survivors
     challenge for the human race."
    Sam: Her Life at a Turning
    Point
   Lost her father before she
    was born;
   Her life:
       graduated from high
        school –choice between
        working and going to college;
       Style -- Ear-piercing, jogging
        with a walkerman;
       Consumer culture: car, work
        in Disneyworld
       Mass media: the mall,
        movies (E.T., Ghost Buster,
        Body-Snatchers, etc.).
Sam and Popular Culture (2):
   Her life marked by big events and names in popular
    culture: 1. Springsteen -- “It was the summer of the
    Michael Jackson Victory tour and Bruce Springsteen
    Born in the U.S.A. tour” (novel 23).
Sam and Popular Culture (3):
   In Tom’s room, (filmic techniques in her mind)
   “She dried her face . . . And pushed her hair back
    behind her ears, exposing her earrings. She was
    aware that something was about to happen, like a
    familiar scene in a movie, the slow-motion
    sequence with the couple rolling in the sheets and
    time passing. She hoped there wouldn’t be jump
    cuts. . . . ” (126).
Sam and Popular Culture:
   “Sam would drive her VW to Disney World and get
    a job there . . . And somewhere, out there on the
    road, in some big city, she would find a Bruce
    Springsteen concert. And he would pull her out of
    the front row and dance with her in the dark” (190).
Sam: Her mediated experience of
the Vietnam War  part of her
identity
   Tries to ask questions about
    the war but never get direct
    answers.
    Emmett: "women weren't over
    there. ... So they can't really
    understand" (107)
   Gap between her and her
    father 38:37
   Read the letters; look at the
    photos (20:28; 24:20)
   Read the diary
   Find vicarious experience in
       making love to Tom
       Leaving the veterans' dance
        with Tom
Reading the Diary
   She has to go to Paducah mall (the film, by the pond)
    to read the diary.
   As she reads it (burn hootches, teeth as sourvenir,
    shooting a soldier at the skull from the back), she
    feels ‘sick,’ ‘humiliated and disgusted.’
   After reading it, she wonders:
   “What would make people want to kill? If the U.S.A.
    sent her to a foreign country, with a rifle and a heavy
    backpack, could she root around in the jungle, sleep
    in the mud, and shoot at strangers? How did the
    army get boys to do that? Why was there war?
    “ (208)
    Humping the
    boonies (serving as the point man 把風 for his platoon )
    --experienced as a film   1.    the war scene 2:10 –2:48,
                                   sandwiched by two nationalists
                                   speeches
   Thought of the war as 2.        1:24
    horror films;
    now at the swamp -- “rice
    paddies weren’t real to
    her . . . She tried to
    remember the descriptions
    she had read. It was like
    fireworks. And the
    soundtrack was different
    from bugs and frogs: the
    whoosh-beat of choppers,
    the scream of jets, the
    thunder-boom . . . “
Solutions (1)
   get outside of yourself;      "'If you can think about
                                   something like birds,
                                   you can get outside of
                                   yourself, and it doesn't
                                   hurt as much'" (226).
Solutions (2, 3)
   watching lives – Mawmaw
       The memorial is black like death;
       Up close, she sees carnations growing
   trying to understand death, (p. 245)
       Sam "SAM A HUGHES. It is the first on a line....
        She touches her own name. How odd it feels, as
        though all the names in America have been used
        to decorate this wall."
       Emmett – ‘his face bursts into a smile like flames.’
What the film does not show:
   Sam first sees the Washington Monument, rising
    "up out of the earth, proud and tall. She
    remembers Tom's bitter comment about it--a big
    white prick. She once heard someone say the
    U.S.A. goes around fucking the world."




                  In Country
                (Vietnam//US)
Literature on War--FYI
   WWI—Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, The Sun
    also Rises”Time Passes” in To the Lighthouse
   WWII—Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-V, Joseph
    Heller’s Catch-22, Norman Mailer’s The Naked and
    the Dead
   Vietnam War—Norman Mailer’s Why Are We in
    Vietnam?, The Armies of the Night, Michael Herr’s
    Dispatches, Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato,
    Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers, Bobbie Ann Mason’s
    In Country, Joan Didion’s Democracy

				
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posted:6/13/2012
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