Introducing The Sharp Minds Essay, Research Paper
Introducing the Sharp Minds:
In our heroes, we find something we that admire, or wish we had, in ourselves. It is for this reason that it is easy to understand how popular action heroes can and almost must, stand as a collective symbol of how we as a people want to be perceived. If the collective values of the eighties were symbolized by the hard body, as Susan Jeffords asserts in her 1994 article, Hard Bodies: Hollywood in the Reagan Era, then surely the nineties can be represented by the sharp mind. The Hollywood heroes of the Reagan era, such as Bruce Willis in Die Hard, overcame opposition through superior strength and stamina, a direct result of their hard bodies. On the contrary, today we see our Hollywood heroes defeat tyranny through the use of their minds and a familiarity with technology. This evolution in the way we view our heroes can be examined by comparing and contrasting three of the biggest action/adventure films of their days, the 1988 film, Die Hard, the 1996 blockbuster, Independence Day, and the recent 1999 smash hit, The Matrix. In each subsequent film, the success of the heroes relies less and less on his girth and increasingly on his intellect. This is significant, as it indicates a progression past the use of the body, a rather obsolete symbol of self worth in the computer age, and toward the mind, to collectively symbolize our value and our hope for our future as a nation.
As Jeffords asserts, the Reagan era was a response to what many felt were years of bureaucracy, and indecisive action under President Carter. President Reagan on the other hand, championed a smaller faster acting government, person dedication and responsibility, a war on drugs, a return to family values (which is often seen as an attack on feminism and female independence) and a firm stance against our external enemies. No character represents these values better than Die Hard’s own hard body and hero, John McClane. With reckless abandon he takes on the terrorists (representing nationalities from the four corners of the globe) holding his estranged wife and her company hostage. All the while he is held back by countless acts of government inefficiency and an unquestioning adherence to strict rules and regulations. Thanks to undying dedication to his job, as he is a New York City cop working “overtime” in Las Angeles, and a body that just will not quit, he is able to overcome overwhelming opposition and save the day, the whole time doing things his way. By the end of the film he has defeated the terrorists, embarrassed the government agencies that held him back, and regained the love and respect of his estranged wife and family, thus reinforcing almost all of qualities admired in the Reagan era. When contrasted with our next film, Independence Day, you find some telling results. Although many of the values from the Reagan era are still present and fought for, the means toward obtaining these goals has drastically changed. No longer does one need a hard body to be a hero.
Although these two films come from different categories of the action genre, many of the symbolic obstacles faced by the characters in Independence Day are similar to those faced by the characters in Die Hard. Here, we again see female independence as the cause of undue suffering on the part of the other characters. We also see bureaucrats looked down upon, although they seem to be less of a problem than they were in the eighties. Finally, we see the repeated theme of a powerful external threat that can not be dealt with by the book, lest you suffer the consequences. The distinguishing contrast comes from how and by whom these problems are to be resolved.
Unlike Die Hard, Independence Day has a number of heroes. They range from a socially awkward, underachieving Jewish computer scientist, to an African-American fighter pilot. The hard body of the Reagan era is undoubtedly a non-minority white male, with a tone body free of chemicals and disease. He has strong ties to family. He is decisive, and willing to do risky deeds if he deems that the ends justify the means. None of the protagonists in Independence Day match that description in the least.
First you have David Levinson, he is the Jewish computer scientist. His soft body characteristics are numerous. Primarily, he is not in great shape and he is a minority. He is also an introvert who, much to the dismay of his father, graduated from MIT only to become a “cable repairman” (he is actually a technician for a cable company). He is also afraid of taking decisive action, (specifically he condemns the President and his aids for suggesting the idea of using nuclear weapons against the aliens) even when it seems to be the only solution. Finally, he has lost his wife, who he loved and still loves very much, to her dream of working for the President.
Then you have Russell Casse, an alcoholic crop duster. Probably the softest soft body in the film, Russell abuses his body and is a failure at his job. As a result he has lost the respect of his neighbors and his family. He lives in a trailer park and is, in the parlance of our times, white trash.
Next you have President Thomas Whitmore. He is a young president, with a low approval rating, and he is portrayed to be weak and indecisive. The audience learns this in one of the opening scenes when a woman on television says in reference to the President, “That’s the problem, they elected a warrior and they got a wimp.”
You see a certain indifference in him as he hears this comment, suggesting that not only is this yesterday’s news, but there is nothing that he can or wants to do about it. This general lack of concern and failure to act in his own defense indicate that the President is not a hard body.
The final main protagonist in the film is Captain Stephen Hiller. He is brave, assertive and in good shape, and is probably the closest to being a hard body of any character in the film, but again he too falls short. He remains a soft body, primarily because he is an African-American, but more importantly because he does not use his brawn in combat with the aliens (excluding the films one punch, with which he knocks out the downed alien), but a keen understanding of the ships he pilots.
So if not for their strength physical strength, what makes us admire Independence Day’s soft bodied heroes, and what allows them to overcome their powerful adversaries and fill the shoes of our hard bodied heroes of the eighties? In each case it is the intelligence, the ingenuity, and the strength of character, along with a familiarity with modern technology that allows these more modern heroes to triumph against seemingly impossible odds. No one typifies this modern hero better than David Levinson.
David Levinson arguably accomplishes a the most with his soft body. First, by using his knowledge of television satellites and a familiarity with the game of chess, Levinson is able to detect a countdown to the beginning of the extermination being transmitted using our own satellites. He was the only one able to decipher this information. He is then able to locate and save his ex-wife, the President, and a number of the President’s aids, by using his ex-wife’s cellular phone to locate her position in the White House. Later in the film, he is the one who develops, and helps carry out, the intricate plan to shut down the alien’s seemingly impenetrable shields. In the end he has accomplished the goals of the hard body, regained his family, stopped the foreign threat, and restored order, through the use of his sharp mind. The Matrix, further supports the idea that heroes, and thus role models, of the future will triumph through the use of intellect and not brawn.
In The Matrix computer hacker Thomas A. Anderson lives a double life as a computer hacker named Neo. Neo is played by Keanu Reeves, which is significant because he is not a physically intimidating actor, like Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stalone.
In the future that exists in this film, technology has allowed the human brain to be interfaced with a computer so flawlessly that a subject linked into a computer generated virtual world, properly programmed, can not even know that the simulated world is not real. The human race is unknowingly imprisoned in such a world, and only an elite few fight to free it. To win battles that occur in this virtual world one needs nothing more than a sharp mind.
Morpheus, the leader of their rebel group, believes that Neo will be their savior because he sees Neo’s mind as powerful enough to see the matrix as the virtual world that it is, rendering his physical body impervious to damage his projected self receives in the matrix. He would subsequently be invincible in the matrix. As Morpheus explains to Neo in one of their training sessions inside the matrix, “Do you think that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place?” In this future it is only a person’s mind that distinguishes him from the rest.
Will a future like this ever exist when a person’s worth and ability is fully determined by his mind? Living in an age when twenty-something millionaires with their own internet companies are popping up every day, it does not seem so far fetched. Regardless of what the future holds, popular culture has already demonstrated that change is in the air. We as a people admired John McClain toting his service revolver, as we later admired David Levinson toting his laptop, as we now admire Neo training his mind to understand the matrix. The hard body that symbolized Reagan era has given way to the sharp mind as a collective symbol of what we strive for as we come to the new millennium.