Reagan & the 80s Movies Term Paper

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Many young people voted for Reagan as he represented rebellion against the authority figures in society but was a rebellion characterized by valiance and effectuated through skillful communication. The approval rating of Reagan was approximately 42% when 1982 began but dropped to the record low 35% later that same year. The U.S. entered a recession. If one is to set their focus upon obtaining a chance at being the President of the United States, then that individual must take a political stance and hold a view that is somewhat differential from the opposing party. In the case of Ronald Reagan, who had been a democrat for most of his life, it was the democratic party that he must debate against in the attempt to establish a better public platform that the opposing candidate. Ronald Reagan may be viewed as a 'come-lately' at the time he entered the political scene at this level. Reagan, probably felt much like the teenagers who had just entered high school at Ridgemont High, portrayed in a popular 1980s movie by a group of teens much like one would find anywhere in the United States. These individuals were tightly in the clasp of the dominate group, or that of their parents and elders. This too must have been how it felt for Reagan as he stepped up to run for the U.S. Presidency though one would have never known from his outer polish and amicable self-presentation that he was nervous or ill-at-ease. Ronald Reagan is noted to have stated that he didn't know how one could be President without having been an actor. (paraphrased) it has been stated of Reagan that he helped to "lead conservatives out of the wilderness" (Curry, 2004) as well as being called "the midwife of a new political movement." (Curry, 2004)

As the term of Reagan's presidency continued he gained more approval. The work of Tony Kashani (2004) entitled: "Hollywood as an Agent of Hegemony: The War Film" states that: "From the early days Hollywood (the institution) have understood that film is a powerful medium, thus movies were created with emotional designs on the individual audience." Kashani writes: "Enter the Reagan era and the return to the age of militarism..." (2004) in the work entitled: "Hard Bodies, Hollywood Masculinity and the Reagan Era" Jeffords states that: "His [Reagan's] position as president of the Screen Actors Guild during the turbulent years of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings solidified the anti-communism that would become such an elemental part of his presidential years. Indeed, Hollywood film industry itself shaped the Reagan presidency and the 1980s through the many images, characters, and narratives that Reagan borrowed from film and used in his work as president." (Jeffords 3-4)

Another movie produced during the first term of Ronald Reagan's presidency was the one entitled: "An Officer and a Gentlemen." Richard Gere plays the character Zach Mayo young and rebellious who enters military training to become a naval officer. This film is very pro-military in nature just as the time of Reagan's presidency. Zack's girlfriend, Paula Pokrifki is a factory worker in this film who desires men for the increase it will give her status and the money that will be provided however, by the ending of the film Paula has fallen in love with Zack for who he really is and Zach has tamed his rebelliousness. This movie appealed to both male and female audiences and made those whose lives are spent in the military seem more real, more human. In this film it is sated that: "Richard Gere, the American Gigolo, to be Zack, the undisciplined tough guy with hidden potential and a shady past...has nowhere to go so he endures the brutality of his drill instructor and finally transforms into a real team player." (Kashani, 2004) the military, now humanized has produced an officer and a gentleman from a social loser.

A states that: "From a Lancanian perspective, an Officer and a Gentleman exemplifies how an individual is developed vis-a-vis the network of signifiers. Symbols of militarism, family values, and so on, are all bundled together in this commercially successful film." (Kashani, 2004) additionally states: "The next step for Reaganite Hollywood is to develop the liberal military films, such as Taps (1981) and the Lords of Discipline (1983); vehicles to criticize military perversion that conclude by celebrating humanized military. According to Colin McCabe from a Lacanian film
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analysis, "the Hollywood style works to show us all that we need and want to know: the world of the film is arranged for the purpose of our being able to see it from an 'all-seeing' point-of-view." (Braudy & Cohen 275-277) Subsequently, if we think we are seeing different sides of a military paradigm with an all-seeing point-of-view, we will therefore be inclined to accept the premise of the humanized military." (Kashani, 2004)

II. Redemption

As Ronald Regan began his second term as U.S. President, his approval rating was at 62%. In November of 1985 Reagan traveled to Geneva for a summit meeting with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. What has been scheduled as a private 15 minutes meeting between President Reagan and Soviet Gorbachev turned into a one hour conversation that while disagreeing on the space defense initiative established an agreement to seek a reduction of 50% in nuclear arms and the statement of "a nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought." (Timeline of Ronald Reagan's Life, 1999) on November 25, 1985, Reagan reported to congress about the meeting in Geneva and received a hero's welcome. (Timeline of Ronald Reagan's Life, 1999)

The movie entitled: "The Breakfast Club" was released during the years that Reagan was President. This movie is one in which the authority figure dominates throughout the film and is one in which social class boundaries are crossed as the teenagers in the film come from many different backgrounds and social classes. Another film release during Reagan's presidency was Rocky IV. Rocky IV was harshly criticized by critics even before its' release. Rocky IV is about Rocky Balboa who is to meet his "Russian counterpart Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren) a machine-like pugilist of unearthly and perfect bodily features" (the Tech, 1985) in the ring, Drago and Balboa "are able to resolve their differences." (the Tech, 1985)

In 1985 the United States was still in the middle of the 'Cold War' and the Soviet Union was still in the process of building a massively large war machine and the United States was in the process of designing space-based weapons to defend in case of a nuclear attack. In the movie Rocky IV while Drago is training in a scientifically savvy Soviet Gym, Rocky is running through the Siberian wilderness for his training. This contrasts mirrors the contrast between the United States and the Soviet Union since the Soviet Union were known at the time for superiority in technology, Americans were known for their determination to win no matter the costs. This movie was a great predictor of the ending of the Cold War. President Reagan had stated to Mikhail Gorbachev: "Tear down the wall" and this was to the chagrin of many who criticized Reagan harshly for not conforming to approved political manners in his speech. Economically speaking, Reaganomics had begun to show positive results by the time Reagan was in his second-term of the U.S. Presidency.

For example:

Real economic growth averaged 3.2% during the Reagan years versus 2.8% during the Ford-Carter years and 2.1% during the Bush-Clinton years." (Niskanen and Moore, 1996)

Secondly there was a $4,000 growth to the real median family income during the years Reagan was president with no growth in the pre-Reagan years and a $1,500 reduction in the post-Reagan years. (Niskanen and Moore, 1996; paraphrased) Third, there was faster falling of interest rates, inflation and unemployment during Reagan's presidency than before or after his presidency. Stated fourth and final is the fact that:

The only economic variables that was worse in the Reagan period than in both the pre- and post-Reagan years was the savings rate, which fell rapidly in the 1980s." (Niskanen and Moore, 1996)

The following chart labeled Figure 1 shows the 'real economic growth rates, by President beginning with President Eisenhower through President Clinton.

Real Economic Growth Rates * by President

Average annual change in chain-weighted GDP

Source: Cato Institute Calculations - Economic Report of the President, 1996

Ronald Reagan was seen by the American public as one that had redeemed himself in that conditions in the United States were much superior to those at the time that Ronald Reagan had entered office as the U.S. President. Phillip Klein writes in the article "Rocky IV Turns 20" published at American Spectator that:

just as Reagan's contribution to ending the Cold War was widely recognized after his death, so too should we…

Sources Used in Documents:


Jordan, C. (2003) Movies and the Reagan Presidency: Success and Ethics. Praeger June, 2003.

McChesney, R.W. And Nichols, J. (2002) Our Media, Not Theirs: The Democratic Struggle against Corporate Media. Seven Stories Press, 2002.

Curry, Tom (2004) Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004: An Indefatibable optimist who set American on a Consdervative Course: MSNBC Online avaialble at

Kashani, Tony (2004) Hollywood as an Agent of Hegemony: The War Film. Dissendent Voice Online available at

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