Vietnam Veterans and American Mass Media: The Politics of the Image

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This is an interdisciplinary examination of the image of the Vietnam veteran as contested cultural and ideological terrain in recent America. Drawing on Gramscian theories of ideology and hegemony, as well as conceptualizations of semiotic appropriation and bricolage employed in cultural studies, the study explores the complex manner in which print media and Hollywood film function as the primary discursive arenas wherein public images of the returned Vietnam veteran are constructed, contested and transformed in the Vietnam and post-Vietnam eras. The shifting nature of these images has had, and continues to have, a profound influence on public conceptions of the Vietnam war, the divisions, challenges and oppositions the war generated in American society, and the very nature of cultural myths of war and the returned warrior as consensual ideological dynamics in recent American culture. Specific attention is devoted to the veterans' antiwar movement of the 1970s, the ways in which this movement actively courted media attention to publicly project an oppositional antiwar image of the returned warrior, and the manner in which this antiwar image was selectively appropriated and reconstructed by Hollywood across three decades – from Billy Jack and Coming Home in the 1970s, Rambo and Born On the Fourth of July in the 1980s, to Forrest Gump in the wake of the Gulf War in the 1990s – with the ultimate implication being the assuaging of the ideological disruptions of the Vietnam era.