Floating in the Trope-Sphere

Towards the end of the Vietnam war, and for at least another decade after it ended, there was a trope/cliché which always could be depended on in movies and television; the whacked out, dysfunctional and traumatized veteran; sometimes a victim, often the guilty party, but always and reliably whacked-out. Even news media got into the act, now and again, interviewing theatrically dysfunctional, traumatized veterans, who – on cue – related how they had supped full on the horrors of the war in southeast Asia. This was so pervasive that for-real veterans for years were advised to leave periods of military service off resumes when job-hunting, and to never, never, ever advertise any connection to military service, be it with a ring, a gimme ballcap, a tee shirt, or an OD green field jacket … unless, of course, they were in the war protest movement.

It came out eventually that a lot of it was pure fakery. Most Vietnam veterans were quite well adjusted, thank you very much; they were upright and successful members of their communities, but the whacked-out Vietnam veteran trope didn’t even begin to die until the TV show Magnum, PI made the hero of that series and his buddies all veterans. Lately, I’ve been remembering how pervasive the whacked-out military veteran trope was, and how completely unrelated it was to reality. It was not just false, it was insulting; it socially isolated and stigmatized Vietnam war veterans and likely cost them opportunities both professional and personal. But the trope was out there and perpetuated for years in the entertainment media. I doubt that it was an organized kind of thing – it was just fashion, and a fashion eventually replaced by other tropes when it came to pop culture storytelling.

It seems that lately a lot of our movies and television series are staggering under the load of even more lazy tropes and stock characters – and like the whacked-out Vietnam veteran trope, with even less connection to reality. It is true that there is a Vietnam, and there was a war there which we were involved in… but just as too many viewers then confused reality with what they saw every night on the TV screen, too many now are doing just the same. For example – the proportion of gay men and women in the US is most reliably estimated at 2-3%. Yet a couple of years ago a survey of college and high school students had the kids estimated that gays were more like a quarter to a third of the population. To watch TV, and perhaps social media, one might very well come away with that perception. Looking at TV shows, commercials and print media, you might assume that practically every American marriage or relationship is interracial, that every judge and elected official is wise, kindly and black, and that just about all non-city dwellers are toothless, illiterate rednecks. Deliberate, or just laziness on the part of scriptwriters, show-runners and advertising executives? What will happen when personal experience and/or observations collides with reality, or has that collision happened already, and that is why viewership for mainstream American movies and TV shows is dropping like a stone. I admit to being cynically amused at the corruption and incompetence demonstrated by certain elected or appointed females of color, who apparently had no other qualities to recommend them for high office, other than possession of melanin and a vagina. According to the TV trope, they should have been the next thing to a wise, kindly goddess. Comment as you wish and are amused. Or horrified.

35 thoughts on “Floating in the Trope-Sphere”

  1. Coming of age in the mid eighties, I recognized the Vietnam veteran trope for what it was by my mid teens. But if push comes to shove, I have to admit that the first Rambo movie was really good.

  2. The characters created for TV and the movies are deliberate. Because that is what producers and directors demand. If you are a scriptwriter, you have to produce what your market demands. If you don’t, you had better have a second income.

    Now those demands are in fact deliberate, both because that is the fashion the producers and directors insist on and because Leftist political influencers insist on it.

    The question is, how long those who are functional, non-mixed race, not religious fanatics, not any variety of LGBTQRSTUV families will put up with and finance it? And for the record, I am not anti-mixed race/ethnicity families. While my primary background is Chinese, I am also German, English, Cornish, Welsh, and Highland Scots. We are about to have our annual extended family Chinese New Years party, and I promise you that it looks like a meeting of the United Nations. I just recognize that most people marry from among those they grew up with.

    Subotai Bahadur

  3. I occasionally surf Youtube to look at upcoming movie trailers. It seems that, outside of Jason Statham-type action movies, all the movies have female leads, with men appearing as emotional support or comedic sidekick. Ditto for most new sci-fi books, which has led me to give up on the genre. Pity, ’cause I grew up reading every sci-fi book I could get my hands on.

  4. Haven’t seen a movie or TV / Video in years, though decent books are harder to find than in earlier years.
    With reality as much crap as it is, when I am not trying to sort the lies from the exaggerations in what pretends to be news, I read a lot of Indie SF, and have trouble finding good books there.
    Some authors I have found worth reading are: J.L. Curtis (The Grey Man series, Rimworld series, etc), Peter Grant (Brings the Lightning, a western series, Take the Star Road series, others), Jerry Boyd, (Bobs’ Saucer Repair series), David Weber, John Ringo, Larry Corriea, John van Stry, Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London series), Tom Kratman, Alma T.C. Boykin (Familiar Tales series, Familiar Generations series), Tom Laracombe, Mark Hayden (Piece of Blue Sky / 13th Whitch series), Kelly Grayson, Ed Nelson (Cast in Time / The Baron series), Kurt Schlicter, and the usual suspects. I have bought and read these books and authors without compensation for my own pleasure.

  5. Deliberate, or just laziness on the part of scriptwriters, show-runners and advertising executives?

    At this point I can only say deliberate- and it appears the people running Hollywood simply don’t care if it destroys their industry. Decades ago Michael Medved wrote a book called Hollywood vs. America about this bizarre impulse to make money-losing propaganda, so it isn’t new. Perhaps they think they can always dial it back and get the gravy train rolling again, like in the 80s. I recall from Medved’s book that at least one studio went bankrupt then but prospered under new ownership, so I suppose there is precedent.

    Yet I doubt it. The mega pop-culture franchises like Star Wars and others have imploded- or perhaps were deliberately destroyed to fight the patriarchy. Television is a shell of what it used to be and there isn’t a single show I watch. Cable news is a joke. Worse for them, I note that my children have no interest in anything they make, preferring anime or youtube.

    Along those lines, I note this:


    This is a guy on Youtube made a 51-episode documentary series about the Stalingrad campaign, among other things. There isn’t anything Hollywood produces that comes close to that- yet I note that sidebar list of videos Youtube churns out for me is invariably heavy on the garbage tier nonsense from the usual suspects.

    I have no reason to go back to consuming Hollywood product, period.

  6. Does network TV still exist? I simply would not know. I will confess going to see one (only one) “Hollywood” movie in the last year — “Napoleon”. Made in Malta & England with one token American actor and a script that should have been shredded. Sad!

    These days, what little viewing I do is of foreign production — not European, which are mostly thoroughly woke and as bad as US material. Recently I have seen two excellent Taiwanese telenovellas, gentle modern fantasies which are quite thought-provoking — “Someday or One Day”, and “Rainless Love in a Godless Land”. Then there was the excellent Chinese SciFi telenovella “Three Body”, based on the successful novel “The Three Body Problem”.

    Fortunately, these days we have choices thanks to the internet. And the audience is walking away from politicized boring nonsense.

  7. Law and Order really did maximize on the Medved observation of murderous execuiives, yes bellisario and mostly cannell the a team portrtayed the Vietnam vet with some dignity, with inventiveness, for a while they seem to have been following that same template with Iraq war vets, probably American Sniper crested that trend,

    Yes Ridley Scott seems to have memory wiped himself from being able to produce a decent film, Kingdom of Heaven was reductive, but not terrible, the fellow behind Napoleons screenplay is apt to do the Gladiator sequel,

  8. one of the breitbart people marlow, noticed how a certain Chinese production company legendary got in on the bash American military with the latest iteration of Godzilla films, among others, included the ham handed Skull Island, which is Vietnam with monsters

  9. Robert Avrech an Emmy-awarded screenwriter and a conservative, used to say on his late and missed website Seraphic Secret, that Hollywood through its media has the most powerful influence over society.

    I have always questioned that but then I think for the lazy who only see their movies and TV programs, it rings true.

    If that is all you have seen how are you supposed to know anything contrary?

    My pet peeve is whenever they twist and mis-represent history, of which your subject certainly is within that category.

  10. Bill…even if someone reads newspapers and magazines….if the message is the same as what they’re seeing on TV and in the movies, it’s all self-reinforcing.

    And if that someone’s job and friendships depend on not departing too far from the required set of opinions, there will be little temptation to go off the reservation and consider alternatives.

    In the English novel ‘North and South’ (which was also turned into a very good TV series) the principal character’s father is a reverend who must sign a statement about the faith which which he disagrees. The consequence of not signing would be that the family loses their beautiful home and has to move to an unpleasant city in the north. His wife simply cannot understand how a few words on a piece of paper could be so important.

    Also, see my post What is the Purpose of Holding & Expressing Political Beliefs?

  11. David, I think you are spot on. The strategy of closing ranks regarding message discipline was especially evident during COVID where anyone questioning the assertions regarding the lockdowns and vaccines was labeled a crank or worse. After all if the “Science” is settled, we can all then agree and aren’t we (the reasonable people) all agreeing?

    There is another element to the unanimity that jibes more with your mention of “North and South” In his “Power of the Powerlessness”, Vaclav Havel points that one of the attributes of a totalitarian regime is its ability to isolate and humiliate people in part by getting them to perform acts or espouse views they don’t accept but are powerless to resist. He mentions an example of a grocer who is forced to hang a sign in his shop window “Workers of the Window Unite” The shop owner doesn’t believe the message and nobody who sees the sign believes either the message or that the owner believes it but the idea that he hangs the sign is a demonstration of the regime’s power.

    Apply that to the present not only to DEI but the ideological conformity in media and entertainment

  12. Once upon a time, but not that long ago, I saw a reaction video by a young man who had been looking at Hippie Flicks from the 60’s-70’s time frame. He concluded that hippies were clothing Nazis :)

  13. I knew a lot of guys in Vietnam, and stayed in touch with some of them after we got back, and none of them seemed particularly “whacked out.” Supposedly returning vets all had to run a gauntlet of abusive demonstrators at the time as well, but apparently the flight I was on slipped through the cracks, as I saw nothing of the sort.

    If anything, tropes like that are worse now than they were then because of the furious competition for clicks on the Internet. For example, according to the headlines of the daily reports on the war from the Ukrainian side, they massacred half the Russian army in the last 24 hours, and from the Russian side, they scored massive breakthroughs all along the front. If you want to know what really happened, you’d better be good at reading between the lines.

  14. Subotai Bahadur, 100%.

    I did not serve in VN, but entered active duty in 1970 and was assigned to an armor unit in Germany. Most of the NCO’s had had at least one year tour in VN. I was very close to the senior NCO’s and learned much about their tours. The book (We Were Soldiers Once and Young, and the movie (We Were Soldiers) tell the story of the conversion of the 1st Cavalry Division to airmobile infantry, deployment to VM and their first major battle against the North VN regulars. IMO these are the best popular telling of the realities of combat in that war. The polar opposite of the depiction shown in Apocalypse Now. I was fortunate to teach in a community college where I befriended a professor of politics and international relations who had served as a lieutenant in two back to back tours as a field intelligence officer with many special ops missions. His critique of the political and senior officers confirmed that, as with most of our deployments in unconventional wars since, VN was conducted with little sound decisions and policies that reflected the short term ambitions of the leaders regardless of the long term consequences to or the casualties the troops suffered. We were defeated for the same reasons that we largely failed and are failing in the Middle East. The advance of technology has greatly increased the top down interventions by the above battalion level command and staff during actual combat missions. The rules of engagement reflect this well. One can understand how service tours in such circumstances might have severe personal effects on those who actually fight at the tip of the spear. What spear one might ask.


  15. Death 6: “We were defeated for the same reasons that we largely failed and are failing in the Middle East. The advance of technology has greatly increased the top down interventions by the above battalion level command and staff during actual combat missions.”

    That is a really interesting point. Long time ago, Buckminster Fuller (that guy!) wrote a book in which he praised the training of Royal Navy officers back in those distant days when England had a Royal Navy.

    Communication with far-flung colonies in the Royal Navy’s glory days of the 18th & 19th Centuries travelled at the speed of sail — each way — months at best, potentially more than a year round trip. Thus the leaders back in Imperial London had to trust that their Captains far-off in the field understood intuitively what the leaders would want and would act appropriately; otherwise, those leaders would find long after a conflict started that England had stumbled into a war or made unwanted concessions. This meant very thorough training of their officers, and then great trust in the decisions of the man in the arena.

    Could someone argue that the ability to communicate rapidly undermines trust?

  16. Gavin….”Could someone argue that the ability to communicate rapidly undermines trust?”

    In an era of slow and/or expensive communications, some level of decentralization was *required*….this is true not only in military and diplomatic affairs, but in business. If your corporate HQ was in Connecticut, your West Coast region with its plants and sales offices was really a long, long way away.

    Even, say, in 1980, long distance calls were expensive, as were the twx and telex services, and fax was klutzy.

    So now, decentralization is a *choice*, and many do not make it. There is much temptation to control everything from the center, and I think AI and ‘big data’ are reinforcing that temptation.

  17. I graduated from HS in ’71, after two years of Army JROTC, and then had two semesters of AF ROTC my first year in college. These were requirements in both cases, not electives–though I might have started JROTC as an elective anyway; I did not take the third year JROTC–much had changed in a few years.

    Point being, there were Greatest Gen instructors ready to retire, as well as much younger men, often just back from Vietnam, in the programs, and as a big Southern state school our campus was awash in Vietnam (later Vietnam Era) Veterans.

    Many of my friends were veterans, and so eventually were many of my work colleagues (yea, even on campus, and even unto the library) and they weren’t shy about expressing their disgust at the politicians and brass.

    My wargaming friends included both combat vets and guys who had avoided service, and they got along fine. Some of the veterans reported harassment and being advised not to travel in uniform, but others never had any problem. But again, a lot had happened between ’67 and ’71.

    Of course, I knew some strung-out sad sack veterans too, but they had not shown much promise to begin with, for the most part.

  18. regarding Tropes…one of the things that’s going on is that there are a lot of people who are in jobs requiring creativity who don’t really have much of that attribute in their makeup. I think that has a lot to do with the plague of endless remakes.

    Another venue in which this phenomenon can be seen is LinkedIn, where one can observe a lot of people trying to present themselves as deep-thinking business intellectuals, when they don’t really have all that much to say

  19. I turned 18 in June of 1974. It meant growing up watching the body counts on the news of the three networks every Friday night. I (and perhaps most males of my generation) experienced first hand the gradual loss of faith in the “leadership” of the country. Having become an “eagle scout”, the inner conflict between “patriotism” and “what was right” was intense at times. Later, I enlisted in the USN at the recommendation of my uncle (a destroyer captain), became a “nuke”, taught reactor operations in upstate New York and served on submarines in the Pacific, probably somewhat to prove to myself that my lack of faith in government was not in conflict with my love of country. Having Reagan as president at the time certainly helped.

  20. “Looking at TV shows, commercials and print media, you might assume that … just about all non-city dwellers are toothless, illiterate rednecks.”
    “Robert Avrech an Emmy-awarded screenwriter and a conservative, used to say on his late and missed website Seraphic Secret, that Hollywood through its media has the most powerful influence over society.
    I have always questioned that but then I think for the lazy who only see their movies and TV programs, it rings true.
    If that is all you have seen how are you supposed to know anything contrary?”

    Even liberals who come into contact with non-city folks retain their prejudices–bigotries, even–and retain them decade after decade. I have witnessed this in my personal life in various forms.

  21. The Air Force, from 1973 on, was pure drug culture and gay as can be, especially in far away places, like Incirlik AB, Turkey. I found out there were a few honorable men in key positions (maybe one female in 10 years.) The rest of the officer Corp were slackeys and some were insane. I left after 10 years as a Technical Sergeant in the USAF Reserve (I did 9 1/2 years as active duty and one year of Reserves.) I was the only one out of my Reserve Unit of about 15 techs that could scrub a case.

    No one will accept military work duties as experience in the outside world and you end up working for minimum wage in doctor’s offices and hospitals as technicians. All your electives in college are taken up by the GI Bill and you are not allowed to use them to learn anything you would like to learn.

    The race wars started in the USAF in the early 1970’s. The blacks rioted and shot up dormitories at bases in California. (My husband told me the whole main jail (called LBJ) in Vietnam, was just black troops lined up all along the railings when they drove by.) I was not in country. I was stationed at Minot AFB, ND when the black airmen took the dining hall staff at midnight hostage and held a butcher knife to the head cook, who happened to be Japanese with 10 children. They didn’t kill him.

    When I was stationed at Andrews AFB, Washington D.C., the new female black Staff Sergeant talked all my black Airmen to go on strike with her where they sat all day and did nothing for 3 months, taking up space where we needed to put up instrument sets and fold linen. I was in charge of training and scheduling and she thought “the man” was somehow being racist. “The man” was me and I was so fair in my scheduling I bent over backwards to give people their desired schedules. I would take their day if there was no other way. I had all my airmen enrolled in college night classes. She undid all that. There was no punishment.

    The reason illiteracy is so noticeable in the black population is because there is a small microcosm of illiterate (no spelling, writing, speaking, reading comprehension skills to speak of) of such a large percentage in a much smaller population it sticks out. We whites have illiterates too but it is much easier to hide and spread out in such a large population.

    The pretension is that their majority substandard performance is “just as good” as the white man’s excellent performers. There are very few white people that are excellent performers, but they are just spread out in a larger group and get dissipated. The black stars are just as good or better, than their white counterparts, but so few, they look astonishingly amazing as some kind of freak of nature. Some blacks also have a persona that they don’t need anything a white person can teach them. Education resistance and pride stand in the way. Ego, I suppose, of them thinking they are always being thought of as inferior. This is the same as telling a woman, “don’t you worry your pretty little head about it,” when presenting some breakthrough way of solving a problem. I don’t carry that around with me always looking for instances of offense. I am just shocked when it happens, as well as the comment, “Well, we both know you were not a ‘real veteran.’

    All I see are commercials featuring blacks in HBO shows only centered on drug/thug life, with gold chains and sleazy half-undressed women. It is not uplifting.

  22. Lots of the pathology that Joan Carcey illustrates was directly a product of conscription. Imagine if it was possible to avoid induction by feigning illiteracy. When the bulk of the army marched in ranks to the sound of drums and bugles, it wasn’t much of an issue. Now the proportion that actually hear hostile gunfire may be as small as 10%, the rest are supporting, repairing and maintaining. An illiterate can’t even put the right box on the right pallet at the warehouse, let alone repair an F-35 or an Abrams. That’s not going to change. Moreover, the American system is that most of the work is done and most of the knowledge is held by enlisted personnel. Officers rotate in and out supposedly to produce “well rounded generalists”. This is to support the fantasy that every shave-tail is a future 5-star general. This is where the present recruiting debacle will cripple readiness for decades. How will the American Military fail? First slowly, then suddenly. The slowly part is over.

    Keep your eye on Yemen and the Suez Canal. However much Biden and Austin might like to bomb some tents and declare victory and while the MSM would be happy to go along, the ship owners, freight owners and especially the insurers will be the judge. When you see the ships returning to the canal will be the test. If it takes two carrier groups to half deal with some semi-literate goat herders, how much do we risk to back Taiwan against China? Will we? How secure is our fleet when we must use multiple $million+ missiles from a strictly limited number deployed and have almost no additional stock to replenish, assuming our $billion ships survive to return to base, to shoot down drones that cost at most $thousands. Not to forget that the Suez Canal is one of the few things that had provided a stable income for Egypt.

  23. Deliberate. Ugly. Nasty. For present day political purposes.

    Look at movies like “Remember the Titans” and “Glory Road”. Both films done by the same producer. Both with the same theme. Both chock full of lies and slanders driven by a narrative. Yes, racism existed in the mid-60s and early 70s. But none of the horrible racist incidents and attitudes portrayed in those movies actually happened. NONE.

    The white players on both teams were slandered badly. So were the cities and schools portrayed. And many of their opponents. In Glory Road, the city of Seattle and the team were grossly mis-characterized. A team that in reality had featured a much-loved Elgin Baylor a few years earlier and had four black starters was shown in the movie as all white and supported by a crowd of rabid, nasty racists. All fiction. Horribly, racist fiction.

    Texas Western’s team had been integrated for many years. Hall of Famer Nolan Richardson had played there from 1961-64 (movie is of 1966 team). The city of El Paso was a diverse mix of three races where whites were not the majority. In the movie, the city and school were shown as dominated by stupid, white, racist rednecks who’d never before seen a black college athlete.

    Remember the Titans did the same thing with Alexandria, Va and T C Williams HS. In reality, the supposed racial tension in the city and school portrayed in the film were invented (my source is a Williams student at the time). On a personal note, I played high school football in Nashville from 1971-73 and our school and our team were changed by court-ordered busing beginning in 1971. We had a few black players before and about a third after. My basketball team became majority black. We had none of the issues that are seen in the movie. None. Were there racists in the world? Sure. But none that any impact on our high school or our sports teams.

    On a personal note, it turns out that I played college baseball against the real “Sunshine”, the QB in Remember the Titans. Ronnie Bass played football and baseball at South Carolina, and I played both at Davidson. We beat the Gamecocks in baseball in 1975 (they finished second in the country) and lost to them the next year. Bass still holds the USC football record for most yards rushing in a game by a QB.

  24. Stan, you obviously don’t understand the demands of narrative. If any of those movies had portrayed the reality, they would never have been made. If they had been presented as pure fiction, they’d have been a cartoon, which on further thought, is mostly what fiction is.

    Fiction is nothing more than using invented “facts”, characters, narrative and dialog to try to manipulate the emotions of the audience in the direction the author wants. The least honest is that which tries to sell itself either explicitly or subliminally as “thinly disguised” reality. you can be sure that the most faithful details are the least relevant in terms of emotional manipulation. I suspect this realization is why my taste for fiction, even stuff I loved, has steadily declined over the years and I’m usually disappointed when I try to re-read something I once greatly enjoyed.

  25. Saw a movie called “The Burial”. It’s not too bad as recent movies go. However, there is a scene in which black lawyers shame the white lawyer on their team after it’s revealed that one of the white lawyer’s grandfathers was a KKK member. The dialogue implies that it’s obvious that the white lawyer bears responsibility for his grandfather’s bigotry, and that a white southerner whose grandfather was a bigot is obviously morally tainted despite the grandson’s own race-neutral behavior.

    In the movie the white lawyer accepts the rhetorical beating he receives from the black lawyers, and by implication his share of the responsibility for his grandfather’s racism. It’s difficult to believe that in the real world any reasonable person, much less an experienced attorney, would accept this kind of abuse without pointing out that he isn’t responsible for someone else’s behavior in the distant past.

  26. “one of the white lawyer’s grandfathers was a KKK member”

    What? He was a Democrat member of Congress?

  27. If he bears responsibility for his grandfather’s bigotry, then he certainly owes reparations for his great-great-grandfather’s ownership of slaves, so by extrapolation, owes reparations to anyone and everyone that claims to descend from slaves since records from that time are so spotty. To do anything else would be racist. As, I might add, is reminding people that the Confederates and racists right up to and including Strom Thurmond and George Wallace were Democrats, all of them.

  28. . . . reminding people that the Confederates and racists right up to and including Strom Thurmond and George Wallace were Democrats, all of them.

    Nonsense. Everyone knows that Trump and Ronald Reagan literally fired on Fort Sumter themselves and that Abraham Lincoln was a Democrat. You people used to be able to get your lies past us. Thank goodness we’ve got Colbert to keep you in line.

  29. Wait, I thought the people that fired on Fort Sumter were the heroes. Speaking Truth to Power and putting it to the man. What about that clever rascal John Buchanan Floyd, Buchanan’s secretary of war that had all the Federal arms stored in Southern armories. Civil disobedience to be celebrated. How were the Republicans able to infiltrate so deeply that even Wikipedia has them as Democrats?

  30. MCS
    February 14, 2024 at 7:27 am

    They were able to infiltrate so deeply because of the actions of the “Ministry of Truth” founded in 1984.

    Subotai Bahadur

  31. MCS @February 14, 2024 at 7:27 am:
    Wait, I thought the people that fired on Fort Sumter were the heroes. Speaking Truth to Power and putting it to the man.

    Bizarrely, at the time many European liberals supported the Confederacy because they were rebels fighting for independence. Like Poland versus Russia, Greece versus Turkey, or Hungary versus Austria.

  32. To Rich Rostrom’s point, Tsar Alexander II (The Liberator) was very favorably disposed to the Union cause.

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