There are two men my mother has loved passionately, as her 10 children will attest. There is my father, of course, but he always had to compete (patiently) with her crush: John Wayne. Handsome, strong, brave, virtuous, charming and a red-blooded patriot, he was the complete Hollywood package in her eyes, the standard-bearer in the days when Tinseltown unashamedly, and unabashedly, championed America to the world.
All that changed with Vietnam. The lines of demarcation between good and evil were blurred -- or reversed. Hollywood lurched to that extreme in the '70s and '80s, with "Platoon," "Full Metal Jacket," "Coming Home" and a raft of other releases sharply critical of American foreign policy and harsher still in their assessment of the American military.
A byproduct of the Reagan Revolution of 1980 was a renewed sense of national pride, and in some (though by no means all) entertainment circles, that theme re-emerged. On the silver screen, we saw the "Rambo" and "Missing in Action" films; on television, it emerged in series like "JAG."
After America was attacked on Sept. 11, it was clear that America again had been singled out by villains, and with it the call came for our popular culture to deliver the new heroes required to defend the nation.
Yes, the champions of moral confusion in Hollywood want to disregard those antiquated notions of good and evil, and embrace the cause of "humanity" without having to make moral judgments. But the world is more complicated than that, and there exists the public appetite for the action-hero culture, where men aspire to defend the nation's cause with bravery and panache.
On television, the Fox show "24" stands out and has gained a passionate fan base in the post-9/11 era. Its hero, Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, is the ultimate action hero, a one-man army fighting terrorists. In each season, Bauer saves the world in 24 hours or less, and under those extreme circumstances, all kinds of action and violence are needed for success and survival.
But there's a difference between action movies, often rated PG-13 or R, in which viewers drive to the theater and choose the film, and national television, which can often be encountered almost involuntarily by a casual press of the remote. The sixth season of "24" premiered on Jan. 14, but this time even otherwise supportive critics are worried that Fox has gone over the top, with plot twists so extreme and brutal that one concludes the network is irresponsibly falling back on the old formula: shock for the sake of shock.