Movies and the Reagan Presidency: Success and Ethics. By Chris Jordan. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. 195 pp.
There is much of interest in Movies and the Reagan Presidency: Success and Ethics, although the title is somewhat misleading. A more appropriate title would have linked movies to the Reagan era, which author Chris Jordan defines as a "watershed period in Hollywood history during which the president's mobilization of the success ethic initiated trends in the industry and its movies that continue today" (p. 3). The author also notes that this influence began long before Reagan's presidency, when Reagan, as governor of California, along "with a powerful corporate class of Hollywood executives" (p. 29), influenced changes in the motion picture industry. This book, then, is more about these changes in the industry, as well as the movies and values of the 1980s, rather than the presidency per se, but it still offers an insightful way to view the period.
Jordan, an assistant professor of communication at Penn State, argues that the motion picture industry's vertical and horizontal reintegration, the return to the studio system, and Reagonomic deregulation that allowed for massive domestic and global marketing, along with movies promoting conservative values and consumption, were responsible for Hollywood's record profits during the 1980s. He demonstrates the link between these changes in Hollywood's political and economic structure and movies in discussing three types of movies that dominated the period, highlighting Hollywood's "penchant for reducing issues of economic mobility and disenfranchisement to entertainment terms" (p. 45).
The first type, the biracial buddy movie (the Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop series), promised a sense of racial healing, while at the same time masking class inequality. These messages were particularly important, Jordan contends, following the divisive period of reaction to the civil rights movement. Furthermore, these biracial movies were an effective means of crossover marketing at home and abroad. Second are what Jordan labels "MTV-music video movies" (Flashdance, Footloose, and Staying Alive), which focused on "the individual's achievement of class transcendence through redemptive rites of physical competition and talent" (p. 100). Proof of such...