Der Kommissar: The Introduction to The Cold War and Pop Culture

“Dreh dich nicht um, schau, schau,
der Kommissar geht um!
Wenn er dich anspricht
und du weißt warum,
Sag ihm: ‘Dein Leb’n bringt dich um.’ ” [1] – Falco, “Der Kommissar” (1981)

Falco, in a mix of guttural Austrian and English, sings about how Der Kommissar is “out and about” and he has power to fuck your world up. This Kommissar references the poli-mil position within the Soviet Army that was responsible for ensuring the regular Soviet military forces and the citizens within the Soviet Army districts stayed good communists. When this song came out in 1981 the Cold War was on its descent of its arch through history [2] and I was a middle school student in Germany. At the time I didn’t know what these Austrian lyrics meant… but I knew this was a catchy New Wave tune that me and my fellow Army brats were rocking to… as much as you can rock to the weirdness that was Falco and Germanic New Wave.

The Cold War permeated my childhood since I was the son of a US Army soldier. My early years through the beginning of junior high were based around having a dad you deployed for REFORGER [3] exercises and the constant bomb threats and warnings my school in Germany… Frankfurt American Junior High School… received. In the 1950s it was the Red Scare and the fear of the “Godless Communists.” [4]  In the 1960s it was the Domino Theory and Vietnam. The 1970s was when the Cold War seemed to compete with dueling American political and military priorities of oil, Middle East tensions, and the eventual rise of Islamic terrorism, which was ideologically different from communist/marxist terrorism. In the 1980s… my generation had President Reagan, American Cowboy diplomacy and the posturing of technologically advanced military weapons systems like the Apache attack helicopter and the M1 main battle tank to counter the numerically superior Soviet military forces. My generation, Generation X, got to enjoy the Cold War through the prism of MTV and Hollywood. My generation got to enjoy Falco singing about Soviet ideologues, [5] a weird Genesis video that had puppets, and Patrick Swayze kicking some Cuban and Soviet ass in Red Dawn.

Red Dawn was the epitome of Hollywood’s attempt at mixing American nationalism and the Cold War. Hollywood has always been a mix of flag waving and political liberalism… as if it knows exactly what Americans like and that they want to be entertained at stupid and visceral levels. On one hand Hollywood gave us Dr. Strangelove which is a perfect example of the mix of satirical and serious, and on the other hand, Hollywood gave us Red Dawn… which is a mix of adolescent fantasy, and at the time, explicit war porn. Red Dawn was a movie that not only made me feel proud to be an American… but it also made me want the Soviets to invade so I could fight them like some 1980s version of the American Revolution colonial fighter… I was ready to kick some communist ass in 1984.

Unlike some Hollywood movies… like Dr. Strangelove, Red Dawn has not aged well. It is simplistic, poorly written, poorly acted, and completely unrealistically. Patrick Swayze swaggers through this movie with a grimace and a level of pissiness that was only matched by him in this “unforgettable” scene from Dirty Dancing. Red Dawn and Patrick Swayze sucked… sucked so bad that almost every serious scene causes me giggle… yet I love Red Dawn. This movie is a link that connects the period of my life when I thought shit like killing Cubans and Soviets was what I was called to do… by God of course… this movie made me what to be a badass. This movie with all its nationalistic flag waving and high school sport star worshipping was exactly what I thought life should be like… I should have been allowed to go out there and defend my country… cause we all know that there is nothing more dangerous than a teenage boy and a gun… and I was ready to be dangerous.

Now Hollywood has gone and remade Red Dawn and named it Red Dawn (2012).  Yep… it is as poorly written and acted as the original. It’s cast of actors seem as stupid and grimacy as the original cast, yet none of them compare to Swayze’s pissiness. Instead of the nasty Cubans and Soviets of the original, the remake has North Korea occupying the Pacific Northwest… and we are also told that the Russians have occupied the “eastern seaboard.” Originally when filmed, the enemy occupation forces were the Chinese, however, due to fear of pissing China off… through the miracles of CGI… the occupation forces were identified as North Korean. Homage is played to the original with little and big things such as the use of a large blue pickup being used as the escape vehicle and the use of an old World War II code playing the background “the chair is against the wall.” [6]  The remake contains a significant portion of the original with fathers being executed, certain Wolverines being implanted with tracking devices… and the famous scene of Wolverines rising from spiderholes and killing the enemy with a well planned ambush using a little Wolverine temptress. One of the true drawbacks of the remake is the actors. Josh Peck plays Matt Eckert (Charlie Sheen in the original)… and his constant pout made me wonder if he was sporting a small dip of Copenhagen the whole film… additionally the limited range of emotions he displayed seemed to be as if he needed to take a dump the whole time North Korea was running roughshod over the state of Washington.

Basically, the Red Dawn remake seems to be an attempt to tap into the vein of the present day American angst… Amurika!… I want my country back!… over the economy and the fear of China’s supposed rise… even though North Korea is used as a surrogate.

The Cold War was constantly played out in the same manner when everyday language, actions, and thoughts were peppered with fear and propaganda of the supposed coming of war with the Soviets. When this supposed war with the Soviets was looming I was rocking to Falco and dreaming of shooting commie bastards with a deer rifle and snuggling with Lea Thompson around a campfire. In retrospect, the Cold War during all of its decades affected pop culture in numerous ways and this post is the first of many that will be a quick look at how our fear/anticipation of a war with the Soviet Union affected our daily American consumerism and culture… with a focus on television, movies, and music… WOLVERINES!!!!

[1] “Don’t turn around, look, look,
the Kommissar is out and about!
When he talks to you
and you know why,
tell him: ‘Your life is killing you.’”

[2] Unbeknownst to both the Soviets and the Americans

[3] REturn of FORces to GERmany was an annual US military exercise that trained and prepared for the what was believed to be the Soviet invasion of western Europe… US military planners assumed that one of the main axis of advances the Soviet Army tanks would take would be the Fulda Gap, which was an area between the former East Germany border and the West German city of Frankfurt. The Fulda Gap contained two lowland corridors that was the perfect geography for the maneuvering of heavy tracked military vehicles.

[4] This was also when the US government decided to put “In God We Trust” on everything official… a propaganda tool to battle communism instead of actually having any historical basis on supposed Christian views of the Founding Fathers.

[5] Some of us never took the time to think about what this song was about or how it might affect us… others dreamed of fighting the good fight.

[6] Interestingly, this code is played on a radio in another Hollywood classic war movie The Longest Day and it is part of the code that was broadcast to the French Resistance to inform them that the allied invasion of France was imminent.


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