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Bonus Video Recap: War as Depicted in "Top Gun" w/ Will Menaker


Danny and Derek speak with Chapo Trap House’s Will Menaker about Tony Scott’s classic 1980s film “Top Gun”. In this clip, the group focuses on the depiction of war in the movie and how it compares with reality, as well as depictions in older films.

Danny Bessner (00:00):

It's very interesting because when you compare it with the history of war movies, it's just so different from the types of war movies you got from the '40s and the '60s, which are all about collective action, which are all about coming together, different parts of America and the melting pot in the World War II squadron, which would return with "Saving Private Ryan" 12 years later but as an exercise in nostalgia, effectively.

Will Menaker (00:20):

You're right. The top gun competition is 12 of the exact same guy all clawing against each other to be number one, to be top boy.

Danny Bessner (00:28):

Yeah. It's almost British in a sense, which I guess makes sense because the dog fighting tradition is much more dueling, which wasn't really an American thing like it was in Europe. In fact, dog fighting—Derek, correct me if I'm wrong—but dog fighting was never really an important part of American war. It was almost always bombing. That was the point of the Air Force because ...


Derek Davison (00:53):

I don't know enough. Right...

Danny Bessner (00:56):

The mission of the Air Force (which is why this is in the Navy) the mission of the Air Force is to have an independent strategic mission, which is bombing. The idea is that you don't have to fight wars. You just bomb their electrical plants and communication networks. But in the Navy...

Will Menaker (01:09):

But that's not cool. That's not cool...

Danny Bessner (01:10):

It's not cool at all...

Will Menaker (01:11):

...In fact, it's kind of depressing. It's depressing.

Danny Bessner (01:13):

War is depressing in itself.

Derek Davison (01:14):

"We need to blow up the town's water supply now."

Danny Bessner (01:17):

"We have to destroy hospitals"

Will Menaker (01:21):

That allows the reality of what war actually is to intercede into this fantasy where wars between two fucking superpowers can just be fought by the two guys with the biggest dicks and the tightest nerves in those two countries can just get in these beautiful machines and just fuck each other in the air beautifully. That's how we solve conflict.

Will Menaker (01:43):

That's the fantasy of war and the military industrial complex. This blessed and sexy individual achievement, that's the fantasy that this movie is so beautifully and brilliantly sewing.

Danny Bessner (01:58):

It's also interesting that you use the word progressive because I'm doing some research into the early history of the Air Force right now and the Air Force— and it's not even the Air Force, because this is a Navy movie, of course— but flying was really associated with progress. It's high technology. It's advanced technology. You're able to have radar. You're able to basically control war. Like, the dream of it is that it lifts the fog of war because you fly over it.

Danny Bessner (02:26):

It's interesting because there was always a progressive element to that. In some sense, the gay subtexts are directly connected to that because I think it's been wrongly portrayed as a conservative movie, but it's in some sense the ultimate liberal movie, it's about individualism. It's about high technology. It's about taming the untatamable and bringing civilization. I think that's, to me, what's the most compelling thing about "Top Gun" a quote unquote text is that it's been misread so much and it's a liberal apotheosis, even if it's very much reflective of Reagan, because in some sense, Reagan is a stream of liberalism becoming conscious, sentient.

Will Menaker (03:10):

I think that's a really good point. I mean, the movie is obviously jingoistic and juiced the Navy recruitment numbers for a decade or something like that. But if it had been an outwardly reactionary or not a pure piece of cocaine Hollywood mania, it wouldn't have been effective at all in the Reagan era at being that much of a boon to recruitment. It's funny, you're more of a liberal new deal era. As you were saying, Danny, the war movies were actually more conservative and then it wasn't about individualism and being sexy and cool.

Danny Bessner (03:49):

It was about community. It was about getting together— Well, it was both, it was about community, but also going across boundaries and fighting in the name of the state. This is just, like you said, pure cocaine. There's no logic to "Top Gun". There's no logic to literally the movie. There's no logic to what are they doing. What are they doing in the Indian Ocean? Why would the Soviets attack them? It's so fucking insane. Why would they risk that? It's just a movie that exists in a dream scape almost. I think that's also very attractive about it and very the embodiment of the 1980s and why it's lasted more so than I probably every other movie and why this new one's going to be fucking gigantic.

Will Menaker (04:31):

It already is.

Danny Bessner (04:32):

They're going to start green lighting more quote, unquote original, I guess, original IP from 30 years ago.

American Prestige
American Prestige
American Prestige