GREVEN BOOK DEVOTES CHAPTER TO CASUALTIES OF WAR
Manhood In Hollywood From Bush To Bush, David Greven's study on Hollywood's representations of masculinity from 1989 to 2009, was published last week by University of Texas Press. Greven has been a part of the De Palma online community for a number of years. Earlier this year, the online journal Genders published the Greven's insightful essay, Misfortune and Men's Eyes, which looked at male bonding in three early De Palma films (Greetings, Hi, Mom!, and Get To Know Your Rabbit). Greven's new book (which can also be purchased at Amazon) continues the author's discussion of the homosocial, and features an entire chapter on De Palma's Casualties Of War. Here is an excerpt from the book's introduction that discusses the chapter on Casualties Of War:
In Brian De Palma's great antiwar film Casualties of War (1989), his characteristic, career-wide experimentation with split-image effects—the split-screen, the split-diopter—takes on an entirely new significance in terms of De Palma's staging of the masochistic gaze. Daniel Lang wrote an account in 1969 of one of the most harrowing episodes of the Vietnam War: the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young Vietnamese woman by a group of American soldiers, one of whom refused to participate in and unsuccessfully opposed the group's treatment of the woman. The first, and only, film version of this case, De Palma's film emerges in the year that Bush 41 takes office and within a new wave of Vietnam films instigated by the surprising box-office success of Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986).
In this chapter, I consider the original account by Lang and De Palma's cinematic rendering of it, which I view as the synthesization of several key themes in his oeuvre, especially the failed heroism of American manhood. I examine De Palma's film as a representation of American homosociality, providing a historical contextualization of it that illuminates American misogyny and homophobia, the latter no less a key factor in the events as described in the Lang account and De Palma's film. I provide a theoretical framework of the homosocial that allows us to consider De Palma's film as a critique of the normative codes of American manhood and what Gayle Rubin, following Levi-Strauss, calls the "traffic in women." The association of Eriksson, the man who opposed the kidnapping, rape, and murder of the woman, with homosexuality by the ringleader of the group, Meserve, is analyzed as a crucial component of the narrative. I explore the ways in which the film represents homoeroticism as both a galvanizing and threatening element in homosocialized manhood, which inculcates misogyny and homophobia. Further, this film represents a strong corrective to the particular forms of nationalism in the Reagan era, carried over into the Bush era. I also examine the film's staging of a masculine battle between a "negative narcissism" and a "heroic masochism."