D. Bruno Starrs has penned a research paper which takes at look at the popular machinima series Red vs. Blue as an anti-war film.
Entitled Reverbing: The Red vs. Blue Machinima as Anti-War film, the self-proclaimed independent-scholar explains that his paper examines Red vs. Blue “in the context of the war film genre, given that machinma is a kind of cinema.” Starrs notes the proliferation of other anti-war-themed machinima, such as We Choose Death or Deviation, but says he chose Red vs. Blue as the basis for his paper because of its “longevity and popularity” and “unique use of humour.”
The author then takes the reader on a quick journey through the history of the evolution of war stances in Hollywood films over the years. From the birth of Hollywood through the middle of the 20th century, films were typically unabashedly pro-war and displayed an, “eagerness to go to war for the sake of vaguely defined ‘American values.’”
When anti-war films like MASH, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now did start to appear, they were distanced from the wars they were based on by several years, providing some separation. In today’s culture however, films “are depicting the current conflagration in all its brutality, as it happens, even if mainstream US television hesitates.”
Which brings us to the place of Red vs. Blue in this progression:
In contrast, the anti-war message of RvB is conveyed not through horror but through humour, and therein lies its most significant and telling critique of warfare-led ideology. By denying morbid voyeurs the carnage of war, RvB permits dialogue between its less than eager combatants in which the structures supporting their self-sacrifice are questioned.
Starrs writes that Red vs. Blue “ruthlessly” parodies the six “generic traits of the pro-war film,” such as basic training “high jinks,” somber funerals for war victims, contributions of a “racial minority,” the importance of the flag, self-sacrifice and “justification of the cause.”
The author then serves up examples from the machinima series for each “trait” listed above. Regarding “primacy of the flag,” he offers the following scene from RvB:
In Episode 4 of RvB, however, Caboose queries: ‘What’s so important about the flag?’ To which Church stumbles as he replies: ‘Because it’s the flag. Man, you know . . . it’s the flag . . . Tucker, you tell him why the flag is so important.’ But Tucker is also unable to explain the significance of the artifact their lives are being risked for: ‘Well, it’s . . . it’s complicated. It’s blue. We’re blue.’
Red vs. Blue also differentiates itself from pro-war films by offering up depictions of women as warriors, and, as Starrs writes, “These characters are portrayed positively with their femininity effectively naturalized by the actions of the male soldiers.”
In his summation, Starrs praises machinima as an activism tool, writing, “The speed with which machinima can be made and distributed means that prejudices being cultivated by one-sided press reports can be creatively and quickly countered in the online world.”
Many players of Halo are now also fans of RvB and it is quite possible that the pro-war ideologies indoctrinated by their first-person shooter game play are effectively countered by the anti-war ideology of this very popular machinima series.
The full paper will be published in the April 2010 issue of Continuum.
Many thanks to Wai Yen Tang for turning us on to this paper!