The Power of Film: An American’s Reevaluation of Vietnam

Recently, my good friends over at The Tuscan Shed have been generous enough to post some articles I’ve written based partly on my experiences in Vietnam, and how movies have shaped many of my preconceived notions bout the country before I even arrived.

What I appreciate most about them hosting some of my writing is that these articles reflect so much about how Americans’ notions of Vietnam can be twisted and turned around by these (admittedly wonderful and beautiful) films like Apocalypse Now and Kong: Skull Island. (The latter, of course, I appreciate for its beauty, having been filmed all over Vietnam from Halong Bay to Ninh Binh.)

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My own ideas about Vietnam have changed drastically since I’ve lived and worked here, but the most startling part about this change has been looking back and realizing how “off” my visions of the country actually were based on the only lens we Americans tend to see Vietnam: thorough the War. I say “the War,” because I’m caught between two important perspectives: how the Americans call it “the Vietnam War” and how the Vietnamese call it “the American War.”

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This is, in my mind, entirely different from the idiocy that pervades some ideas regarding the American Civil War, and that it’s seen (by a very small group) as “the War of Northern Aggression. Ending slavery is one thing- the War in Vietnam, whether it’s American or Vietnamese, is entirely different, and that’s one of the reasons I insist on staying here; to get the other side of the story. Even the name “the American War” speaks volumes.

So, I invite you to check out some of what I’ve written here on Apocalypse Now and bipolar disorder as well as my piece on the responsibility of big-name, Hollywood stars to encourage sustainable tourism in Kong; Skull Island. (Perhaps even check out some of their other awesome content for some more light-hearted reads and listens, eh?)

My point is, I’ve learned quite a bit about this country and how my home country sees Vietnam, and I’ll be honest: it’s toxic. I can tell you, because I was obsessed with the likes of Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now growing up, and now that I’m smack dab in the middle of a country that is, paraphrased from Hữu Ngọc’s incredible Wandering Through Vietnamese Culture, in the middle of finding its identity after two consecutive and devastating wars, I’m drawn to a new vision of Vietnam, one that’s not filled with danger, Agent Orange, and death, but something quite different- something blossoming, something beautiful.

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Author: A Quiet American

I'm a former graduate student and instructor of Classical Studies (not, like, the Brontë sisters and Shakespeare, but Plato and Sappho-ancient classics), and my specialty was Ancient Greek language and literature, on which I wrote my Master's thesis. After that three and a half year ordeal, as well as a few startling changes like kicking alcohol cold turkey and a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder, I briefly worked in a Thai restaurant long enough to earn the money to get out of the US. It seemed like a logical option at the time, and it's turning out to be more than I could have ever imagined. My aim is to show people like me, people with problems and shackles and hangups, that its possible, and maybe even healthy, to change your environment for a little bit. My "little bit" went from 3 months to almost a year and counting, and I'm learning something new about myself every day. I'm learning how to stave off anger and focus on positive thinking, a bit of mediation, and the virtues of optimistic nihilism.

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