There are still some nutters (mostly harmless) out there who think that the moon landing in 1969 was faked by NASA in collaboration with Hollywood, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Almost to celebrate the half-centenary of this epoch-making event, Hollywood is most definitely faking the landing by erasing one of the most iconic moments – the planting of the American flag on the moon surface:
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted the American flag on the moon in 1969, it marked one of the proudest moments in US history.
But a new film about Armstrong has chosen to leave out this most patriotic of scenes, arguing that the giant leap for mankind should not be seen as an example of American greatness.
The film, First Man, was unveiled at the Venice Film Festival yesterday, where the absence of the stars and stripes was noted by critics.
Its star, Ryan Gosling, was asked if the film was a deliberately un-American take on the moon landing. He replied that Armstrong’s accomplishment “transcended countries and borders”.
Gosling explained: “I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it. I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.”
“He was reminding everyone that he was just the tip of the iceberg – and that’s not just to be humble, that’s also true.
“So I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero. From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite. And we wanted the film to reflect Neil.”
Gosling joked: “I’m Canadian, so might have cognitive bias.” The film’s director, Damien Chazelle, Who previously worked with Gosling on the Oscar-winning La La Land, is French-Canadian.
The planting of the flag was controversial in 1969. There was disagreement over whether a US or United Nations flag should be used. Armstrong said later: “In the end it was decided by Congress that this was a United States project. We were not going to make any territorial claim, but we were to let people know that we were here and put up a US flag.
Sure, on one level the event did “transcend countries and border”, the sentiment expressed in Armstrong famous quote: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” (excuse the sexist and exclusive language). He didn’t say “one small step for an American” – but he did plant an American flag, signifying it was an American mission – conceived by the Americans, financed by the American taxpayers, and executed by the American astronauts. This is matter of record. Sure, it was a culmination of millennia of economic, scientific and technological development of the human society, but it wasn’t the “international community” that took that last step to the heavens. America might have been standing on the shoulders of giants, to borrow from Isaac Newton, but it was America which was standing there.
But instead we now have the new Hollywood take on representing the past: imagining what the protagonist might or might not have thought and meant, rather than portraying what he actually did.
It is a small detail in the whole grand story but it’s a telling one. Gosling and Chazelle might be Canadians but Hollywood is quite happy to de-Americanise itself without any foreigners in charge. This is partly a commercial decision – as more and more money is earned by Hollywood movies at overseas box office, including in China, downplaying any sort of local patriotism seems like a good way to universalise the appeal in an era where the United States has lost much of its lustre and appeal as the bright shining light to inspire and emulate by the rest of the world. But the likely commercial considerations dovetail quite nicely with the internalised self-doubt and self-loathing of the soft and hard varieties of cultural Marxism that have slowly but surely captured all the commanding heights of cultural production in America over the past few decades. “My country, always wrong”, seems to be the prevailing attitude. If it’s something good, it’s universal or anational, but if it’s something bad it’s still definitely American. You can bet your bottom dollar (or Renminbi) that if you had a movie scene with soldiers committing war crimes, the creative minds would find a sure way to somehow display the American flag in the context (maybe getting splattered with the blood of slaughtered civilians).
Gosling and Co might not think that the American flag is a racist symbol, as some of the woke folk now increasingly do, but any expressions of patriotic sentiments are viewed as shallow and chauvinistic. Flags, nation states and borders – it’s all so yesterday. The new hotness is “humanity”, an amorphous global mass that doesn’t extinguish and discriminate, just subsumes everything into the lowest common denominator while claiming it actually represents all the loftiest ideas. And so the Stars and Bars is now another symbol that dare not speak its name and show its face. Some athletes, when faced with the flag, have been “taking the knee”. Hollywood, with all the artistic freedom and licence it has, does one better – it erases the flag altogether. Neil Armstrong is still saluting, but we known not what anymore as he stares blankly into the dark empty space.