Memory, War And American Identity: Saving Private Ryan As Cinematic Jeremiad
Critical Studies In Media Communication
The American jeremiad long has been an established rhetorical form that operates as a corrective to conditions gone awry. In response to a 'falling away," the jeremiad issues a call to the community to return home to idealized foundational principles. The American experience in Vietnam produced in the national community a crisis of faith in foundational principles and precipitated a crisis of representation of national identity. This essay argues that the secular American jeremiad emerges prominently in Steven Spielberg's film Saving Private Ryan. Through a close reading of the film, contextualized by the preceding twenty years of popular cinematic lamentation following Vietnam, I argue that the film operates, in part, as a rhetorically skillful response to the post-Vietnam crisis of national identity. I further argue that Spielberg both acknowledges and appropriates the crisis, offering viewing audiences a "way home" to mythic America. The essay concludes with a discussion of the tensions between the conservative mandate in the jeremiadic form and the possibilities for social transformation.
Owen, A. Susan. 2002. "Memory, war and American identity: Saving Private Ryan as cinematic jeremiad." Critical Studies In Media Communication 19(3): 249-282.