Imagining Danger, Imagining Nation:
Postcolonial Discourse in Rising Sun and Stargate


Floyd D. Cheung

Tulane University/Mount Holyoke College

Copyright (c) 1998 by Floyd D. Cheung, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

  1. Directly after World War II, the United States as an "imagined community," to use Benedict Anderson's term, largely constructed itself around two premises: its superpower status derived from formidable military, economic, and political strength and its perceived responsibility to use that strength to oppose the Communist threat. According to former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, "During the Cold War, virtually every use of American power could be understood and explained to the American people as a response to the danger of Soviet totalitarianism," but "[t]oday . . . that argument is obsolete--and no similarly compelling calculus of force has emerged to replace it" (301). From 1945 until its dissolution in 1991, the Soviet Union, with its nuclear capability, alternative political philosophy, and supposed terrorist networks, posed a seemingly genuine threat to the security of the USA, but as David Campbell theorizes, danger is a function of interpretation, interpretation is disseminated by rhetoric, and the rhetoric of danger motivates national identification. Basing many of his assumptions on the theories of Michel Foucault, Campbell argues convincingly in Writing Security that "the boundaries of a state's identity are secured by the representation of danger integral to foreign policy" (3). With the removal of the Soviet Union as a compelling threat, then, the US required a new rhetoric of danger to maintain its identity.[1]

  2. During this period of the early 1990s, the USA experimented with framing a new rhetoric of danger around perceived threats posed by Japanese capitalism and Iraqi militarism. National calls to "Buy American" joined consumers in the fight against a trade deficit with Japan, and the Persian Gulf War knit citizens together against Saddam Hussein. In the first scenario, the USA imagined itself as a space threatened by Japanese economic colonialism. In the second scenario, the USA drew upon its revolutionary history to sympathize with Kuwait as a community resisting tyrannical rule. In effect, the USA managed to explain protectionist and neocolonial actions through a rhetoric of anticolonialism. By interpreting danger in this manner, the USA found a positive way to justify its potentially questionable actions, while it also constructed new dangers against which to identify. This essay examines two novels turned films, Rising Sun (1992) and Stargate (1994), as examples of this rhetoric at work in popular culture. [2] Through an analysis of their use of anticolonial and postcolonial discourses, we can better understand how such a superpower as the USA can occupy the contradictory position of the underdog nation that never loses.

  3. Former director of Central Intelligence James R. Woolsey in a 1994 speech to a Senate committee delivered the following parallelism: "hope coexists with uncertainty, promise with danger" (290). In the early 1990s with Soviet obstacles removed, a world of opportunities suddenly opened up to the USA, but so did a world of unforeseen, or at least previously overshadowed, threats to US advancement. Consequently, US attempts to justify uses of power during this period involved many contradictions. [3] How can the most powerful economy in the world explain protectionism? How can the most powerful military in the world explain beating down a much weaker force? In late twentieth-century American culture, two forms have been especially effective in their capacities both as narratives that can reconcile contradiction and as vehicles that can reach a wide audience: popular novels and feature films.

  4. Of course, causal relationships between government policy, artistic intention, and audience reception are notoriously complex and controversial. For the purposes of argument in this essay, I follow Stephen Prince's theory that such relationships can be usefully described in terms of
    an indirect, mediated, and symbolic process whereby Hollywood film [and popular novels] reference salient clusters of social and political values and, through the operations of narrative, create a dialogue through and with these values. (7)

    Diverse audience attitudes, political positions, myths, and facts dialectically and unevenly influence each other through such dialogue. National identity is the resultant, ever-evolving product of this process.

  5. Rising Sun, written by Michael Crichton and directed by Phillip Kaufman, and Stargate, written by Dean Devlin and co-written and directed by Roland Emmerich, participate in dialogues with audiences and political policies at a moment when new challenges and opportunities appeared on the stage of national imagination evacuated by the USSR's dissolution. During this time of promise and danger, both films and novels articulated and reconciled vexing contradictions about the USA's new role, thereby contributing to the nation's raison d'être. Specifically, these works derive much of their narrative force through referencing and transforming several tropes and themes from postcolonial discourse. Rising Sun employs them to figure the USA as a besieged space, under the attack of the Japanese who plot to turn the sovereign country into an "economic colony" (Crichton 252). Stargate addresses the needs of a post-cold war USA by simultaneously negotiating danger and promise at the ever more unstable borders produced by late twentieth-century political, economic, and technological change. Both Rising Sun and Stargate recast and deploy the figure of the indigenous guide, described by such postcolonial theorists as Chris Tiffin and Alan Lawson. They discuss Others in ways usefully analyzed with Homi K. Bhabha's idea of mimicry and Jo-Ann Wallace's theory of the child. And in general they address a variety of relationships in ways usefully understood in terms of the colonizer and colonized dyad.

    According to Lawson and Tiffin, colonial power relationships involve a party's constant negotiation of its stance between feelings of loathing and desire--fear and fetish--vis-à-vis another party ("Reading" 231). This ambivalent process of distancing and approaching usually causes much anxiety for the negotiating party, but Rising Sun and Stargate find ways of controlling and focusing anxiety both to clarify a line of action and to establish boundaries of identification.

  6. One way that these works achieve new and powerful effects is through a modification of the traditional role of the indigenous guide. Hegemonic colonial voices usually must resolve a problem encountered when textualizing the discovery of a new space: the indigenous guide simply knows more than the supposedly superior explorer. Tiffin and Lawson explain that this is normally accomplished by "rendering the guide's knowledge pragmatic rather than conceptual and strategic"; as a result, the "guide has the practical knowledge to reach the goal, but not the conceptual knowledge to see its 'true' significance and thereby pre-empt the European [or Euro-American] discovery" ("Textuality" 3). Rising Sun and Stargate avoid this problem altogether by transplanting the guide figure from the not-yet-known space and aligning him with the USA. Mysteries drive the plots of Rising Sun and Stargate, and the guide and explorer figures--all hailing from the USA--work together to "discover" answers. In Rising Sun John Connor, played by Sean Connery, and Web Smith, played by Wesley Snipes, are specially-trained detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department, trying to discover the murderer of a prostitute from Kentucky named Cheryl Lynn Austin, played by Tatiana Patitz. In Stargate Daniel Jackson, played by James Spader, and Colonel Jack O'Neil, played by Kurt Russell, join forces first to discover how to open the Stargate and then to explore what lies beyond it.

  7. In order to know both the Other land and the USA, Connor and Jackson necessarily occupy liminal positions in their own societies. Connor, "a legend" among LAPD Special Service officers for his knowledge of Japanese culture and skill as a detective, spent many years in Japan, and at the time of the Austin case, he must be called out of "indefinite leave" in order to help (Crichton 10). Tom Graham, a nativist LAPD officer played by Harvey Keitel, constantly warns Smith that Connor cannot be trusted, since Connor's loyalty might also accompany his apparent respect for Japanese culture. Daniel Jackson, like Connor, also occupies a position on the margin and is especially ambivalent about working with such a hegemonic entity as the US military. He, too, is extremely knowledgeable about the culture that he helps to explore. An Egyptologist and specialist in multiple languages, including Aramaic, ancient Egyptian, Berber, Omotic, ancient Hebrew, and Chadic, Jackson quickly finds himself at home on a planet on the other side of the Stargate and often experiences "déjà vu," but previous to his trip, in his US "home," he is ostracized by the scientific community for his unconventional ideas (Devlin and Emmerich 110, 112). As a consequence of their knowledge, both Connor and Jackson reside on the edges of conventional US society, but the projects to which each of them are called bring them into more central positions.

  8. Although both works make a similar move by putting both guide and explorer together, the differences between their characters' relationships and levels of knowledge are indicative of their different, albeit hegemonic, projects. Connor occupies both the position of guide and explorer, possessing both pragmatic and strategic knowledge. He describes his relationship to his partner, Smith, as one between a "sempai" and a "kohai" wherein a "senior man," like a "fond parent" teaches a "junior man" (Crichton 15). As he solves the mystery, he helps Smith learn about the beauty of Japanese culture and the guile behind their business practices, and as one critic reminds, Smith "stands in for us, the readers" (Nathan 22). Kaufman establishes this effect early in the film, for when Smith first meets Ishihara, played by Stan Egi, he gives the audience a point-of-view shot clearly from Smith's perspective. Consequently, throughout the novel and the film, the audience discovers the true state of Japanese influence in the USA from Connor and Crichton's mastery of the "significance" of the situation, but this discovery takes place through the eyes of a student. The inexperienced-student effect is diminished somewhat in the film, since Kaufman presents a slightly smarter and more resistant version of Crichton's Smith--probably in an attempt to make the interracial partnership seem more equal and complex--but nevertheless, despite Smith's ability to marshal the forces of a backstreet LA neighborhood, Connor clearly dominates in the larger context.

  9. In Rising Sun the Connor character resolves the contradiction that arises from simultaneously loathing and desiring that which is Japanese for the audience. As one reviewer describes him, Conner is "a Japanophile detective who yet retains a few interesting Japanophobic tics" (Schickel 57). Conner comfortably contains both Japanophilia and Japanophobia through combining a pragmatic approach and strategic understanding. He asserts that he respects the Japanese, but at the same time, he realizes that those same aspects which he so respects are also the qualities that make the Japanese such a threat to US economic, political, and cultural integrity.

  10. The resolution of this contradiction (between desiring and loathing the colonial subject) and the position of Daniel Jackson as guide for the USA work differently, and for good reasons, in Stargate. Although Jackson's practical knowledge is especially apt for translating hieroglyphics inscribed on a ten thousand-year-old, ostensibly Egyptian-made artifact, he lacks the wider, strategic perspective of the US military. Military personnel have been experimenting with the Stargate for years before calling in Jackson to help; in fact, they have already determined that it can be potentially used for space travel. Classifying this information as "sensitive," however, they provide Jackson only with the heretofore inscrutable coverstone and not with the actual gate or their current knowledge of its purpose. During one outburst of frustration while trying to translate the writing, Jackson lashes out at Kawalsky, a lieutenant played by John Diehl, exclaiming, "Could you pick me up a point of reference. And maybe some context" (Devlin and Emmerich 51). Eventually, Jackson discovers the context in a map of the constellations--by chance in the film and by breaking into O'Neil's office in the novel--and completes his translation.

  11. Throughout Stargate, Daniel Jackson and the military find themselves at odds; therefore, the guide and the explorers seem to work toward opposite ends. Jackson is concerned about scholarship and ethnography, wanting to learn about the people of Nagada, whom they find on the other side of the portal. In contrast, O'Neil and his team are more worried about performing a short reconnaissance mission and avoiding potential ambushes and poisonings they think the Nagadans may have set up for them. "Daniel thought he must have died and gone to Egyptologist heaven," while the military team merely wants to survey "the quarter-mile perimeter" around the extraterrestrial stargate and immediately "reestablish contact with the stargate on Earth" (Devlin and Emmerich 145, 95). As they enter the Nagadan compound, Jackson strides in with a potential romantic partner at his side, but the soldiers enter cautiously "at intervals of ten paces" in order to be prepared just in case "it turned out to be an ambush" (116). These differences in tone reflect their opposite feelings of desire and loathing. Plot complications eventually force Jackson and the soldiers to work together, however, and facing these complications moves them from mutual suspicion to mutual understanding. In the end, Jackson and O'Neil learn to respect each other. As in Rising Sun, Stargate's resolution of opposing feelings and motives does much cultural work. While many interests in the USA may remain fragmented and even confrontational at a local level, these works suggest broader conditions under which they come together.

  12. In addition to aligning the guide and the explorer figures on the same side, resolution of contradiction at the site of hegemony can also be usefully critiqued with Bhabha's theory of mimicry. As he explains, "mimicry is at once resemblance and menace" ("Of Mimicry" 127). On the one hand, colonizers desire "a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite" ("Of Mimicry" 126, emphasis in original); but on the other hand, such an ability and invitation to imitate can easily be turned to the subversive ends of mockery and "sly civility"--that is, an appearance of submission masking an attitude of rebellion or disrespect ("Signs" 182). Thus, built into the colonial project is an ambivalence that both enables and threatens authority. In this light, Rising Sun can be read in part as a text seeking to defend American identity at the point where the Japanese have become a menace precisely because of their "uncanny ability to imitate, mimic, and assimilate 'things Western' into their own techno-poetics" (Wilson 221). In a different but powerful mode, Stargate provides its audience with a way to deal with the seemingly inextricable ambivalence between menace and resemblance by reifying each side of the couplet in two distinct sites: the character of Ra, the antagonist played by Jaye Davidson, and the community of polite and friendly Nagadans.

  13. At one time, according to Crichton and his forty-three documented sources, the Japanese were supplicant, friendly, and avid in their imitation of the USA. After all, what more could a victor ask from a conquered nation than to act as a market, keep peace, and learn from its mistakes? In the third quarter of this century, the USA clearly held a substantial upper hand, and for a while, the USA and Japan "collaborated--victor and vanquished, senior genius of industry and eager, hardworking apprentice" (Morrow 16). Like good mimic men, the "Japanese stood in grateful awe of all things American and overlaid their ancient culture with a new layer mockingly like that of their sponsors" (16). By the 1980s, however, the USA's younger partner had risen a great deal and had begun to compete with US manufacturing, banking, and even cultural industries, like those of music and film.

  14. In 1992, Kaufman fittingly begins Rising Sun, as one reviewer describes, "in a Los Angeles karaoke parlor where a Japanese man is crooning Cole Porter's Don't Fence Me In"; furthermore,
    [t]he video carrying the sing-along words is a Japanese version of Sergio Leone's first spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars, which was, in turn, a knockoff of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, a samurai epic. (Schickel 56)

    In a postmodern world of permeable and slippery boundaries between cultures and increasing "global homogenization," the USA tries to police its borders of identification, perhaps by laughing at this karaoke scene (Wilson 241). But Crichton and Kaufman encourage the audience to reevaluate seriously whether US cultural and economic borders are as intact as they once seemed. What some Americans see inspires fear, loathing, and envy: the US has been "outdone," and when looking at the Japanese, Americans of the early 1990s "see what might have been--what used to be" (Morrow 21; Bruning). [4]

  15. Rising Sun mixes fiction with polemic to outline the ways in which the Japanese have exceeded acceptable levels of mimicry. Senator John Morton, played by Ray Wise, explains that some Americans "fear that Japan now has the power to shape and determine the future of America" (Crichton 252). Specifically, Crichton summons dozens of voices spaced throughout the novel to relate anecdotes of how the Japanese have purchased Orange County, how they influence American politicians and other institutions, and how they continue to pose as polite mimic men while they simultaneously subvert the identificatory bases of the USA. Thus, Rising Sun asks its audience to recognize menace behind resemblance.

  16. In Stargate menace and resemblance are reified and separated, so that US forces can concentrate on attacking one and nurturing the other. This fictional tactic propagates a myth that allows the USA to approach a foreign community and clearly distinguish between the Others who resemble good, democratic, capitalist consumers and the Others who represent a dangerous menace. At once, it is possible to gain a new recruit for the American way of life and oppose a great danger, thereby extending US influence with the resembling Other and defining national identity against the menacing Other. This two-pronged tactic of simultaneous reification eliminates the need for US neocolonialism to fetishize and fear "alternately" a monolithic Other (Tiffin and Lawson, "Textuality" 5).

  17. The Nagadans represent the reification of mimicry's motivation toward increasing resemblance. When the military team and Jackson first discover them, the Americans experience "a shock wave of recognition . . . a sudden awareness of being related to these people" (Devlin and Emmerich 108). Even before meeting any of them, Jackson determines from a harness he finds that "there was intelligent life here, a species capable of making tools and domesticating other animals to help them do their work," and he further notices from the reins and saddle that "[w]hoever made them had better skill than equipment" (103, 105). He thus foreshadows the revelation that the inhabitants here have been artificially restrained from advancing as a civilization, because they lack resources, leisure, or education, but not because they lack a core of intelligence and skill.

  18. From this picture of the Nagadans, it is already possible to see that Devlin and Emmerich appeal to the established colonialist tactic of figuring the native as "half savage and half child"--in Rudyard Kipling's words (qtd. in Tiffin and Lawson, "Textuality" 5). Devlin and Emmerich clearly support this connection by highlighting the Nagadans' curiosity, their naiveté, their propensity for imitating the soldiers, their inability to read or write, and their desire for American values. Skaara, a Nagadan boy played by Alexis Cruz, represents this aspect of their character as he "make[s] it his business to go everywhere O'Neil went . . . studying his every move" (139). In a key scene Skaara takes "a cigarette out of O'Neil's pack, mimicking the colonel's movements," but after he inhales, the "wise-guy smirk on his face" is predictably replaced by gagging and coughing (140). The humor that an American audience derives from this scene is associated not only with Skaara's young age but also with his society's lack of maturity and experience. As Jo-Ann Wallace would put it, the discourse of childhood figures the Nagadans as beings with both the "potential . . . to flourish" and "a subjectivity and corporeality in need of discipline" (173). With proper teaching and a lifting of the restraints artificially applied by Ra, the Nagadans can resemble the US team, but as Bhabha would remind, "not quite" ("Of Mimicry" 126).

  19. Although Jackson possesses both affection and respect for the Nagadans, telling juxtapositions indicate to the audience that they will always be associated with lower beings. In order to win the confidence of a pack animal Jackson finds, he offers it a bite of a Fifth Avenue chocolate bar. As he slowly gains its trust, he is vindicated in his belief that he "shared a special sympathetic bond with all animals and babies" (103-104). Similarly, when Jackson acts as a US ambassador to Nagada and finds that he cannot communicate with its leader, played by Erick Avari, a familiar idea strikes him: "Daniel unwrapped a half melted Fifth Avenue bar and held it out, offering the man a taste" (113). Predictably, the leader's face lights up, goodwill is established, and the US team is immediately invited to feast with the Nagadan elders. Thus, with a taste of the bounty of the USA, the wills of all Nagadans, regardless of size, fur color, or number of feet, can be dominated by fostering childlike awe and brand-name loyalty.

  20. Despite this inculcation of awe, the Nagadans cannot worship both Ra and the US military team, just as the Japanese cannot serve both their own interests and those of the USA. As the adage goes, a slave cannot serve two masters. Since the USA serves its own set of interests, Ra and the Japanese consequently stand as threatening competitors. In one case, Ra attempts to destroy Colorado with a modified atom bomb. In the other, the Japanese plan to "occupy" the USA "economically," as Connor explains (Crichton 280). Interestingly, Ra steals and supercharges a US bomb, and the Japanese imitate and exceed US capitalism. In this light, the USA literally creates its own enemies. More than a twist in a plot, this fact heightens the sense that a morally-wronged USA is forced to defend itself against derivative and treacherous Others. Rising Sun and Stargate use several strategies to frame these Others as derivations-gone-wrong--perversions--in order to shore up feelings of US originality and righteousness. As Campbell testifies, "the ability to represent things as alien, subversive, dirty, or sick, has been pivotal to the articulation of danger in the American experience" (2).

  21. One powerful method by which Rising Sun and Stargate establish American identity is to represent their enemies as sexually other. For example, Graham labels the Japanese as "known world-class perversion freaks," and Connor admits that they, unlike most Americans in his mind, have "[n]o problem with homosexuality, no problem with kinky sex" as Smith winces with disgust (Crichton 118). [5] Smith's gaze, which often becomes a lingering, point-of-view shot stare at the cleavages of various women like "neighbor girl" Julia, played by Alexandra Powers, consents to heterosexuality as the normative orientation of loyal Americans (Rising Sun). He and, consequently, the audience are not surprised, then, to learn that a Japanese conspirator working at the Los Angeles Times named Willy "The Weasel" Wilhelm, played by Steve Buscemi, engages in homosexual activity.

  22. Using a variant of the myth of the Other's exceptional sexual prowess, Rising Sun pits American and Japanese men against each other in competition for American women. As Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak might put it, black and white men must work together to protect white women from yellow men. [6] The white women, however, are figured as lascivious, oversexed beings, ready for whatever comes their way from any source; therefore, even if they are American, they cannot be counted on in the project of loyal opposition to the Japanese threat. According to Conner, many women willingly serve Japanese men in a bettaku, a "love residence where mistresses are kept" (Crichton 63). Thus women are constructed as beings interested only in physical pleasure and monetary reward, as American men are left needing cold showers.

  23. On another level, however, Rising Sun works to identify the female white body with the land of the nation, a tradition described in the aptly titled The Lay of the Land by Annette Kolodny. For example, in the film Graham classifies women as a type of US raw material vulnerable to exportation and exploitation, for after he peers into a house and notices Eddie Sakamura, played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, eating food off of a naked "blonde's" stomach and licking sake from the tip of a "red head's" breast, he laments that the Japanese are "plundering our natural resources" (Rising Sun). Graham's indignation, though, appears to stem more from jealousy than protectiveness, since his gaze parallels Sakamura's.

  24. Like Crichton and Kaufman's Japanese, Devlin and Emmerich's Ra is presented as a perverse exploiter of resources better shepherded by American men. Originally the last survivor of an alien race able to inhabit the bodies of other beings, Ra came to Earth and melded with an Egyptian boy. Apparently unable or unwilling to reproduce but still desirous of some kind of companionship, Ra steals children from his several colonies and adds them to his court. The listless expressions on his charges' faces signal disconnectedness and unhappiness. Ra's unnaturally produced family is certainly shown in a negative light next to the more traditional, patriarchal families of Nagada.

  25. The most striking and potentially unnerving aspect of Ra, however, derives from his appearance and aura. The producer of Stargate, Mario Kassar, purposefully cast and liberally paid Jaye Davidson to play the part of Ra (Stargate Press Kit). Kassar hoped that viewers would remember Davidson's 1992 role as the transvestite Dil in The Crying Game and thus attribute some of Dil's ambiguous aura to Ra. Even if one fails to associate Ra with the character of Dil, one can hardly ignore his sexually liminal figure. One of Ra's chest plates, for example, rides low on his bare torso like a bustier and gives the illusion of female bosom exposure. This gender ambiguity, like Japanese "kinkiness," signals "alien" sexuality and finds its contrast in the gender stability of Jackson and Sha'uri, played by Mili Avital. Lest the audience confuse Jackson's intellectualism as a sign of effeminacy, the plot allows him the opportunity to perform a conventionally masculine role in the "saving" of Sha'uri. Within the Hollywood romance conventions of "the sarong epic," Devlin and Emmerich clearly cast the relationship between them as the normative one (Newman). In comparison, Ra's gender seems unclear and his sexual preference remains unasserted, and therefore threatening.

  26. Ra and the Japanese also intentionally make their methods of control unclear, and it becomes the duty of the US forces to demystify their power. Ra maintains control over his empire by holding a monopoly on violence and by figuring himself as the supreme divine entity in his subjects' religious perspectives. With a combination of spectacle and fear, he makes them believe that he was born in the sun, and in order to prevent anyone from remembering his less stellar genesis, he "outlawed reading and writing" (Devlin and Emmerich 153).

  27. Like Ra, the Japanese are also masters of spectacle. They derive much of their power from discreet mimicry, but when necessary they call upon their abilities to perform. For example, Ishihara invokes this ability several times: once to intimidate Smith, next to please the mayor, and most pointedly to apologize to Connor with a performance called sumimasen. Seeing Ishihara bowing and crying, Graham and Smith assume at first that he has come to confess, but after Connor explains the ritualized performance, Graham cynically comments, "You mean it's an act"; Connor responds, "Yes and no. It's difficult to explain" (Crichton 138). Tellingly, the master of the performance, Ishihara, turns out to be the murderer, able to conceal his part in the crime for a long time. [7] Also through several anecdotes the audience is reminded that the Japanese spend billions on propaganda in the US. Crichton and Kaufman counter by encouraging an insistence on objective truth. Ken Shubik, a Metro reporter for the Los Angeles Times played by Dan Butler, laments the fact that the newspaper prints the "prevailing opinion [which] is the opinion of the group in power"--the Japanese in his estimation (195). In both Stargate and Rising Sun, then, the US guide and explorer must discover the "truth" behind the Other's masterful performances, thereby tipping the power/knowledge equation in their favor.

  28. The US forces also question and try to expose the Other's motives, always trying to make distinctions between their noble and the Other's ignoble reasons for being present at the scene. While the US military team and Jackson want to help the Nagadans learn how to write and thus be freer, Ra wants to keep them subservient. From the Americans' perspective, Ra has no higher purpose than to "survive and acquire" (186). This attitude, coupled with the fact that Nagada is located in a desert region, perhaps alludes to a justification of the USA's actions in the Persian Gulf War and toward a defense of US diplomatic and military intervention in general. To the skeptical eye, it might seem as if both Saddam Hussein and the USA merely coveted Kuwait's oil, but projects like Stargate help support the idea that the USA disseminates freedom, self-determination, and the pleasures of chocolate, while men like Hussein merely wish to exploit others for personal gain. [8]

  29. Rising Sun also casts the Japanese as outsiders who merely wish to exploit an open and trusting US market. As Shubik says, "Basically, they treat us as an underdeveloped country. They import our raw materials" (367). Crichton and Kaufman, however, are more realistic about US motives in international policy than Devlin and Emmerich. Essentially, they figure the USA and Japan as two competing forces, both of whom simply want to make as much profit with as few complications as possible. Unfortunately, during the 1980s and early 1990s, Japan was making headway in the USA and winning the competition. But the way the Japanese do business parallels US methods and attitudes applied elsewhere. As Dr. Phillips, played by Stan Shaw, explains, "Japanese corporations in America feel the way we would feel doing business in Nigeria: they think they're surrounded by savages" (Crichton 207). Thus American and Japanese motives at an abstract level are not that different in Rising Sun; it is only because US citizens stand in as savages vis-à-vis Japanese business that Crichton and Kaufman have reason to protest.

  30. Conflict and danger always loom at the border. In the late twentieth-century, however, as Arjun Appadurai argues, traditional borders maintained by topography or geographical distance have lost much of their ability to make clear divisions since the advent of high-speed telecommunication, computers, and faster, cheaper transportation (324-25). Devlin and Emmerich's Stargate represents such a transcendence of traditional borders, able to connect people from across the universe almost instantaneously. When the audience is treated to a point-of-view shot of a traveler in the stargate, the theater transforms into a roller coaster, carrying its passengers on a ride at the speed of light within a winding and colorful fiber-optic telecommunications cable. On the other side of the gate lie the most formidable of enemies and the most gratifying of opportunities. Although actual travel like this will probably not be achieved any time soon, technology has already broken and will continue to transcend many current boundaries, constantly opening up new opportunities for profit and possibilities for danger.

  31. "[H]ope coexists with uncertainty, promise with danger," Woolsey announced to a Senate committee interested in how to progress as a nation at century's end (290). In order to develop, as Tom Nairn argues in The Break-Up of Britain, a society requires a strong national identity, which he characterizes as essentially ambivalent. Nairn compares the ambivalent nature of nationalism to "the old Roman god, Janus, who stood above gateways with one face looking forward and one backwards," explaining that a nation "must look desperately back into the past, to gather strength . . . in order to leap forward across th[e] threshold" (348-49). The USA at the threshold of the early 1990s called upon its glorified, anticolonial history of independence from England in order to push forward its contemporary protectionist and neocolonial desires. The USA, then, represents itself not as either anticolonial or neocolonial. It capitalizes on figuring itself as both, cloaking what might seem oppressive about its neocolonial activities by invoking memories of an anticolonial past. Not surprisingly, the USA has been doing this for a long time. For example, in the early nineteenth century, Andrew Jackson resolved the contradiction of the USA as an ex-colony that colonized the lands of native Americans by arguing that "imperial expansion" was necessary "to extend the area of freedom" (Rogin 510).

  32. The situation is different, however, in at least three ways at the end of this century. First, the dissolution of the Soviet Union has left the USA alone as the world's superpower. Second, following the Vietnam War, the American public has learned to be more skeptical about involving the US military in conflicts abroad. And third, communication and travel have reached dizzying speeds and continue to break traditional geographical and temporal barriers. Cold-war ideology once was able to overcome public apprehension regarding US militarism, but after the USSR fell as the enemy to the USA, threats have become much more diffuse. Politicians and pundits have responded to change and have taken advantage of technological innovation, but with their argument fragmented by the fragmentation of sites of danger, mass-marketed, fictional media such as popular novels and feature films have risen relative to other forms in their importance as ideological apparatuses that can reference and sometimes transform the values of US nationalism. Of course, popular literature is always art and usually irreducible to clear purpose or ideology (if we except the profit motive); but some works, such as Rising Sun and Stargate, reflect and influence US national fears and desires with remarkable yet ingenious clarity. When examined, these works reveal the faces of the late twentieth-century American Janus: one face looking backwards toward the history of revolution and its rhetoric of resistance, and the other looking forward at horizons of neocolonial advancement. To critique the USA under the rubric of postcolonial studies, we must recognize and demystify this strategic ambivalence and the role of popular literature in its reflection and perpetuation of national identity.


    (My thinking on the problem of US postcoloniality has been influenced by discussions and exchanges with Matthew DeVoll and Laura J. Murray, and thanks are due to them. I would also like to thank Kristina Busse, Sheri Cheung, Cathy Den Tandt, John Halbrooks, Supriya Nair, Martha Tanner, and two anonymous reviewers from Jouvert for their comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this essay.)

  1. See Prince 49-80 for a discussion of films that negotiate US anxiety about the Soviet threat during the 1980s. Back

  2. It is not within the scope of this essay to discuss at length the problematics of film adaptation, although such a discussion would be warranted in another context. From my survey of the reviews of these two films, critics often note differences between the novel and the film versions, but they always conclude that the integrity of each novel remains. For example, a writer for Sight and Sound concludes that the film Rising Sun "may rouse the rabble less feverishly, but it gets the job done all the same," and overall, none of the director's revisions "amounts to much" (Ehrenstein 13). As a matter of convenience in this essay, I refer to characters' names as they appear in the films. Back

  3. See Rogin for a cogent argument about contradiction and the strategy of "spectacle as amnesia" in US politics. Back

  4. Clearly, the severe financial problems facing Japan in the late 1990s have changed the situation that Crichton and Kaufman treated in the early 1990s. Back

  5. Ehrenstein notes importantly, "Japanese lesbians and gays, who face social strictures every bit as dire as those in the west, will be surprised by this" (12). Back

  6. I borrow Spivak's language from a discussion in which she addresses the issue of "white men, seeking to save brown women from brown men" (101). Back

  7. In the film, the white lawyer working for the Japanese, Bob Richmond, played by Kevin Anderson, is apparently the killer, since he flees the police at the end, but his guilt is left unconfessed and untested since he dies during the chase. Furthermore, as Ehrenstein says, "The film may make them [the Japanese] technically innocent of the murder, but their capacity for such a crime . . . is never in doubt" (13). Back

  8. The fact that Ra uses a modified US bomb against the USA itself might remind one that Iraq used American technology against American troops in the Persian Gulf War (Hedges). Back

Works Cited

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Appadurai, Arjun. "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy." Public Culture 2 (1990): 1-24. Rpt. in Williams and Chrisman 324-339.

Baker, James A., III. "Selective Engagement: Principles for American Foreign Policy in a New Era." Vital Speeches of the Day (1 Mar. 1994): 299-302.

Bhabha, Homi. "Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse." October 28 (1984): 125-133.

---. "Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority under a Tree Outside Delhi, May 1817." "Race," Writing, and Difference. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986. 163-184.

Bruning, Fred. "Foreign Ownership and Racial Bias." Maclean's 30 April 1990: 15.

Campbell, David. Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1992.

Crichton, Michael. Rising Sun. New York: Ballantine, 1992.

Devlin, Dean, and Roland Emmerich. Stargate. New York: Signet, 1994.

Ehrenstein, David. "War Business." Sight and Sound Oct. 1993: 12-13.

Hedges, Stephen J. "Made in the USA." US News and World Report 2 Nov. 1992: 31.

Kolodny, Annette. The Lay of the Land: Metaphor As Experience and History in American Life and Letters. Chapel Hill: U of Northern Carolina P, 1975.

Morrow, Lance. "Japan in the Mind of America." Time 10 Feb. 1992: 16-21.

Nairn, Tom. The Break-Up of Britain: Crisis and Neo-Nationalism. 2nd ed. London: Verso, 1981.

Nathan, Robert. Rev. of Rising Sun, by Michael Crichton. New York Times Book Review 9 Feb. 1992: 1+.

Newman, Kim. Rev. of Stargate, dir. by Roland Emmerich. Sight and Sound Feb. 1995: 53.

Prince, Stephen. Visions of Empire: Political Imagery in Contemporary American Film. New York: Praeger, 1992.

Rising Sun. Dir. Philip Kaufman. Twentieth-Century Fox, 1993. Based on Michael Crichton's Rising Sun.

Rogin, Michael. "'Make My Day!': Spectacle as Amnesia in Imperial Politics." Cultures of United States Imperialism. Eds. Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease. Durham: Duke UP, 1993. 499-534.

Schickel, Richard. "Cultural Confusions." Rev. of Rising Sun, dir. by Phillip Kaufman. Time 2 Aug. 1993: 56-57.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988. 271-313. Rpt. in Williams and Chrisman 66-111.

Stargate. Dir. Roland Emmerich. Le Studio Canal+/Centropolis, 1994. Based on Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich's Stargate.

Stargate Press Kit. 1994. (20 Nov. 1994).

Tiffin, Chris, and Alan Lawson, eds. De-Scribing Empire: Post-colonialism and Textuality. London: Routledge, 1994.

---. "Reading Difference." Tiffin and Lawson 230-235.

---. "The Textuality of Empire." Tiffin and Lawson 1-11.

Wallace, Jo-Ann. "De-Scribing the Water-Babies: 'The Child' in Post-Colonial Theory." Tiffin and Lawson 171-184.

Williams, Patrick, and Laura Chrisman, eds. Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader. New York: Columbia UP, 1994.

Wilson, Rob. "Theory's Imaginal Other: American Encounters with South Korea and Japan." boundary 2 18 (1991): 220-241.

Woolsey, R. James. "Threats to the U.S. and Its Interests Abroad." Vital Speeches of the Day (1 Mar. 1994): 290-95.

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