‘Top Gun: Maverick’ enters the pantheon of conservative fan fiction

Today’s newsletter is a guest post from the Culture desk of The New York Times. Marc Tracywho regularly covers the intersection of culture and politics, writes about Tom Cruise’s latest blockbuster – and the conservatives who sing his praises.

“Top Gun: Maverick,” Tom Cruise’s must-have hit sequel, has been hailed as a cinematic throwback.

Many critics interpreted its story of an increasingly outdated pilot recalled to teach today’s youngsters a thing or two for one last mission as a not-so-subtle allegory of the film itself. The film uses relatively few computer-generated effects, stars Cruise, now 60, and still managed to rake in over $1 billion worldwide.

But amid praise from moviegoers who enjoyed the realistic dogfights, filmed with real planes in which the real actors rode, another community embraced the film to represent its values ​​and vindicate its perspectives: conservatives.

A direct debit:

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida: “Any movie that’s not, like, massively woke can actually appeal to normal people.” (DeSantis hadn’t seen the film at the time; he later saw it with his wife for her birthday, he said.)

  • Fox News host Jesse Watters: “We were looking forward to seeing a decidedly American movie, and we finally got it.”

  • Tomi Lahrenfrom the conservative sports newspaper OutKick and Fox: “The undeniable success of Top Gun is proof that Americans have had enough of WOKE and just want to watch good movies without a grand message of social justice!!”

What is happening here?

There is a long tradition in which conservatives take a cultural artifact produced by the entertainment industry, which is generally considered leftist, and claim it for themselves.

“It goes back years,” said Doug Heye, a Republican consultant, “and included when we had a Hollywood actor or a reality TV star for president. is only increasing, and it has increased because there is even more substance behind it today.

In a recent essay that discussed films like “Top Gun: Maverick,” Times co-chief film critic AO Scott argued that a notable aspect of the conservative movement is its antagonism toward the entertainment industry.

“The modern right,” Scott writes, “defines itself against the cultural elites who supposedly cluster on the coasts and conspire to impose their values ​​on an unsuspecting public. In this narrative, Hollywood acts in functional cahoots with academia and the news media.

And the enmity of conservative activists toward Hollywood and other cultural trendsetters has perhaps never been more apparent.

DeSantis, whose ability to harness the movement could surpass that of any other politician (including, arguably, Donald Trump), made waves this spring by revoking the special tax and self-governing privileges Disney had enjoyed for its huge park at theme in its state. The governor and the company had clashed over a recently passed state law that prohibits teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity at certain levels.

So when “Top Gun: Maverick” entered this culture war with its simple, feel-good patriotism – it is, among other things, a film about how awesome US Navy pilots can be, especially when ‘they’re fighting America’s enemies – the sense of conservative alignment happened naturally.

“When something comes out,” Heye said, “and it’s another version of ‘Rocky IV'” — the 1985 film in which Sylvester Stallone’s working-class boxer enters the ring with a Soviet fighter named Ivan Drago — “It becomes something that, for the activist part of the base that’s looking for something that doesn’t criticize their values, they’re going to hang on to.

That’s not to say that Maverick, Hangman, and the other pilots from the new “Top Gun” movie face the current equivalent of the Soviet Union, regardless of country. As in the first “Top Gun”, released in 1986, the enemy is not explicitly identified.

Nor do conservative politicians and media personalities claim that the film convincingly argues for policies such as tax cuts or gun rights. Their argument has less to do with what the film is than with what it is not; less to do with its specific plot or characters than with its mood.

“It’s political to be apolitical,” said Christian Toto, a conservative film critic and owner of the Hollywood in Toto website.

He pitted “Top Gun: Maverick” against select films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the gender-swapped “Ghostbusters” reboot. Their efforts at inclusivity — diverse casting, same-sex relationships — might come across, he said, as awkward, especially to a conservative audience whose antennae are already on high alert for filmmakers they see as trying to sneak in. spinach with the movie candy.

The conservative allergy to such cinematic decisions erupts, Toto said, “when audiences feel like they’re being clumsily put there or a message is being sent instead of being organically woven into the story.”

The fact that the pilots training for the daring raid in “Top Gun: Maverick” seem to come from a variety of backgrounds doesn’t seem like a liberal message but a realistic detail, Toto said.

“The cast is moderately diverse; there are women as pilots,” he said. “But they don’t comment on it; they don’t base the script around it. It is assumed that they are just very talented people willing to risk their lives for the mission.

The box office information doesn’t contradict the Conservatives’ case. About 55% of opening weekend sales, an unusually high proportion, came from ticket buyers over the age of 35, according to Paramount.

And – atypically for major box office hits of that era – “Top Gun: Maverick” made more money in the United States and Canada than in the rest of the world, according to Box Office Mojo.

Ben Shapiro, a popular conservative pundit who co-founded The Daily Wire website, predicted in his rave review that the film would do better at home than abroad. “The film itself is quite red, white and blue,” he said. “It’s just supposed to be a backdrop. That’s how movies were. »

Stanley Rosen, a political science professor at the University of Southern California who studies the Chinese film industry, said in an interview that “Top Gun: Maverick” represented an emerging idea that “Hollywood no longer needs the China as before”.

The film’s success could signal that the days when Hollywood studios changed scripts to make their releases more palatable to censors and Chinese audiences — a trend documented in a recent book, Erich Schwartzel’s “Red Carpet” — could slowly vanish.

And, Rosen added, whatever the film’s actual political message, the argument that it has one could have its own uses.

“The revival controversy or whether it’s Reagan-era nostalgia,” he said, is “very good for the box office.”

Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, is sitting down for lunch Friday in Washington with Vice President Kamala Harris, two of his aides confirmed.

For Newsom, the trip, officially organized so he could accept an award and discuss policy issues with lawmakers and Biden administration officials, doubled as a sort of clean-up tour.

On Thursday, Newsom made it clear that he backed President Biden as the Democratic Party’s 2024 nominee, amid a whirlwind of reports from my colleagues at The Times and others suggesting liberal voters aren’t particularly excited about a another term for the 79-year-old commander. chief.

Reports, including in this humble newsletter, have noted that Newsom’s rise as leader of the Democratic Party could put him in competition with Harris, a longtime ally and possible future opponent in the state, in a hypothetical presidential primary without Biden.

These stories caught the attention of the vice president’s office, while amusing the governor’s staff back home in California. Both sides insist that there is no rivalry between the two leaders.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Newsom said Harris had been “wonderful” as vice president and said they were just going to “check in, like we constantly do.” He did, however, allude to unspecified “constraints” that Harris had faced in his tenure and said it was “a difficult time for all of us in public life”.

Asked what was on the lunch menu, a Newsom aide joked in a text: “Arsenic and arm wrestling. The usual.”

Thanks for reading.

— Blake

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Something you want to see more? We would love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

James C. Tibbs