Surfing the Void

There is a scene in Oliver Stone’s powerful and haunting antiwar film Born on the Fourth of July (1989), in which Ron Kovic’s mother is bending down before the television (this is B.R.—before the remote) and wincing.  It is the Fourth of July, 1969, and long-haired antiwar protesters are surging through the capital with angry placards.  Despairingly, she flicks the channel to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, featuring guest host Sammy Davis, Jr..  Her face lights up, and she calls to her husband, who is just finishing the dishes: “Honey, it’s starting, and Sammy Davis is on tonight!”  All is now happy in the world.  Mrs. Kovic has been mediated.

What makes the scene so damning is that her son Ron, her “Yankee Doodle boy,” is just home from a combat tour in South Vietnam and a stay in the Bronx veterans’ hospital; he is in the back yard drinking beer with a friend—paralyzed from the waist down.  He remembers his mother’s words before he went overseas: “Ronnie, you’re doing the right thing.  Communism has to be stopped.  It’s God’s will that you go.”  So, for an hour at least, Mrs. Kovic has been rescued from a harsh reality—including all moral responsibility for her son’s condition—by Rowan and Martin.

If media could perform that magic...

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