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'XXX' Marks the Patriotic Spot

August 22, 2002|JAMES P. PINKERTON | James P. Pinkerton writes a column for Newsday in New York. E-mail:

What does the success of the movie "XXX" tell us about the nation? Or at least about those youngish Americans who admire Vin Diesel, the muscled, tattooed, head-shaved star of the film?

The film's popularity, most notably, suggests that the Sept. 11- inspired reconciliation of punk and patriot continues.

The British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said that to understand a culture, one must study its second-rate literature. First-rate stuff, he said, is too good. It offers transcendent truths applicable to all times, to all places; that's why Shakespeare still holds up, centuries and oceans away from Olde England. By contrast, second-rate literature is rooted in the moment, so it's a cultural snapshot. And if second-rate books are a window, then third-rate movies provide a broad vista.

Despite its suggestive title, "XXX" is not about pornography; the story line is more "The Dirty Dozen" meets James Bond meets Generation X. Indeed, the action protagonist, XXX--"Triple X" to his crew--is far more abstemious than 007. In night clubs, he orders plain cranberry juice; he lectures others about the evils of smoking.

Seemingly, he's against anything that would get in the way of physical fitness; he enjoys a slacker lifestyle--no evident job--and yet nothing else is slack about him. In fact, his iron-pumped body speaks to a more self-disciplined regimen, plus maybe a steroid or two, than that of most he-men in the past.

And while XXX is boastfully uneducated--he defends his age group's affection for videogames by saying "it's the only education we got"--he is still techno-savvy; he steals a car as a stunt so he can show the theft on his Web site.

Yes, he starts out anti-heroically; forcibly recruited into espionage, he tells his spy boss that "if you're going to send someone to save the world, make sure they like it the way it is." But just as most Americans were jolted away from thoughts of multicultural moral equivalence after 9/11, so XXX comes to the realization that the United States must be defended against terrorists wielding weapons of mass destruction.

He declares: "I've risked my life for stupid reasons. This is the first one that ever made sense." Indeed, a giant American flag--the kind that John Wayne would've been proud to salute--figures in the film's heroic climax.

In other words, underneath the tattoos and the rad 'tude, XXX is yet another eager enemy of evil-doers. Like Superman before him, he's ready to dedicate his life to the fight for truth, justice and the American Way.

As movie industry veteran Steve Greenwald, who once made films with Dino De Laurentiis, observed, "Hollywood always responds to the zeitgeist, and especially after 9/11 that translates into feel-good-about-the-USA pictures." Also, he added, "heroes bringing down evil empires are once again in vogue--and so in demand."

Few Americans over 25 will see "XXX." But if they do, they will come away confident that the next generation--born after the fiasco of Vietnam--is ready to do its patriotic part in, say, the war on terror.

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