The transnationalpostcolonialglobalization theme

Sharon Willis's remarks, along with Pfeil's point about the untranscendable horizon of post-classical (or, in his terminology, postmodern) cinema being that of transnational capitalism are well taken. If we are to look for a historical framework within which to place the tectonic plates and shifting surfaces of Die Hard's identity politics, the information economy of services, and the 'outsourcing' of manufacture to low-cost labour countries by multinational corporations on the one hand and the plight of American urban blacks on the other are as persuasive as any. And yet in at least two respects these political reflections, too, only plunge us deeper into the self-referential double-binds that seem so typical of the post-classical mode.

First of all, Die Hard plays a joke on the conditions of its own possibility. Standing in for the Nakatomi Corporation's headquarters as the film's principal location was the then brand-new Century Plaza office tower, home of Twentieth Century Fox, the production/distribution company for which Gordon and Silver made this film and the others in the series. The joke is double-edged: by offering its own real estate as location, the Fox company made a shrewd investment, but it also hints at the irony that a blockbuster's budget in the 1980s was beginning to exceed the construction cost of a high-rise office tower. The fact that the producers make use of the tower in its half-finished state, only then to let it go up in flames and bring it down as debris, is itself a nice touch, an ironic thank-you note addressed to the host and client.

The other level of self-reference relates to the film's extensive deployment of the signifiers of nation: national identity and international business, against the backdrop of transnational history since the Second World War. If we can assume that the plot does indeed engage with the anxieties of America's working class about the future of its jobs and, more generally, the US economy's competitive position vis-à-vis Japan and Europe (in the days before the 'new economy' had taken off, which in the 1990s put America again in the lead), then the choice of nationalities and foreign nationals in the film is very knowing indeed:

The terrorists, too, are a multinational group, led by a German named Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) who is well-dressed and has a neatly trimmed beard and talks like an intellectual and thinks he is superior to the riffraff he has to associate with. He has a plan that has been devised with clockwork precision.

(Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 15 July 1988)

Ebert's review, once again, mimetically tries to render the film's flavour, faithfully reproducing the national clichés in circulation, down to the 'clockwork precision' still inevitably evoking (Nazi-) Germany. Thus we could, without much difficulty, devise for the national/transnational axis another semiotic square. The villains are Germans, the bosses Japanese: from the point of view of America, these two nations have much in common. In the past, during the Second World War, they had been the USA's most formidable enemies, but they are now among its closest political allies. Yet even at the time of Die Hard's release both Japan and Germany were still an economic threat, notably to the US auto industry, and thus to the very emblem of blue-collar jobs that individuals like McClane are likely to lose. This history/ present-day binary pair is overlaid by another pair, differently split but equally pertinent, because situated in an intermediary historical period, insofar as the terrorists are identified with the German Red Army Faction of the 1970s -notoriously anti-American and pro-Vietnam in their bombings and assassinations of US military targets in West Germany - while those called upon to defeat them, the FBI and LAPD, are too young to remember, traumatized by or once more gung-ho for another Vietnam. If the film freely indulges in anti-German resentment, it does not spare the Japanese either, even though they appear as the 'good guys'. What underlies the latent hostility - not least on the part of Hollywood itself - is the fear of Japanese takeovers, when we recall the aggressive moves made in the 1980s by companies like Sony and Matsushita to buy up studios like Columbia Pictures and Universal. The in-joke here would be that the Nakatomi Corporation is housed in the headquarters of another Hollywood studio, Twentieth Century Fox, itself owned by a 'Far-Easterner', the naturalized American but originally Australian Rupert Murdoch.

A more subdued but also overdetermined US/UK rivalry makes itself felt as well: it is present via the actor Alan Rickman, who plays the suave Hans Gruber, swapping - James Bond fashion - name and address of his tailor with Nakatomi's CEO, before brutally and casually dispatching him. Truly formidable and treacherous villains in Hollywood are always best played by Englishmen (apart from Rickman, one thinks of Laurence Olivier in Sleuth and The Marathon Man, or more recently, of Anthony Hopkins's Hannibal Lecter as well as the ubiquitous, versatile, but always fiendish Gary Oldman). The melting pot/salad bowl coalition of ethnicities, since the 1980s obligatory for the US film and TV industry, is also present, with the Celtic contingent (McClane), the Italians (Holly), Blacks (Al Powell), and Hispanics (the maid) all represented.

A special place in the intercultural and transnational semiotics of Die Hard is reserved for Hans Gruber: international terrorist, avenging angel, common criminal. At one level, he wants to teach Japan and the US a (political) lesson; at another level, he wants to steal $600 million in bearer bonds (fancy monetary instruments of new economy globalization?). Yet, as we know from his gentlemanly manners and sharp clothes, he is also at home in the executive suits of international business. Thus he seems to be an international terrorist turned international banker, but turns out to be a common, if rather resourceful thief. At yet another (symbolic) level, he is a creature from a different kind of movie, because a master of disguises. Terrorist, businessman, bank robber, employee, and victim: his capacity for disguise makes him not just a villain but a monster, as in fairy tales or a horror movie. It is as if Gruber (and Karl) are Dracula-like 'drive creatures' (as opposed to 'desire creatures'), who apparently cannot be defeated by ordinary means because they have supernatural powers: even the LA police and FBI help Gruber, as does television and the media. Finally, when considering him structurally in relation to McClane's dilemma of class and status, Gruber is a mediator/alter ego: he has the brute force and manual skills of McClane, but he also belongs to the world of executives and global capital to which Holly aspires.

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