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RESTORING THE BIOLOGICAL FAMILY AND THE HUMAN FAMILY WHITE MALE HEROISM IN THE PATRIOT GLADIATOR AND AMERICAN HISTORY X Recently Karen Schneider has argued that in the second half of the 1990s the genre of action-thrillers changed Whereas in the 1980s the white male hero of such films was pretty much a loner now he strives to restore the traditional-white bourgeois patriarchal family 1 The violence that traditionally figures in this genre also takes on a new function it puts families at risk only to bring about their salvation 2 Yet Schneider comments too that sometimes the heros efforts fall short a complete family does not always result 2 Furthermore she notes several of these films verge on ideological contradiction Because they go extraordinary lengths to reaffirm the family they wind up suggesting that it has become much harder to justify and save Three recent films tend to bear out Schneiders argument about todays action-thrillers Each features a white male protagonist trying through violence to re-establish and guide a family torn apart by violence Moreover each suggests that reconstructing the patriarchal family can be quite difficult Yet the three films treat the difficulty with varying degrees of complexity Least complex is The Patriot this summers hit Revolutionary War epic Through acts of violence against the British white colonist Benjamin Martin Mel Gibson largely succeeds in reconstituting his family after members of it have been killed in the war Nevertheless as Schneider might well note the films positive ending cant really obscure the violence that Benjamins family has suffered as well as the homicidal tendencies he himself has displayed Another recent historical epic Gladiator goes further than The Patriot in complicating the white male heros quest Although it seems to endorse patriarchal control of the family it shows its title character failing to survive let alone achieve an earthly reunion with his slain wife and son But the most complex of the three films
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