There are plenty of American-made movies, video games, and comics that celebrate the country for what it is, by romanticizing our past, diving into military fantasies, or putting a new spin on our culture. Over the years, the influence has grown so great that other countries have gotten in on the act. So grab a burger and get ready to import some patriotism!
Steel Ball Run
Country of Origin: Japan
American Things: The Wild West, a Jesus Christ connection, patriotism, dinosaurs
This is the work that inspired this article. Steel Ball Run is the 7th part of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, a manga series running for over 20 years, with each part focusing on a different member of the Joestar bloodline. But honestly, none of that is important in relation to this list.
It’s set in the old west — a background that America routinely contributes to fiction thanks to our romanticizing of cowboys and gunslingers — and follows a horseback race across the country for a huge cash prize. The race’s name? The Steel Ball Run, of course. It bleeds American culture, with the “getting rich in the Wild West” theme, a villain who wants to make America in his own image using pieces of Jesus Christ’s corpse,” and a guy with fucking dinosaur powers. If it weren’t for all the kung-fu magic, you’d swear it came from a mash-up of summer blockbusters.
Country of Origin: Canada
Medium: Video game (Nintendo Wii)
American Things: New York, underdog protagonist, boxing, beating other countries
Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? Everyone is, but Americans can’t get enough of boxing underdogs in particular. Cue Little Mac’s most recent adventure: a 4’7” rookie works his way up through the ranks for fame and fortune, beating up sort-of racist representations of any country the team can be bothered to remember. Typical American ignorance, right? Except Next Level Games is located in Canada! At least they can make fun of themselves with Bear Hugger.
Tiger & Bunny
Country of Origin: Japan
American Things: superheroes, corporate sponsors, New York-ish setting, X-Men influence
Since the creation of Superman in the 1930s, comic book superheroes have been inseparable from American culture. So when Tiger & Bunny, a show about corporate-sponsored superheroes that fight crime on reality television, appeared on the scene a few years ago, the inspiration was obvious. N.E.X.T. (no idea what the abbreviation stands for, but it denotes heroes) works parallel to X-Men’s genetic-freak heroes and villains, with all the societal unease that comes with the territory. The titular heroes use very Spider-Man-y swinging cables to get around the faux New York City of Sternbild, and some of the heroes even use advertiser-friendly catchphrases. If it weren’t for the ice-powered, underage girl in a skimpy outfit, you’d never be able to tell where this show came from.
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Medium: Weekly comic book
American Things: The American dream, oppressive future government, east coast USA
With two Hollywood movies to its name, this entry isn’t as obscure as some others on the list, which means I have less to explain. In the impossibly shitty future, the East Coast has been turned into the gigantic Mega City One. In this cyberpunk hellhole, a futuristic police force called the Judges protect the city with an iron grip, acting as jury, judge (duh), and executioner.
It’s another long-running series, but because it is published weekly in the magazine 2000 AD, its serialized nature makes it easy to jump in to see some poorly-justified justice. Of particular note are the stories that focus on a group of rebels trying to reinstate democracy, as the totalitarian government got rid of that shit a long time ago.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Country of Origin: Italy/Spain
American Things: Wild West themes, the Civil War, greed, unflattering view of the US
This entry could be a surprise to those who don’t know this classic’s origin. In what might be the most recognizable spaghetti Western ever, three men get caught up in a search for a dead man’s treasure during the American Civil War and the decline of the frontier. It’s long and tense, and brings up a lot of themes we associate with American anti-heroes: doing anything to get ahead, having a personal code of honor, and getting pulled back in for one last violent job. It was filmed in Spain and Italy, and directed by Italian Sergio Leone, with a score composed by fellow Italian Ennio Morricone. This film, combined with the previous entries in the Dollars trilogy and Dirty Harry, cemented Clint Eastwood’s action star persona, something that American media would imitate for decades to come.
Metal Gear Solid 3
Country of Origin: Japan
Medium: Video game (PS2)
American Things: Spies, military operations, betrayal by the government, soldiers and action heroes, the Cold War
If aliens ever find our fiction and comprehend it, they’re going to think the Cold War lasted 100 years. Next to World War II, it’s the go-to setting for any military fiction with a clear-cut villain. With all the subtlety of a brick-taped air horn being thrown through your window at 3am, Hideo Kojima shows that the life of a spy isn’t all about being hit on by other spies and stealing enemy uniforms. No, the life of soldier/spy Naked Snake is tangled in plans from multiple governments, with his US benefactors being a little dirtier than he thought.
Every single piece of military or spy fiction has done this theme to the point of cliche, but MGS3 has its some special twist that make it stand out as more than a copycat. It even displays our poor knowledge of other countries’ geography with its non-existent Russian jungle setting!
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Article by contributor Nick Greer.