5 Things to Watch Instead of "Independence Day"

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It's the 4th of July, and I know what you're thinking. I'm gonna spark up the grill, have myself a couple of brews, and watch Jeff Goldblum kill some aliens. You know what, that's what you do every year. One can only be welcomed to Earf so many times. How about trying something different? Here are a list of five movies or TV episodes that are similarly aimed at the geekier sensibilities and just as patriotic.

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5. Star Trek - "The Omega Glory"

You will never see another Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk acts more American. Written by Gene Roddenberry himself, "The Omega Glory" acts as Roddenberry's reaction to the Cold War at the time—or more specifically, Vietnam. The original Star Trek is known for preaching social message, yes, but it doesn't get more on the nose than this (well, okay, maybe the racism stuff in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield").

In the episode, the Enterprise crew lands on a planet very much like Earth, with two warring tribes called "Yangs" and "Kohms." At the end, they find out that Yangs (who are white) were originally "Yankees" and Kohms (who look Asian) were originally "Communists." The planet is some sort of future parallel Earth where the Cold War exploded and civilization regressed—evidenced by them finding the American Flag and a piece of the Constitution. Realizing that the Yangs are treating the constitution as an excuse for declaring superiority, Kirk schools them that "They must apply to everyone! Or they mean nothing!" in the greatest reading of the Preamble ever recorded.

4. An American Tail

America is the land of opportunities, which also makes it the land of immigrants. One of the most enduring tale of immigrants in America is this 1986 animated movie by the legendary Don Bluth. Our hero Fievel is Russian and he befriends an Italian and an Irish, to survive together on the streets of the immigrant melting pot that is 19th Century New York City. Does it get any more fundamentally American than that?

The story concerns a family of Jewish mice, the Mousekewitz, whose Russian village is destroyed by a squad of Cossack Cats and decide to seek better life in America. The young Fievel is separated from the Mousekewitz, and has to learn first-hand how this new land works, exploring everything from politics, diversity, and of course, freedom, symbolized by the newly-completed Statue of Liberty at the end of the movie.

3. Justice League - "A Better World"

When it comes to promoting the American ideal, you'd think that Superman would be the obvious figure to use from this line-up, but while Supes is used as the focal point of the conflict of this episode—and in the closing shot, Superman takes an American flag off the floor to hold it up as it waves in the wind—it is with Batman that the fundamentally American argument of democracy versus imperialism is explored (the argument in the video isn't the final word).

The premise: in another universe where Lex Luthor is elected as President of the United States, Superman feels that he has no choice but to assassinate the madman and overthrow the US government, creating an America controlled by a totalitarian Justice League. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, etc. Our Justice League has to go toe-to-toe with them and fight for free speech and democracy. In the best line of the episode, Batman passive aggressively compliments Fascist-Batman on how clean and crime-free Totalitarian Gotham looks: "Mom and Dad would be so proud." Ouch.

2. The Great Escape

With apologies to fans of Bullit—or The Blob—this is the best movie Steve McQueen made. Taking the whole "independence" thing to its most literal, this movie is about POWs devising a plan to engineer a massive escape from a German camp. The context is WWII, which is already rah-rah American enough, but it's the underlying feeling of wanting to fight fascism (their escape plan is meant to be a distraction so the Allied can gain advantage in the frontlines) that makes it quintessential.

McQueen is The Cooler King, a guy who can't be contained and constantly tries to escape, who then becomes one of many in the German POW camp who hatch a plot to dig tunnels that lead outside, big enough to get everyone out—under the guise of a 4th of July celebration.

1. The West Wing - "What Kind of Day Has it Been"

Frankly, the entire run of West Wing—okay, I lied, the first four seasons of West Wing—can top any list about shows that respect the American ideal. For all of its left-wing paradise strawman arguments, it has created what is easily the most awesome portrayal of an American President on screen in Jed Bartlet. It also contains many, many speeches, as is customary for any Aaron Sorkin script, but this one is the most relevant for this occasion.

In this season one finale, President Bartlet is answering questions in a Town Hall Meeting. As he wraps it up, he offers this reveal that his ancestor was a signatory at the Declaration of Independence. I leave you to your BBQ and fireworks with this.

I just want to mention that at several points during the evening, I was referred to as both a liberal and a populist, and a fellow fourth from the back called me a socialist, which is nice, I haven’t heard that for a while. Actually, I’m an economics professor. My great-grandfather’s great-grandfather was Dr. Josiah Bartlett, who was the New Hampshire delegate to the second Continental Congress, the one that sat in session in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776 and announced to the world that we were no longer subjects of King George III, but rather a self-governing people. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," they said, "that all men are created equal." Strange as it may seem, that was the first time in history that anyone had ever bothered to write that down. Decisions are made by those who show up. Class dismissed. Thank you, everyone. God bless you. And God bless America.

Jul
04
2011
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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